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Engineering body calls for education rethink

Engineers in schools 3x2

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is calling for a major rethink about the role of schools and colleges in promoting engineering.

The UK-based engineering body has published a new report entitled Big Ideas: the future of engineering in schools, supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering. The institution said the report reflects the views of leading engineering education experts and key stakeholders such as employers, parents and pupils.

The report has proposed that pupils should be explicitly taught about engineering and the manufactured world as part of existing lessons from primary level upwards. It also calls for maintaining a broad curriculum for all until the age of 18 and said that the routes into engineering should be broadened by promoting flexible entry requirements for engineering degree courses.

Institution of Mechanical Engineers head of education and skills, and lead author of the report, Peter Finegold said: “We have an engineering skills shortfall at a time where technology looks set to increase its dominance over much of our lives.

“Our schools need to adjust to this reality, both by increasing the number and breadth of young people choosing engineering careers, and by empowering those who do not.” He added: “We need a step-change in the way we talk about engineering in schools and colleges.”

Finegold said that maintaining a broad curriculum until the age of 18 would mean that pupils wouldn’t have to make decisions to give up subjects before they really knew what they were.

“The consensus is that early specialisation routes young people into either arts or sciences too soon, and prevents many from considering engineering study or training before they’ve encountered it,” he said.

Finegold also called for a broader range of entry requirements for engineering degree courses.

“We need to encourage people with the right aptitude, but who may not fit the traditional archetype,” he said. “Not only would this boost the number of people who might consider engineering as a career, but also encourage other creatively-minded people into the profession.

“We need to stop talking about the skills gap and start taking action to ensure that we give children and students the best chance to make informed choices in our technological society. The best way to do this is to change the stories we tell about engineering and make the subject more visible throughout school.”

The report’s key goals:

  1. Promote engineering as a people-focused, problem-solving, socially beneficial discipline
  2. Work to enhance the presence of engineering and the “made world” at all stages from primary level upwards
  3. Ensure that apprenticeships and other technical pathways not only deliver high quality technicians, but also enable individuals to progress to the highest levels of engineering
  4. Broaden routes into engineering degree courses by promoting more flexible entry requirements
  5. Maintain a broad curriculum for all young people up to the age of 18
  6. Shift the emphasis in STEM teaching towards problem-based, contextualised learning
  7. Nurture engineering ways of thinking in all young people
  8. Create more spaces and opportunities for young people to design and make things particularly by working collaboratively in interdisciplinary groups
  9. Use design and technology as a platform for integrating STEM and creative design and for raising the profile of engineering in schools
  10. Change the structure of schools education to embed engineering explicitly at all levels.

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