Designing an education future
By Paul Reilly, Managing Partner
Twice this week, Peter Brett Associates senior management have participated in Designing our Tomorrow (DOT) events, showcasing the extraordinary potential of this unique educational resource to help promote design and technology and STEM skills. It's a project that we're wholeheartedly supporting - for some very important reasons.
The DOT box initiative, being jointly developed by the Faculty of Education and the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge for UK schools, is helping to put the concept of creativity back into the everyday definition of science. Each box is mapped to the new GCSE and A-level specifications for design and technology, and each incorporates lesson plans and teaching resources.
A child’s innate desire to help another child, harnessed through hands-on learning with his or her teacher in the school classroom, is leading to a high-level understanding of practical design and engineering skills. If successful, this initiative has the ability to transform attitudes towards learning maths, science and design, break down some of the prevalent gender-bias attitudes and help the UK to meet head-on the current skills challenges it is facing.
Recently, I attended an A-level choices meeting at my son’s school. Wandering around the school sports hall, we searched for the queue to join to register for Physics. When we enquired as to whether we had found the right line, the mother of one girl jokingly remarked that her daughter wasn’t capable of Physics and her interests lay on the creative side. So we were in the wrong place. Her views are widely held, if incorrect, probably in every aspect.
Creativity isn’t restricted to derivative poetry, abstract art and Simon Cowell’s manipulative musical theatre in what passes for Saturday night entertainment these days. Real creativity is the controlled and careful application of knowledge within constraints - for example, to generate new pharmaceutical solutions to solve major human-species challenges, relieve the planet of the impact of industrial waste processes, and put Juno into orbit around Jupiter to see what we can learn about the formation of our solar system.
Our engineers and scientists work in the design and delivery of complex regeneration, development and infrastructure projects. They are multi-disciplinary, with constraints from the natural physical environment, manmade regulations and investor demands. The ability to perform high-level mathematics well is a given. The outcomes are world-class research facilities, great places to live and work, cleaner air, easier transport flows, improved economic conditions and increased power generation so that the lights to stay on. Exercising our great maths skills is not why we do what we do. Our passion is for good outcomes for our clients, our communities and our environment.
We look for empathy in our engineers and scientists. We look for people who can build inclusivity into design - natural communicators and holistic thinkers who can pull together all aspects of a deliverable scheme whilst relishing the challenges that emerge from a systematic approach.
Creativity is at the heart of engineering. Getting this across to children at Key Stage 3, before the exam pressure avalanche of GCSEs arrives and before the final choices are made is critical. Enabling curiosity within the curriculum to solve real-world problems, such as responding to paediatric asthma treatment, arthritis, or visual impairment within a scaffolded learning system has generated some incredible responses by school children engaged in DOT box pilots in London and Cambridge.
That is why PBA is so delighted to be supporting this exciting new approach, and I would encourage others to get involved if they believe, as we do, that the greatest creative thrills are to be found in the application of science and maths to real world problems.