WHAT IS civil engineering? If you were to put that question to your average man on the street, what would be his answer?
'Don't know'? And if you were to ask the same person what makes up the built environment?
This is the 'great sadness of our country', according to Michael Marland, retired headmaster and one of the judges of the Henry Palmer award. 'People just don't know how buildings are built, ' says Marland, and the reason, he says, is that young people are educated badly.
Marland draws on personal experience to cite a number of reasons why the national curriculum is failing civil engineering. He asks that when subjects such as maths, physics, design & technology, and even history all have connections to civil engineering, why are the connections not explained?
The reason is sadly simple - teachers have 'no idea' what civil engineering is. How can it be, he asks, that hundreds of thousands of children can sit in a piece of civil engineering everyday for years and never be encouraged to think about how it stands up?
Marland also believes that changes in the approach to design and technology, while made with the good intentions, have led to a 'domination by chipboard' - where limitations of what can be built in terms of size and material lead to projects too far removed from real civil engineering.
So apart from completely revolutionising teaching in the UK, what can be done?
Marland believes that if there can be a national campaign for literacy, why not a 'national campaign for civil engineeringacy'? Well, the Henry Palmer Award is just such a campaign.
The award is a way of delivering civil engineering to children in a way that civil engineers want it delivered. It is, according to Marland, about finding ways to help children understand 'how the world is held up'.