Out of control without a back-up

Steve Cushing

Systems and control are all about inputs, processes and outputs. The Government, in requiring that systems and control be taught to all pupils, has issued a stern challenge to schools. But there is a lot of evidence that they will take only a minimalist approach.

If the desired output in terms of children's understanding and knowledge is to be fulfilled, serious lack of equipment and support materials for the learning process must be tackled. The alternative is to side-step the requirements and focus purely on mechanical or human systems such as quality control.

The first and most obvious shortage is in equipment. While most teachers associate systems and control with electronic and pneumatic systems, resourcing these areas for whole cohorts is prohibitively expensive. But even where they can afford it many schools aren't sure what equipment to buy.

The present debate about the benefits and drawbacks of electronic or computer control adds to the confusion. Computer interfaces give access to more complex systems. But as systems become more complex so does the need to monitor the learning experience to ensure pupils develop an understanding of what is happening.

If we are to avoid projects like audible traffic lights for blind drivers (part of a key stage 4 portfolio) equipment on its own will achieve little. There is an immediate need to improve professional understanding of all types of systems and control. Teachers need the opportunity and time to learn.

A potential solution to both obstacles is to link with local industry. By studying real systems and control this vital area of the curriculum is made relevant. It is often argued that it is an understanding that pupils need to develop not a practical capability. But it's not that simple. Most schools aren't near such industries. What is needed is good support materials and they are needed now.

Steve Cushing is design and technology co-ordinator for the National Design Technology Education Foundation.

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