We can be very insular in this country. In our need to stay abreast of developments in the UK perhaps we can be forgiven for rarely looking elsewhere in the world for examples of design and technological education.
This is a pity as there are several countries where developments have some resonance with the evolution of the subject here over the past 10 to 15 years or more. France, Germany, Holland, New Zealand, the USA and Australia have all reviewed what is taught in their schools and responded in different ways to the inclusion of technology as a key element in any broad and balanced curriculum.
Progress made by each country can be judged by looking at some of the resource material produced and a set of pupil textbooks recently published by Cambridge University Press tells us something of what is, and equally what is not, happening in at least one state in Australia. This can be used alongside the accumulated knowledge of pupils addicted to watching numerous afternoon soap operas set in the land of kangaroos and Kylies.
The Australian Technology Studies series uses a straightforward problem solving approach to teach pupils key knowledge and skills in material selection, processing, production and testing. Technology is defined as the application of skills, knowledge and creativity in finding solutions to a particular need or problem. Nicely succinct and another definition to add to our list.
This is further developed in the plastics book which considers the Greek origins of the word technology in the terms technologia, tekhne, techno and -ology. This leads to another definition of technology as the application of practical or mechanical sciences through the creative and industrial skills of human society. It is comforting to know that we in the UK are not alone in striving to define such an everyday, commonplace word.
The four books in the series each cover a separate group of materials: metals, textiles, woods and plastics. Although by different authors, a common format has been adopted including chapters on background theory, materials classification, tools and equipment, product design and a welcome section on the impact of the extraction and use of each material on the environment.
The text is clear, informative and presented in sufficient depth for the intended audience. Each book also has student worksheets, class activities, revision questions and a helpful technical dictionary for pupils (and possibly for some teachers).
Inevitably some sections are heavily biased towards Australian industry and commerce. Photographs of the Sydney Harbour bridge, sheep shearing and a surf board are only to be expected, but most of the text is more general and has relevance to aspects of key stage 3 and 4 programmes of study.
Both the content and style of the books will be familiar to experienced design and technology teachers and parts may now be considered outdated. The linear design process used in the text dates back to the early seventies as does the specimen plastics design project of an acrylic key tag.
Compared with many recent UK publications, there are certainly more words per page and graphic devices so beloved of some publishers have been studiously avoided.
With the exception of the lively, full-colour cover all other illustrations are either black and white photographs or line drawings. This may result in a lack of appeal for some students. The workshop illustrations show that the condition of some workbenches is just as poor in some Australian schools as in the UK.
Overall the scheme will have only limited appeal, but much of the information and data included in each book could be easily adapted and used effectively with pupils, helping them adopt a different perspective. The books could also have relevance to the new single material focus GCSE courses now under development by examination bodies.
Bob Welch is technology inspector for Berkshire.