Impressive input for ICT

27th April 2001 at 01:00
Andrew Breckon reports on the successes of DATA's CADCAM initiative.

Over the past 18 months, a significant change in design and technology teaching in secondary schools has taken place. The speed of change has been quite staggering. The programme has created more than 165 accredited trainers in CADCAM who can provide training to schools. Some 450 trainee teachers have also been accredited so that they can take the software into schools when they begin their professional careers.

The software value to schools in the UK exceeds pound;9 million. PTC, a US-based CAD company donated ProDESKTOP software and Delcam, a UK company, donated ArtCAM. This shows a real commitment by industry to helping modernise the curriculum, and the Government has so far contributed around pound;1 million.

The packages are state-of-the-art software used in industry. What has it achieved so far? First, it brings teachers and pupils into contact with sophisticated CAD tools that have a feature-based approach. Some pupils have found it easier to understand and use than their teachers have, and learn even faster by also using the software at home. It has captivated pupils, raised motivation, changed teaching strategies and developed new creative capabilities. Pupils' previous design work was inhibited by poor drawing skills, or by not wishing to modify a design because of the need to change the drawings.The software has dramatically raised pupils' epectations of what they can design.

New products, such as cheaper machine tools and rapid prototyping software, are being made available to schools. In less than 12 months, schools have developed expert pupils who are fully conversant with the software. To maximise the use of these "experts", DATA, in conjunction with PTC, has introduced the Mentor badge for pupils who help others in their school develop the skills. Mentoring other pupils is a vital key skill of working with others.

However, the success of this project is now raising serious problems for Damp;T teachers who lack appropriate equipment. An evaluation of the work clearly shows that without a dedicated suite of quality computers, as well as a dedicated server and a range of computer control equipment, progress will not be made and the golden opportunity provided by generous companies will be lost.

UK schools are undoubtedly leading the world, and UK-accredited trainers are being employed to kick-start the initiative in the US. DATA can now release the software to any school in the world, with support materials. If the Government were to match-fund the companies, the CADCAM revolution would be available to all pupils.

The CADCAM in Schools Initiative is managed by DATA, 16 Wellesbourne, Walton Road, Wellesbourne, Warwickshire CV35 9JB. Websites: www.data.org.uk or www.cadinschools.org

Andrew Breckon is chief executive of DATA


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