Future challenges

5th May 2000 at 01:00
Andrew Breckon of DATA says technology education needs to be modernised.

The start of a century should be a time of thinking ahead, creating a vision of the future in which our young people will live, learn and work. Schools of the future will need to develop learners' potential and prepare them for lifelong learning through thinking skills, creative responding and the understanding and application of relevant technologies within a social and environmental context.

Since late 1998, the Design and Technology Association has had a drive to bring new technologies and approaches to the subject. In June 1999 the schools' standards minister Charles Clark stated that it was vital for the subject to move forward with the introduction of new technologies. The new Order reflects the start of some of these changes, with CADCAM compulsory from key stage 3, more emphasis on electronics, the application of ICT, understanding new materials, and reinforcement of product analysis and the issues and values related to product development. This shows a significant degree of genuine modernisation but can only be the start of a major challenge for the subject and also for the nation's long-term success.

Much emphasis is currently placed on e-commerce. This is undoubtedly a key tool but the added value will be in the products; the successful ones will be those that meet basic needs and stimulate a desire to possess them. The use, application and control of the new technologies will be fundamental to thatsuccess. Thus our schools must be up to date with technology education, and have highly skilled teachers and relevant materials and components for students to work with.

We must address the new technologies which should include biotechnology, new intelligent materials, e-design and manufacture with rapid prototyping and robotics, and electronics and communications technology with systems and software engineering. The application of these by interested and well-motivated students is what will make the difference. The challenge for the education system is how to achieve this. The following should be part of the Government's agenda if we are to create genuine added value:

* invest in research and development so that curriculum changes can be soundly planned and tested;

* invest in more professional development, based on new technologies;

* modernise the examination system to accept ICT;

* link industrial and government support to national programmes and sustainable developments;

* ensure implementation strategies and funding are provided.

The Government, rightly proud of getting schools online, must ensure it develops ICT with emphasis on applications in value added areas of wealth creation. There has probably never been a greater need for a coherent initiative in modernising technology education.

Andrew M Breckon is chief executive of DATA, 16 Walton Road, Wellesbourne, Warwickshire. Tel: 01789 470007E-mail: DATA@data.org.ukWebsite: www.data.org.uk

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