Stuck in first gear

6th June 1997 at 01:00

QUALITY. BMW Resource pack. BMW Education Programme PO Box 934 Poole, Dorset BH17 7BR Tel: 01202 665621. One copy free per secondary school; extra copies cost Pounds 23.50 each Age range: 14-16

Gerald Haigh would prefer to drive a BMW than use one of its resource packs.

The development of BMW is one of the motor industry's great post-war success stories. The company stands today for engineering excellence, reliability and high quality. Its latest series of cars received the best reviews in the motoring press that you are ever likely to read. Above all, though, a BMW car is exciting - alert, responsive, a pleasure to drive and own.

And then we have this education pack - workaday, reliable but not very blood-tingling. A real Honda Accord of a product. The first sentence of the introduction sets the rather plodding tone. "Quality is a multifaceted concept that is often referred to but rarely defined ."

The aims of the pack cannot be faulted. Quality is in the design and technology curriculum, defined in terms of fitness for purpose, and appropriate use of resources. Out there in the real world, too, it is a key concept, and pupils ought to be introduced to the various ways in which it is interpreted and understood. The pack therefore sets out to make the link between the curriculum and what the industrialist means by "quality".

It provides, in a ring binder, copious teachers' notes, photocopiable information and activity sheets (nine of each) and four overhead projector transparencies.

Much of the pack is intended to add a dimension to other design and technology activities. Activity Sheet 1, for example, provides a framework for carrying out quality checks, through group discussion, on something that a pupil or a group has already designed or made.

Activity Sheet 2 provides a framework for applying quality criteria to an existing product. The teacher's notes suggest that "this activity can be enhanced by the teacher bringing actual products into the lesson". Such product evaluations of everything from food processors and vacuum cleaners, to credit card holders and salt cellars, are now common in Damp;T and the framework given here will be useful.

Further along, Activity Sheet 9 looks at quality in terms of the life of a product. Pointing out that "all products have a limited life span", it shows illustrations of contrasting products - jeans, wine, batteries, workshop tools - and invites discussion of the concept of life span.

There are also two kinds of design tasks - for one, the rubric "You are required to develop a new promotional item for sale by BMW" is followed by a detailed brief. In deliberate contrast, there are several design tasks where the brief is much more open - "create a product for use by the driver of a car, not necessarily when the car is moving, which will improve the quality of life of the driver at a cost of Pounds 15-Pounds 20".

The content of the pack is sound and relevant to the curriculum. (The Design and Technology Association - DATA - has provided help in its preparation. ) The presentation, however, is downbeat. The language is flat; the reading level is challenging and will be too difficult for many pupils with reading problems; the typeface is smaller than it needs to be (any pupil with visual impairment will be at an unnecessary disadvantage); the graphics, though professional, are monochrome and uninspiring. Did the designers look at any published secondary scheme of work in any subject?

Many pupils - and it has to be said that most will be boys - will be interested in this pack simply because it comes from BMW, a name which has lots of street credibility. Lots - though by no means all - of the activities and illustrations are car-based. There is a car seat, a sequence of car shapes changing over time, crash testing. The car illustrations, as you would expect, are BMW. Whether all this is an advantage or something to worry about is for each teacher and school to decide.

Some may feel uneasy that car manufacturers are obviously interested in raising awareness and establishing a good image among young potential drivers. Other teachers may feel that schools ought not, on environmental grounds, to be promoting the car culture at all.

What is certain is that by giving its name to the concept of quality, BMW is doing nothing which is hypocritical or out of line with its core mission - this is not at all the same as, for example, a sugar factory promoting healthy eating.

In the end, though, I look out of my window to where, on the car park, stands a BMW 325i coupe, silver metallic with alloy wheels, and I wish some of the same flair had rubbed off on this resource.

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