Advances in technology occur as the result of leaps in creativity – the theory often comes later.
That the steam engine was invented before the laws of thermodynamics were understood is an oft-quoted example, but it is also true that the transistor was invented before the equations describing its workings were known.
Engineering is both a creative and practical subject – though you wouldn’t think so from the way it’s taught in our schools.
The Royal Academy of Engineering has this week criticised schools for putting children off the subject by concentrating on teaching too much theory at the expense of the creative side of the subject.
Meanwhile, as David Beere points out on our letters page this week, lathes are standing idle in school workshops because of fear of litigation if a pupil gets injured – so the practical side is being missed too.
There is also a semantic problem. Teenagers think technology is `cool’. Show them a recording studio packed with mixing desks and all manner of digital electronics, and they’ll think `technology’. They won’t make the link with engineering, which they think of as old-fashioned.
When they come to think of a career, they might want to apply to study music technology, but electronic engineering? No thanks.
Which makes the suggestion, slipped out this week by education secretary David Blunkett, that some schools could specialise in teaching manufacturing and engineering skills alongside the national curriculum, all the more welcome.
Blunkett’s plan, in part a response to a report by the National Skills Task Force, is that schools could be part of a new, business-backed initiative. Once accredited, the schools taking part would get extra funding.
Crucially, though, industry partners are needed. `We need to examine whether there are sectors prepared to support specialist colleges in understanding the skills applied to more traditional processes,’ said Blunkett.
We would prefer him not to use the word `traditional’ but, that aside, this looks like an idea industry should back with all the enthusiasm it can muster.
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