How to attract more students to technical education? Part 2: solutions
Posted by Bert Maes on April 26, 2010
In PART 1, I have discussed four reasons why technical education is often the worst, the least preferred education and career choice. Parents, peers, our general culture, and teachers are actually discouraging or even telling that a manufacturing career is inappropriate. The professional inside the industry –however– knows that manufacturing is “absolutely amazing, seriously cool, completely crucial to our survival”.
Knowing the problems, how could we transform CNC manufacturing education accordingly? What can teachers do in their classrooms?
Some ideas, inspired by Sir Ken Robinson:
1) Hands-on, real-life education
We need to create environments in elementary schools where every person is inspired to grow and find their creative strengths. Too many graduate unsure of their real talents and equally unsure of what direction to take next. Too many kids are discouraged to choose technical education. Many kids wouldn’t ask for more than always hands-on ‘making things’ that make a difference in the world. But most students never get to explore the full range of their abilities and interests, because of the expectations and actions of parents, friends, peers or teachers. If a kid wants to become a creator, they rarely get the support to do it.
Technical schools need to be places that excite imagination, helps finding individual passion and talents, offers opportunities to develop their individual abilities. Especially CNC manufacturing is the discipline to turn ideas into final products. What engages young people’s learning is the sense that it is real. “They love the sense of tangible accomplishment. It feels good to say ‘Hey, I built that!’” (Thayer). That is what puts them in the “flow”.
But what do adolescents get in school? Lots of theory, limited practices. In many educational establishments, the students are even no longer allowed to produce their own parts. However, research shows that kids of lose their attention in 3 minutes. They learn by doing. This pushes teachers in other roles: they’ll have to make the subjects very visual, hands-on, based on real-life problems. A teacher is becoming a coach that should be passionate and authentic.
Douglas Crets argues that
“all these young people put all their energy into work that doesn’t have any impact on anyone else. They are being asked to produce work that nobody cares about. I absolutely think students should be producers. People want positive feedback and they want to know their work has greater impact.”
The whole idea is to inspire kids to learn by connecting their lessons to their place in the real world. Math means more when put in the context of running a cash register and estimating profits. Science comes alive when students use technology to make television shows. It’s giving the children a completely different perspective of why they are here. The best approach is linking the perceived enjoyment and creativity of design and technology to the underlying real-world application of the engineering field in e.g. providing everyone water, power and a modern place to live.
2) Investing in teachers
The best way to improve education is not to focus on curriculum or testing. The most powerful method of improving education is to invest in the improvement of teaching and the status of good teachers. It’s investing in teachers as mentors that understand kids’ talents, challenges and abilities and that give them maximum opportunities for delight, pleasure, curiosity, experimentation, fulfilment and accomplishment in shaping metal.
Many of these kids do better in school simply because they appreciated someone taking an interest in them. Good mentors open doors for us and get involved directly in our journeys. They show us the next steps and encourage us to take them. They recognize skills not yet noticed, they stand by to remind us of the skills we already posses and what we can achieve if we continue to work hard, they guide us, offer advice and techniques, paving the way for us, and allowing us to learn from our mistakes, they push us past what we see as our limits, reminding us that our goal should never be to be “average” at our pursuits.
Benjamin Graham for example gave Warren Buffet the tools to explore the market’s possibilities. He was rare talent that could blossom into something extraordinary if nurtured. When mentors serve this function – either turning a light in a new world or fanning the flames of interest into genuine passion – they do exalted work.
The most successful people now, had the full support of a like-minded person(s) who see the world the way they do, who allow them to feel their most natural, who affirm their talents, who inspire them, influence them, and drive them to be their best and keep their spark alive.
The implication here is that teachers need to get time. With the constant need to fulfill obliged curricula and assessment tests, teachers hardly have time to cope with the day to day tasks of their work, let alone think about change, new structures or new educational methods, to coach students and to choose other forms of teaching and learning…
Paul McCartney said that
“the best teacher I had was our English teacher. He was great. I was good with him because he understood our mentality as fifteen- and sixteen-year-old boys. We were studying Chaucer. It was like a completely foreign language. But he early turned me on to literature. He understood that the key for us would be sex and it was. When he turned that key, I was hooked.”
Donald Lipski, an internationally known sculptor was bored in school.
“When I should have been doing academic work, I was drawing or folding paper. Rather than being encouraged, I was chided for it. One teacher strongly encouraged my artistic talents. They had a very rudimentary welding setup in the sculpture department, and he taught me how to weld. To me it was like magic that I could actually takes pieces of steel and weld them together. It felt like everything I had done before in art was just child’s play. Welding steel and making steel sculptures was like real adult art. That inspirational teacher made me think that I could really make my life by making things”.
For Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post (one of the most widely read and frequently cited media brands on the internet) says a key factor in pursuing her dreams was the unwavering support of her mother:
“she gave me that safe place, that sense that she would be there no matter what happened, whether I succeeded or failed”.
Ewa Laurance, known as “The Striking Viking”, the most famous female billiards player on the planet, wasn’t at all interested or good at geometry or physics at school.
“For some reason, when I’m playing I see it a lot. I look at the table and I literally see lines and diagrams all over the place. Geometry at school did not get my attention. Maybe if I’d had a different teacher it would have been different – somebody that just said ‘Ewa, think of it this way,’ or, ‘look at it this way and you will get it’. Or they could have taken our whole class to a poolroom and said, ‘Check this out!’ But it was so boring at school.”
Ryan Pohl told me he has three young children, and his wife in constantly encouraging them to build and create using their imaginations, as opposed to conquering the latest level on a video game!
“We can already notice the difference in cognitive abilities, and creative abilities between our children and their peers who have less time to be creative. My children can choose whatever path they desire for life, but hopefully with this approach they will always value making THINGS!”
“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.”
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