A friend of mine who was schooled in a neighbouring country says when they were in primary school; handwork was a compulsory extra- curricular activity. He narrates that every Wednesday was a day of the carrot-and-stick, commonly known as ‘kibooko day’, when the whole school would convene in the afternoon for an hour of intensive handwork activity under the supervision of teachers.
“The afternoon of the day was mainly reserved for sewing, weaving, needlework, embroidery, knitting, beading, origami, wirework, whittling, soap carving, quilting, bookmaking, as well as presentation of tools to use in gardening and for crafting ,’’ he said.
He, however, acknowledges that handwork laid a good foundation in nurturing his talents since he loved artwork from a tender age.
“If I had skipped that experience I would not possibly be the person I am now because as a craftsman I earn my living from art,” he says, adding that his business involves making artworks such as customised mats, as well as clay pots and cups, among others.
Susan Johnson, a behavioral and developmental pediatrician, in her article ‘handwork promotes learning in children’ published by American Kids World Magazine, says children need healthy, harmonious, rhythmic and non-competitive movements to develop their brains.
She explains that it is the movements of the body and a love for learning that create the pathways in children’s minds for reading, writing, spelling, mathematics and creative thinking, and that most movements in handwork promote these qualities.
Some African scholars have also argued that handwork in African schools in general ought to be promoted as a way of harnessing the uniqueness and beauty that comes with our tradition and natural resources.
Handwork and artisanship, they say, can go a long way in building our economies since it is one way through which students will be helped to look beyond the white-collar jobs when they complete their education.
Handwork gives students practical knowledge, which employers prefer today.
Professor Blaise TChapunda, the academic director at African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Kigali, says handwork is important because it promotes students’ talents at a young age.
He says encouraging handwork would empower students to start their own projects with the little money at their disposal.
For Alloys Nsabimana, a teacher at Apaper Primary School in Kicukiro, the main challenge for handwork is the lack of materials to use in schools.
“I remember during our time in school we used to practice handwork easily because materials like spear grass, thread, papyrus reeds and wooden splints to weave the artifacts like baskets mats and other traditional tools were readily available. However, today it’s hard to find these materials, making handwork impossible,” he says.
Anny Christelle, a customer care agent at Kigali Talent School of Art and Music, says the challenge faced by handwork activities is that some parents think that extra-curricular activities are a waste of time because they compromise students’ concentration on academic work.
“For instance, learning to make guitars is not a bad thing since music itself is therapy which will help the students to memorise what they studied and recuperate from stressful revision,” she says.
Melon Naiga, a student of mass communication at Mount Kenya University-Rwanda, says through handwork students are able to conserve the native art and promote African values in the schools.
For Lavie Bugingo, a student at the School of Business Studies and Information Technology, handwork would be a good way to boost the Made-in-Rwanda initiative as students would be introduced to practical skills like tailoring and craft-making at early age.
American author and researcher Anna Schwind defines handwork as any kind of work done with the hands. More specifically, it is work that has some element of repetition which will allow for refinement of skill and which has an output or product.
She explains that the handwork available to the children is largely driven by the interest and knowledge of the teacher, and is often provided for child at home.