Don't dilute technology;Opinion

5th June 1998 at 01:00
Students taking a BTechEd must not be presented with a narrower course, argue Gordon Doughty and Michael Bain

A PROPOSAL to dilute standards for student teachers in technology threatens the future of technological education across Scotland. It is firmly opposed by the Bachelor of Technological Education degree course providers at Glasgow University and St Andrew's College.

In their four-year concurrent degree courses, technology students need to cover three school subjects: craft and design, graphic communication and technological studies. Following a suggestion by Strathclyde University, there is a move to allow student teachers to proceed with preparing pupils in all three subjects up to Standard grade but only two to Higher. Their qualification would none the less permit teaching all three subjects at all levels on starting their careers, relying on capability and motivation for in-service study to fill a huge gap.

Some teacher education institutions have had difficulty recruiting students with a good background in technology and science, and particularly Higher mathematics. They are therefore tempted not to offer a Higher technological studies option. Even if it was offered, most students would probably choose to specialise in the other options, which are perceived as being less challenging academically.

New technology teachers need to be capable of teaching all three subjects at Higher and above because any weakening of technological education weakens our national capability in technology. Our society shapes and is shaped by technology.

Cutting back on technological education would seem unwise at a time when the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum in its framework document of 1996 advocates raising technological awareness in all pupils, and the 5-14 programme encourages a technological capability in all children. The Government agrees that economic prosperity is limited by the supply of people who can apply technological skills in employment.

If the skills of new teachers are diluted, schools will be even less likely to offer technological studies, whose enrolment is declining in the face of fierce competition in parallel streams from physics, computing and home economics.

Teachers should only be certificated to teach subjects if their qualification clearly demonstrates ability to learn to a level well above what they want to teach. At present, concurrent student technology teachers do not have time for more than a third of the technology that specialist engineering students learn. They need deep learning of a carefully selected range of topics and to develop broad understanding. They need the ability to evaluate and improve their skills and knowledge, the ability to learn other topics in depth in the future, to prepare them for a lifetime of adapting to changes in technology.

The Lifelong Learning consultation paper published in February confirmed that we all need the ability to learn throughout life to cope with the changing nature of work, which is often led by technology. This ability can be developed and assured by an appropriate degree course. Why can't we rely on BEd graduates picking up the ability to teach technological studies after university? Because this is a quality assurance issue. Unless their degree course develops and assesses deep technological knowledge and skills we cannot be confident that graduates will cope with the demands of Higher technological studies and beyond, and benefit fully from subsequent in-service study.

Of course, we could certify some degree courses for only two teaching qualifications rather than three. But that is too defeatist. Courses can be made more attractive and more students recruited. Many prospective students are anxious about the narrowing choice as they pursue their interest in teaching. They need to know that their degree has broad potential if school vacancies are scarce. Although most BTechEd graduates teach in Scottish schools, some have gone into industry, training and further education.

Incoming students also need to know that there are routes to other courses for those who change their minds or are found to be unsuitable for teaching. And engineering students should have options in education that could lead them into teaching.

Institutions need to upgrade staff skills and find new blood. Staff in initial teacher education should collaborate with other departments and organisations - using the best resources for craft and design skills, technology, education and industrial experience. The mergers between teacher education institutions and universities should make this easier.

Providing enough fully capable technology teachers is difficult, but essential. Let us not dilute technological teacher education just to make it easier.

Gordon Doughty is a lecturer at Glasgow University and Michael Bain at St Andrew's College.

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