A cat amongst the pigeons

Well, it’s been an interesting week. Sources revealed that various academic and subject-based associations are meeting together and conspiring to put together a revised Design & Technology National Curriculum in the unlikely belief that it will remain a statutory subject at the end of the current review. Of course for academics and subject-based associations it matters a lot that D&T retains its status, but the reality is that the future of D&T lies more appropriately in a vocational rather than academic context. Meanwhile we all need to accept  that, for a large proportion of children and teachers, the D&T National Curriculum has over the last twenty years been a complete waste of time for all but a few schools where it has been done well. At a time when some forward-looking, non-academically-led vision is needed, the last thing we need is another patched-up version of the past, and another attempt to make a somewhat 19th century view of engineering compulsory for all. And a further danger is that what is submitted as being suitable for an academic National Curriculum will then end up as ‘non-statutory guidance’ for a vocational experience.

The 1989/90 first D&T National Curriculum was seen by many at the time as being over-ambitious, which of course it was, given that not nearly enough was subsequently invested in the in-service training needed to enable a workforce with largely no previous design experience to deliver it. Instead it was simplified, and by the mid 1990s had ‘settled down’ into something more manageable. But that’s where the development largely stopped. At a time when technology started to race ahead, a limited 1960s approach to 3D product design for mass-manufacture was still being offered – the only real change being the introduction of expensive CAD-CAM equipment that tended to limit rather than extend creative design ideas.

While 1999 was not so very different from 1989, 2011 is a very different world from 2001. Back then mobile phones just made phone calls and the internet was an expensive dial-up affair. There were no mp3 players, no sat-navs or domestic digital video cameras. And flatscreen, widescreen, catch-up TV viewed on hand-held tablets was still a wild aspiration. Few had even dreamt of the possibilities of Facebook, Blogs, Twitter and YouTube. Today’s 21st Century children think, communicate and learn in very different ways to their teachers

Sadly Technology education is now hopelessly out-of-date, and the problem is we don’t have a generation of enlightened twenty and thirty-somethings coming through into the profession who are capable of teaching children about things such as collaborative, agile ways of creatively solving complex problems for an unpredictable future, how to design apps or intelligent sensor-driven products and interfaces made from composite smart materials, or how to design and program an App that interacts with its environment. Technology education now needs a framework that enables it change rapidly, not once every ten to fifteen years.

But what made the week really interesting was the sudden appearance of a short, anonymously published, somewhat disruptive pdf document that got rapidly circulated amongst the academics and subject associations still trying to pretend that D&T still had a place in Mr Gove’s flawed academic vision for the nation. The document was simply a collection of responses to the question ‘Should D&T continue to be a National Curriculum subject?‘ Although the responses varied, the overall conclusion was a resounding No!, and that it would be better if it were left to those teachers who were actually able to deliver it well, leaving the rest to focus on something more worthwhile. With Mr Gove extremely unlikely to admit D&T into the sacred academic ‘essential knowledge’ circle, it was suggested that this might be a good moment to try something completely different.

2D&Tornot2D&T? ( .pdf download)

This, as someone remarked, put the cat amongst the pigeons. The response of some of the academics and subject associations to the document was particularly revealing in their haste and vehemence in dismissing the responses as being of no interest or relevance, seeing it as an attack on the value of the subject, rather than the reality of its delivery. At the same time others are unbelievably still trying to define what is meant by ‘design’, as if this was not extensively explored in the 1960s and 70s.  Though after a number of days an increasing number of academics started to come out of the woodwork, so to speak, and admit that the document did make some very important points that needed to be taken into consideration. All of which simply begs the question – How many academics,  administrators and politicians does it take to make a mess of the next National Curriculum?


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