BERT MAES

The Future of CNC Manufacturing Education – CNC Manufacturing, Education Reform & Change Management News.

How to attract more students to technical education? PART 1: the problems

Posted by Bert Maes on April 23, 2010


One critical challenge keeps me going daily: “How to attract more students to technical / manufacturing education?

While, I see many action possibilities, the most important answer might be: finding something appealing to students “that’s not disingenuous and on which they can put their own creative mark”.

Technical education above all should encourage children’s’ creativity. But schools are often doing the opposite. I quote:

  • “We encourage our children to be expressive and make things. Then, suddenly, we switch gears, leaving them with the impression that art class is as extracurricular as baseball and not nearly as important as, say, English or math” (Nicholas Negroponte in Being Digital)

  • It’s more than ironic that a generation that celebrates the iPod, can’t live without its cell phones and share its most intimate videos on YouTube is increasingly turning away from the technological fields that enable today’s youth culture. (John Kao in Innovation Nation)
  • Among 7-11 year olds, art, design and technology are favorite subjects. Children say they prefer these subjects because they enjoy the design and building element and the opportunity to be creative. But a couple of years later, between 11 and 16, only 18 % still perceives engineering as a desirable career. (EngineeringUK.com)

  • Ask a class of first graders which of them thinks they’re creative and they’ll all put their hands up. Ask a group of college seniors this same question and most of them won’t. I believe passionately that we are all born with tremendous natural capacities and that we lose touch with many of them. (Ken Robinson in The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything)


So, dear Reader, what’s the problem? Why does this happen?

Sir Ken Robinson points to four reasons:

1) Parental expectations

We, as parents, are trying to do very best for our kids and provide opportunities that will help them mature into intelligent, capable adults, right? However, we often steer our kids away from their true talents on the assumption that they have to follow conventional routes to success.

There is a whole system of social roles and expectations in our local communities that is dictating our future: “Don’t take a dance program, you can’t make a living as dancer,” or “I’m not paying for you to be a philosophy major” or “You’re good at math, you should become an accountant”.

Money is the focus of many parents, whereas money is not extremely important for kids, they don’t want some lousy expensive car, they want something meaningful with their lives, they want ‘excitement’.

It seems like getting a Ph.D. or some boring job is key to being successful in life. We believe we are giving these messages for their own good, but this way we actually discourage our kids from taking a particular path. A path on which they can do what they love to do. A path on which they can do and make the things they feel born to do or to create.

2) Peer pressure

Besides pressure from our parents, there is the pressure to conform to the standards and expectations of friends. Kids want to be like their peers, but just in case they have any funny ideas, their peers are quick to remind them of the penalties of being different. We often deny our deepest passions to stay connected with our peers. At school, we disguise an interest in physics because our circle finds it uncool. If you’re doing science, you’re a geek; if you’re doing art or dance, you’re effete. You’re trapped in a compulsion to conform.

3) Implicit beliefs in our culture

Beyond the social constraints we may feel from families and friends, there are others that are implicit in the general culture. The natural instinct of children is to copy and imitate, and as they grow they absorb not only the sounds they hear but the sensibilities they express and the culture they convey. In our local community, we learn ways of thinking, feeling and relating. Such constraints inhibit our passions when they seem inconsistent with the culture. That is exactly why it is so difficult to attract women to manufacturing.

4) Uncommitted teachers

Education should be one of the main processes that unleash the unlimited creativity of people. School should be the place where you discover what you love to do.

School should be the place where you can experience the “flow; the moment where hours pass, and it feels like minutes; the moment where you ignore everything and just concentrate passionately. You forget about the rest of the world and get completely focused and intent, living in the moment.

Eric Clapton describes it as being “in harmony with time. It’s a great feeling, there’s nothing like it”.

Mathematics for instance can be an ideal subject to reach the “flow”. Math hides huge creative opportunities, but teachers often present math as an interminable series of puzzles to which someone else already knew the answers, and the only options were to get it right or wrong.

The whole process is usually so dull and repetitive. Teachers teach it the wrong way or at the wrong time.

Richard Branson for example was clearly bright, personable and capable of putting his mind to good use, but he was completely unwilling to conform to the school’s standard. He says: “In fact all the great entrepreneurs of my generation really struggled at school and couldn’t wait to get out and make something themselves.”

The current education system seems to systematically drain the creativity out of our children.

>> Dear Reader, do you see more issues related to attractive technical education??

Monday, I will be my usual practical and concrete self and come up with the post: Knowing this, how can we transform CNC manufacturing education? See you on Monday…

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3 Responses to “How to attract more students to technical education? PART 1: the problems”

  1. Ed Neale said

    I have to confess that before I accidentally stumbled into a career in engineering marketing I had absolutely no interest in the sector whatsoever. I actually studied Business Law at university and specialised in mainly humanities subjects before that, deliberately steering away from the technical subjects.

    The main reason for this was that my teachers effectively killed off the subjects, failing to convey either any degree of passion or any idea of how what they were teaching could be applied in real life.

    It is only since I have been working in the sector that I have realised the massive significance of its contribution to society, both in terms of the day-to-day products we take for granted and also in addressing the longer term environmental issues we’re now facing and need to tackle as a priority.

    I think the challenge is for today’s educational institutions to turn my experiences on their head and not only make the STEM subjects more exciting but also to give an idea of how what students are learning can be applied in real life. To go one further, I firmly believe that the commercial sector should be involved in this process wherever possible, not just in colleges but also right down to the grassroots level of primary education.

  2. Ed Neale said

    Would also suggest that the teaching of science/tech/engineering/maths (STEM) subjects should maybe be guided by a nationally-led focus. For example, if a nation’s goal is to be the first to send mankind to Mars, or to develop the first truly zero emission energy source, then maybe the teaching of STEM subjects should be designed along those lines as well.

    This would give not only equip the next generation of students with the skills needed to meet the objective(s) but would also ensure that they understood the importance of what they’re learning and how it’s applied.

    It’s an interesting fact that one of the very first words that children learn to say is ‘why?’. Perhaps it’s time we had a better answer.

  3. […] How to attract more students to technical education? PART 1: the … […]

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