A welcome brick in the wall: University of Cambridge to recruit Lego professor

As the economic recovery continues, 50 per cent of British businesses are planning to take on extra workers in 2015, the CBI said, but the skills shortage could stop jobs being filled. Furthermore, youngsters are lacking basic communications skills due to parents handing them smartphones instead of playing with them.

With this in mind, the University of Cambridge has endeavoured to create a new professorship role, focussed on how playing affects the way children learn fundamental life skills. The full title will be Lego professorship of play in education, development, and learning. It’s being funded by £2.5m from the Lego Foundation. 

In a Forbes interview with Randa Grob-Zakhary, CEO of the Lego Foundation, she explained that the Lego Foundation’s central focus was to develop creativity, as well as the skills needed from the next generation. According to Grob-Zakhary, the best way unlock learning and developmental benefits in children is by letting them have fun.

When children reach the age of three, they are already developing areas key to executive functions, she said. This includes problem-solving, sustaining attention, planning and directing activities, and monitoring performance. 

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Research shows that our brain growth is 90 per cent complete by the age of six. While the brain matures throughout adolescence and young adulthood, our brain´s blueprint for certain critical capabilities would already have been established, she noted. 

“This is where play comes in; it’s one of our brain’s favourite ways to learn,” Grob-Zakhary said. “When children are active participants in their education, they gain more from the experience, are more engaged in the learning process, and do better in school. Play allows us to test our capabilities, as all forms of learning should. It stimulates children’s learning abilities by fostering creativity, building critical thinking, sparking intellectual curiosity, and facilitating learning by doing.”

This is why Grob-Zakhary sees play as a solution to the challenge of fostering vital skills in children, and preparing them to navigate today´s world. 

As well as its £2.5m to fund the role of a professor of Lego, the foundation has provided £1.5m to support a play research centre in the education faculty, which will be led by the Lego professor.

The post would be “open to all those whose work falls within the general field of the title of the office”, the university said. Cambridge’s general board has recommended for the professors to start in October 2015.

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