The future

Paul Woodward
29th February 2016 at 14:56

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, The future

A blog, by its very nature, should be short and that might explain why I keep writing these things in pairs. Previously I looked very briefly at the history of the subject but I would like to take a moment to think about…the future.

A few weeks ago I found myself teaching history for a whole day (don’t ask!). Now I quite enjoyed the subject at school but not enough to distract me from more creative pursuits so, I duly delivered material on World War II in the morning. So far so good, but in the afternoon I was delighted to discover that I would be delivering material on the Industrial Revolution. Ah, this is something I know more about and can link in with D&T I thought, but then a small child said to me ‘Why do we bother studying history, it’s pointless. It’s already happened and gone’. Prepared for this I fell back on the often used Einstein quote ‘to look to the future we must first look upon the past…’ It had no effect. Now perhaps it was too much to ask a Year 7 pupil to grasp the concept but their dogged determination to reinforce the point actually started to make sense.

This got me thinking when I should really have been teaching (it happens a lot at my age), many academic subjects are steeped in history; from Latin to physics, religious studies to art and, of course, history itself. They all rely very much on theory or fact from the past to teach the subject in the present day.

But history cannot be changed. It’s a simple fact and that small child’s ‘protest’ was now starting to sound very valid. History can be discussed and argued, different viewpoints can be considered and all can be speculated on but it has gone. It’s over. It happened and nothing can ever change those events.

If history is an ‘academic’ subject and revered within the curriculum why is there no ‘Future’ on the curriculum? Well, that’s because it hasn’t happened and therefore cannot be studied and discussed in context. Definitive texts cannot be written and a syllabus could never be produced for teachers to deliver. Surely it would be silly to even suggest such a subject.

Well, not really.

Design and technology is such a subject which, perhaps more than any other curriculum subject, considers the future and actually attempts to address issues that are imminent or inevitable. As the future is the one place we are all inevitably heading towards, I struggle (again) to see why it isn’t given more prominence in education today.

Admittedly, in design and technology we look to the past; to historical events, designers and products, but we use that to see how we have progressed and, more importantly, to help us design for tomorrow. We study new technologies that will inevitably affect our lives and we consider ways of improving the world and the lives of the creatures than inhabit it. We look at existing systems and try to make them more user friendly, cost effective and energy saving.

I am sure many history teachers would be aghast at any suggestion that put the study of the future before an ‘academic’ study of the past. To quote that young lad again; ‘It’s gone, there is nothing you can do about it’, but the future, well, that is an unknown but one that we still have the power to change for good or bad. Scientists will work with technologists to create wonderful new inventions and the designers will put that technology in a product that is intuitive to use and desirable to own for one reason or another. From a technologist’s point of view, the future is new and shiny while the past is old and rusty. Of course, each has their own very different appeal.

Design and technology is such an important subject and the future will rely on its study more and more; just witness how much technological content there is in a subject that 30 years ago barely used computers in the classroom. The advances have been incredible and the world has changed accordingly but that is not to say that there isn’t a great deal more to be done.

Here are just a few predictions for the next 10 years sourced from www.futuretimeline.net:

1. Internet use will reach 5 billion.

2. You will be able to text by thinking.

3. Complex organ replacements will be grown from stem cells.

4. Holographic TV will become commonplace.

5. Video games will blur with reality.

6. Traditional microchips will reach the limit of miniaturisation.

7. Nanotech clothing will enter the commercial market.

8. Medical nanobots will be developed.

9. Wireless electricity will be ubiquitous.

10. Human AI finally becomes a reality.

All of these will rely heavily on design, engineering and technology to make them a reality but many predictions for the future also indicate deterioration in the quality of the global world. If we have that in mind then we can plan for the future and hopefully design and engineer solutions; possibly preventing potentially cataclysmic events from happening. No matter how much we study the past, only our actions in the present will affect the future and that is why the study of the future is not only possible but also vital to our survival. Design, technology, engineering and science are the most relevant subjects to study for anyone who wants to shape what the future will look like. I am not saying history is not important but I certainly don’t think it deserves more credence than a subject that has the ability to affect and shape the future for all of us.  I will leave the final thought to William Wordsworth:

‘Life is divided into three terms - that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future.’
 

 

Paul Woodward has been a teacher of DT for 22 years in a range of schools with stints as HOD and Head of Faculty, qualified to MA level and an examiner and moderator of Resistant Materials for the AQA. 

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