David Wilson is editor of Engineeringtalk and Electronicstalk and associate editor of The Engineer
Just the other day, I found an old photograph of my late father. The black-and-white picture was taken in the early 1920s when he was just a little lad, and shows a typical family pose with him sitting with his father, mother and older brother.
Despite the fact that all the family members look rather serious, the photograph itself reveals little about their family life at the time. It looks like any other old picture from the period.
But the history behind the snapshot is much more interesting — it was taken at a time when all the family members were in the Bedford workhouse — an institution where those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment.
Notwithstanding this rather poor start in life, my dad tried extraordinarily hard to break free from the shackles of his underprivileged childhood. Joining a local firm of machine-tool builders, he worked his way up from sweeping the shop floor to become the chief engineer of the place, educating himself through part-time attendance at a local higher-education facility.
Today’s children are a lot luckier. They are fortunate enough to attend schools in which they are provided with the opportunity to gain the necessary academic qualifications to attend university where they can study any subject that their hearts’ desire.
But for many students, the rigour of the current education system has brought its own set of problems. For those unfortunates, the years spent following a regimen of attending classes and passing exams leaves them academically qualified but without a true sense of purpose or meaning.
Clearly, my dad educated himself to break free from the poverty of his past and to gain a job that would enable him to enjoy a comfortable life. But today’s students, with their schooling handed to them on a plate, have no need to struggle as hard. Worse still, their education may also leave them rather clueless about what career to pursue once they leave university.
In many instances, they take up work in our cities, where they become one of numerous other dissatisfied people working as ‘executives’ in rather vacuous ‘professions’ simply to pay exorbitant amounts of rent, eat and entertain themselves, with no true challenges and without any real demands to achieve something better in their lives.
But perhaps things will change once prospective university entrants are forced to consider shelling out £9,000 each year to pay for their tuition. Maybe then, the army of prospective potential lost souls will realise that, before opting for any course that takes their fancy, they should think more seriously about the implications that their choices will have on their future.
The hike in fees may also lead to a greater number of students who might recognise the advantages of becoming engineers like my dad, rather than engage in self-satisfying, but impracticable subjects that inevitably lead to employment in roles that are unchallenging and dreary.
The Wilson’s world blog also forms part of the Engineeringtalk, Electronicstalk and Manufacturingtalk newsletters. To subscribe, go here for Engineeringtalk, here for Electronicstalk and here for Manufacturingtalk