The University of Cambridge Hires a Professor of LEGO

Can you play for a living?

If a kid said that they wanted to be a Professor of Lego when they grew up, they would probably be told that wasn’t a “real job”. Well, in 2015 University of Cambridge decided to shake up some of the ideas of what “real jobs” look like in a world that values 21st Century skills when they announced that they were looking to fill the position of “Lego Professorship of Play in Education”. The position was established as part of a 6.2 million dollar donation from the Lego Foundation to establish the Centre for Research on Play in Education, Development, and Learning (PEDAL). PEDAL is now one of a number of leading research centres housed at University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Education, and will be conducting “academic research into the role of play in young children’s education, development and learning to inform wider practice and policy.”

So, who got that dream job?

If you were thinking about sending in your CV, unfortunately the position was filled in 2017. Professor Paul Ramchandani, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, was hired in 2017 and is already hard at work… or play. In addition to being the “Lego Professor”, Ramchandani works for a mental health trust where he has treated severely mentally ill children and written groundbreaking mental health research.

“Everyone has an opinion about what role play should have in early education and there is some wonderful research, but there are big gaps in our knowledge.”

- Professor Paul Ramchandani

Prof. Ramchandani will specifically be working to take research done at PEDAL and turn it into reports that can inform national and international policy around children’s right to play. Right now, some of the gaps in play research centre on the ways in which play could contribute to economic, social, and cultural development. This research could inform a learning revolution that is already beginning in places like the International School of Billund.

“As findings come out, we’ll aim to inform policymakers, teachers, pre-school teachers and educators, finding ways to make [these findings] as accessible as possible.”

- Professor Paul Ramchandani

So that sounds fun. Can we come play?

The good news about PEDAL is that it isn’t a one man show. While Ramchandani holds the only Lego Professorship, PEDAL offers scholarships to PhD students studying play, and hosts international conferences and seminars. In fact, if you study education at University of Cambridge, you might be taught by a member of the PEDAL team.

In terms of research, all of it is focused on ensuring that “children are equipped with 21st century skills like problem-solving, teamwork and self-control.” Their research is focused on three big questions:

  • What is play?

  • What does play develop?

  • Is there a role for play in school?

The research will include a long-term study on the ways in which children are encouraged to play at home and school, and the benefits of this play. The PEDAL team will also be working to devise and evaluate play-based teaching methods in collaboration with teachers in active classrooms.

So wait… do they ever play with Lego?

We’re betting that there is some Lego kicking around at PEDAL. After all, Professor Ramchandani says he really likes the toy, and has since he was a kid.

“I guess what I liked about it [Lego] was that it didn’t tell you what to do. It’s a great, creative toy. I’m a fan of any toy that allows kids to do what they want.”

- Professor Paul Ramchandani

We couldn’t agree more.

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