“It’s a replicator, Jim, but not as we know it”

Its first project - our Cube printer in action watched by fascinated staff and students

Its first project – our Cube printer in action watched by fascinated staff and students


Well, our 3D printers have arrived and are in action.  I cannot recall anything that has so fired the imagination of pupils, staff and parents.  Children have been calling in to see what the latest creation is, staff have been struggling to get their heads around how you can print in 3D, parents have been watching it in action and the buzz is amazing.  If you want to see what all the fuss is about go to http://cubify.com/      From our point of view the ability of the cube to print in a range of colours and the fact that it is very easy to use are important factors.    The printers are part of a project to drive digital education in the wider community and form a part of our commitment to developing creative and design education for a digital future in the locality.  Some of the conversations between staff and pupils have taken interesting turns, if we can print human organs, should we?  How much of a human being would you feel comfortable with printing?  Blade Runner, here we come.

I can hardly bring myself to talk about Mr Gove’s most recent outbursts so if you want some quality satire of his extraordinary views then please hop over to http://tristramshepard.wordpress.com/  I couldn’t put it better.  The irony of declaring in parliament that you can see nothing wrong with an education rooted in the 19th century seems to be lost on Mr Gove.  More worrying is the fact that I keep noting the party faithful commenting that he is doing a good job.  They clearly have not spoken with the pupils who blame him for experimenting with their education, and perhaps therein lies our best hope; an educated electorate.  Even as I write the words I know that he will blithely take credit for that too.

Moving on.  The new technology raises several questions for us as Design Technology teachers, I can almost hear the craft versus design debate restarting, not to mention the craft versus art debate.  My own view is that this will go in a number of quite different directions; at one extreme the production of consumer goods will certainly feel the impact, I have been imagining with some of our pupils the idea of going into a shoe shop and having your feet scanned before selecting your basic style and redesigning it a little to customise it before having the shoes printed off for you.  At the other end of the spectrum I can see a multitude of uses for generating elements of crafted work, as you might imagine art and design colleges all over the world are exploring that frontier.  If you want to find out more then a trawl through some earlier posts will steer you in the right direction.  (Try, “So you mean I can print in chocolate?”  and  “I dare you, follow the link.”)   How long before we all have one sitting in our kitchen?  One prediction suggests less than ten years.  What price a curriculum rooted in the 19th century?

Another exciting development is the news that a tranche of recent reports is pushing in the right direction.  The CBI, a powerful pressure group and not to be easily dismissed a, “another pressure group that has been wrong for years”, came out with some strong words about the value of vocational education.  Another report from BIS highlighted the importance of crafts to the UK economy and most interesting of all a report by the Pearson group came up with a sense of balance about international league tables for education.  If you want to get to the meat of the report look for it here,  http://thelearningcurve.pearson.com but the executive summary makes for interesting reading:

Five lessons for education policymakers

1. There are no magic bullets: The small number of correlations found in the study shows the poverty of simplistic solutions. Throwing money at education by itself rarely produces results, and individual changes to education systems, however sensible, rarely do much on their own. Education requires long-term, coherent and focussed system-wide attention to achieve improvement.

2. Respect teachers: Good teachers are essential to high-quality education. Finding and retaining them is not necessarily a question of high pay. Instead, teachers need to be treated as the valuable professionals they are, not as technicians in a huge, educational machine.

3. Culture can be changed: The cultural assumptions and values surrounding an education system do more to support or undermine it than the system can do on its own. Using the positive elements of this culture and, where necessary, seeking to change the negative ones, are important to promoting successful outcomes.

4. Parents are neither impediments to nor saviours of education: Parents want their children to have a good education; pressure from them for change should not be seen as a sign of hostility but as an indication of something possibly amiss in provision. On the other hand, parental input and choice do not constitute a panacea. Education systems should strive to keep parents informed and work with them.

5. Educate for the future, not just the present: Many of today’s job titles, and the skills needed to fill them, simply did not exist 20 years ago. Education systems need to consider what skills today’s students will need in future and teach accordingly.

The two lessons that I would want to draw from this study are that successful education systems respect teachers and. of course, that we need to educate for the future and not the present.  No prizes if you guessed that those would be my choice.  A friend once old me about a leadership expedition he was on.  The idea was that each member of the group would take it in turns to be the navigator and leader.  At some point the instructor would confidently announce that they should go in the wrong direction just to see if the navigator had the courage to overrule him and keep the group on track.  I sense a growing tide of opposition to the current madness in education, let us hope that we have not lost our way by the time we realise that we are going in the wrong direction.



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