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Hands on Learning | Ras Al Khaimah | Vocational education

Hands on Learning Takes off in Ras Al Khaimah

Al Qasimi Foundation
December 09, 2014

As a result of research done by the Al Qasimi Foundation and local educators, Ras Al Khaimah has seen the launch of a new program that is targeted at supporting high school students who may be at risk of dropping out of school. 

Known as Hands on Learning (HOL), this program was started in Australia fifteen years ago by Russell Kerr, who noticed that some students were not thriving in traditional classroom settings. HOL has seen great success in Australian schools, and Ras Al Khaimah represents the first school system to adopt this initiative in an international context. 

Mr. Caleb Wilson, Special Projects Associate at the Al Qasimi Foundation, explains, “Hands on Learning places students in a setting that allows them to focus on building a project while developing other academic and interpersonal skills along the way.” 

This semester, Mr. Wilson has been working with Al Jazeerah Al Hamra and Saeed bin Jubair secondary schools to implement the program with 20 local students. 

“It’s important to note that HOL works by keeping students connected to their local schools and communities,” says Mr. Wilson. 

Although the program is in its initial stages, students are already displaying greater engagement both in the HOL and traditional classrooms. 

“I am getting better at learning English; before it was difficult,” reflects one student from Al Jazeerah Al Hamra. “I am also being more active in other classes than I was before I was in the program. I ask the teacher more in class.” 

The HOL program has four key elements to it, and the first is that students need a place to belong, so there is a physical space set up for students to meet on the school grounds, during school hours. Students who participate spend one day each week in an HOL location and four days in their regular classrooms. 

The second element to HOL holds that the students need people to belong to. In HOL there are small groups of students who work together, share meals, and build strong relationships with one another. Because an HOL class has no more than ten students, they are able to work with one another to develop good communication, teamwork, and leadership skills. 

The third element of HOL is that students do real projects. This gives students a chance to do projects that benefit them, their schools, and their communities, whether they are improving landscapes, building workshops, or repairing broken pieces of school furniture. 

For example, students at Ras Al Khaimah schools have been building stools. Although the original plans for the stools were fairly simple, students started taking ownership of their projects almost immediately by adding backs, armrests, and footrests to their stools. 

A grade nine HOL student describes the program, saying, “My English is getting better, and I am learning how to build things, cook a meal, and use a drill and power saw—all for the first time.” 
The last element of the HOL is giving back. Students can be involved in the community in many ways, for instance, by constructing park benches or painting the house of someone who can’t afford it. 
“Seeing the students working is very exciting,” says Mr. Wilson. “It seems as though many of them have been wanting to do this type of work for some time. Many male students get bored in a traditional class setting, and being able to work with their hands is a great reward for them, and they have a lot of fun.” 

Mr. Yaqoob Yousef Al Nuaimi, principal of Al Jazeerah Al Hamra, agrees that HOL is already benefiting his students and school. 

“I would like to see us have the program run more times in a week for the students,” he says, “and in the future we will hopefully see more positive changes, like we have already seen. The students who are in HOL seem to really like this program.” 

Since day one, Ras Al Khaimah’s HOL students have been learning through doing. When asked what they learned from their constructing projects, students responded that they learned how to use tools, but also that they learned leadership and communication skills, which will transfer into their future careers. 

For the individual students who are participating in the fledgling program, the difference HOL is making in their school experience is clear. 

One year 10 student reports, “I am doing better than I was before in my other classes. I am more confident, and I am more active in my other classes. My favorite thing about HOL is everything.” 
Ultimately, HOL strives to engage students in school through building their ties to the community and giving them the opportunity to learn and grow through practical applications. HOL offers students a safe place to pursue academic and personal goals through focus plans that are tailored to each student’s weaknesses and strengths. 

Dr. Natasha Ridge, Executive Director of the Al Qasimi Foundation and expert on the educational experiences of boys in the GCC, keeps a long-term perspective on the program but admits that its first semester has been hopeful. 

“Since HOL began in Ras Al Khaimah, we’ve seen young men at risk for dropping out begin to look forward to school for the first time in their lives,” says Dr. Ridge. “We hope that there will be continued benefits not only for the boys involved but also for their schools, their families, and the wider community. Assisting at-risk students in re-engaging with their education has benefits for everyone.”