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What is so important about Design and Technology

So why is Design & Technology important? What is unique about the subject? What does it teach pupils of today? What relevance does it have beyond school? What is to gain from it? What did I gain from Design & Technology in my education? How has Design & Technology been perceived in the past? What does it look like today and what has it to offer children of the future? What happened to ‘Crafts’ and ‘Practical Skills’? Does Design & Technology have something for everyone? What can I offer Design & Technology?

“One unique feature of Design & Technology in schools is that pupils learn by doing, through taking action.” Learning of this nature, through doing and taking action offers a unique and powerful experience for pupils of all ages. (Spendlove, 2008)

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Design & Technology provides a context for pupils to develop knowledge, understanding and skills using a variety of materials. They will participate in tasks that will help to develop ideas, plan, produce products to meet human needs and evaluate them. Stimulating contexts provide ample opportunities for pupils to implement and expand on creative thinking, problem-solving skills as individuals and as team members and will provide possibilities to draw on the local ethos, community and impacts on the world.

They will be able to progress practical and intellectual skills with understanding aesthetic, technical, cultural, health, social, emotional, economic, industrial and environmental issues. Researching will play a heavy part in understanding these focus areas as well as evaluating past, present and future design and technologies and their effects on sustainability and the world as a whole. This subject can build confidence and risk-taking with ideas using transferable practical skills and will become analytical consumers of products, providing a basis and context for creative and innovative thinking. (Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, 2008)

The Design & Technology curriculum is vast in terms of its content. There are so many areas to explore and discover including food, textiles, graphics, electronics and resistant materials. Surely there is something for everyone; there is certainly something that everyone can relate to. But its “strength of diversity can also be its weakness; the breadth of activities within a subject means that opinions about why we teach Design & Technology are wide-ranging.” (Spendlove, 2008) Spendlove goes on to say that justification is down to ‘personal beliefs’ as to why we deliver the subject on a somewhat crowded curriculum. Our personal pedagogy as to why we teach this subject is fundamental to us as individuals, but how can we justify it as a whole in a general view conceived by all? It is clearly valued by the QCDA as it describes it developing a lot of key and functional skills, which all fit neatly amongst agendas such as the Every Child Matters (ECM) and Personal Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS).

The National Curriculum also made it a compulsory subject some fifteen to twenty years ago; actually making it the second-youngest subject on the curriculum. It has since been trying to define itself and justify its being, by shaking off past prejudices and its typical vocational learning style. Spendlove forms the opinion like many that the subject offers opportunities to apply knowledge of Science, Maths and other curriculum subjects to real-life situations, therefore maintaining academic qualities and building on them and their capabilities, Spendlove claims it is, therefore, a ‘academic subject. If this is a subject that has the ability to combine all, does that not mean then it should be at the hub of a school and have the main stage in education?

It seems to fit comfortably as part of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum (for obvious reasons) and this not only gives relevance for Design & Technology’s existence as a standalone subject but also brings together other subjects to provide context and relevance for them. “One of the key issues for teachers is showing students the relevance of their learning to everyday life and in particular its contribution to the UK economy.” (Industrial Trust, 2010) With the country deep into an economic recession, we look to save money at home, jobs still need to be done around the home and although D&T does not directly teach a pupil how to hang a shelf or how to replace a light bulb or fuse (possibilities at KS4), it does help to build the confidence and knowledge to work through these ‘DIY’ problems and therefore gives an opportunity to save. Now that is a very basic assumption and link to the economy, but most economies are built around industry and Design & Technology introduce economics in a real and relevant perspective.

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Economics, scales of productions and profit and loss margins can all be related to Design & Technology and can also build on key functional skills like numeracy. Other functional skills sit well at home in the subject as well; we use a lot of complex vocabulary and language when talking about specialist areas and design processes which can only help improve literacy skills. With the modern world and every improving and developing technologies CAD/CAM amongst other fields provides excellent links to ICT competency. In my experience as a D&T teacher so far, it has proved to me it is very difficult not to address some form of functional skill in every lesson, as it is a part of the government’s agenda to include all functional skills in every lesson, Design & Technology is definitely working well in that area.

Personal Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS) have been driven in recent times by the National Curriculum through all subject areas, but I have never known a time when it was demonstrated in Design & Technology. When I embarked on my secondary education some fifteen years ago, I can remember being all that PLTS stands; I was an independent enquirer that went off to research a project that was self-managed and planned by myself (okay with a little guidance from my teacher!), I had to be a creative thinker generating ideas to solve complex and demanding problems, from this I was encouraged to reflect upon ideas and outcomes and evaluate and modify where applicable.

Certain projects were required for us to work in teams and I can honestly say that I took part in all my lessons in an effective, analytical and reflective way. Now I knew nothing of PLTS until earlier this academic year yet I am all of those and I believe I owe a lot to my education in D&T for them. On a recent trip to Thales a manufacturing company in Surrey, we talked about the types of skills and attributes they looked for in applicants for working in their company, the elements of PLTS alongside the Functional Skills were common in all departments. Since then discussions with other employers around the southeast have all said the same, these skills are essential. Design & Technology provides them in its own context that to me makes the subject relevant to life beyond school, they make pupils employable.

“The skills pupils learn are empowering, diverse and appropriate to their action-taking, but essential that all pupils are aware of the implications of any action they take.” (Spendlove, 2008) This statement can be linked closely with; ’empowering people (children as well as adults) with the knowledge, ideas and tools that not only address current needs but also those of future generations.’ (United Nations, 1992) The United Nations was more specifically referring to the world’s knowledge and understanding of building a better tomorrow.

Now to improve the future we will need to inform today’s younger generations of the consequences of not addressing the issues of today now and in the future. With technological changes coming ‘thick and fast’, we do not really know what the consequences of our actions will be in the future, but by informing children of past mistakes and today’s knowledge, alongside PLTS, we will be able to nurture the next batch of innovative minds and tomorrows consumers that will be able to attend to world environmental issues like ‘Global Warming.’ “The ability to be creative and flexible is critical in the face of a rapidly changing world.” (Mishra, 2008) “A key principle of the subject is that learners take ownership of their world and in doing so seek to improve the world they live in through enquiry and exploration.” (Spendlove, 2008)

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“Sustainability is one area of design & technology amongst others, that if its’ knowledge is put into action/context then it ‘enables creative problem-solving.” (Lunn, 2008) Sustainability is just one focus in Design & Technology, but I believe it to not play a big enough role in the curriculum. Implications of design have an overwhelming impact on social, moral, ethical and environmental issues. “Much of the design in the world is aimed at the wealthiest 10%,” if this is the case then surely it is an obligation to inform today’s youth of the other 90% and to make them realize how good they have got it! We, the 10%, are using “three times our share of the planet’s resources” (Practical Action & Centre for Alternative Technology, 2008) and we need to share this information.

The intention of sustainable design is to “eliminate negative environmental impact completely through skilful, sensitive design.” (McLennan, 2004) We need to therefore put together projects that are not designing and making for the sake of designing and making but to pass on the knowledge and understanding along with the skills. These projects need to be fun and relevant to pupils of today; therefore it needs to be reviewed regularly, but also not just an outcome to take home and show off what they made today; a project that demonstrates good practice in becoming sustainable.

“Questioning the need for a product; achieving ‘more for less’; a concern for the quality of life instead of the material standard of living; a focus on causes of environmental problems rather than their symptoms; and an onus on ‘service’ as opposed to ‘ownership’.” (Goggin, 2002)

My previous BA (Hons) degree in Furniture Design & Craftsmanship address sustainability in many ways; introducing councils and governing bodies that advise and campaign for a better tomorrow for example The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) that promotes the responsibilities and management of the world’s forests. These organizations, often non-profit or charities, are fighting a losing battle if schools keep churning out ill-informed pupils that have no appreciation for sustainable design and consumer consequences.

My background, both in further education and in my first career, made me a craftsman, a designer and a manufacturer of quality products. I have also worked on building sites and witnessed poor practical skills and poor awareness for fellow crafts and tradesmen. Now I am fully aware that only a small percentage of pupils that pass through our education system end up in employment-based around designing and manufacturing, but for those that do want to pursue and/or those that would like to experience and have the opportunity to learn and acquire crafts skills, should they not receive them in the Design & Technology subject? This country was once prided on its craft and industrial output and it has long since faded in its mass, but surely an appreciation should be made to where our heritage lies.

Being given the skills and confidence to use hand tools as well as machinery should be evident through the key stages, these skills may never be used or built on after, but the excitement, the achievement and the knowing that you can do something practical with attention to detail and accuracy will last forever. Skills learnt in Focus Practical Tasks (FPT) can be transferable and can be built upon when setting full Design & Make Assignments (DMA). I know I would have benefitted from them in my secondary education and I wouldn’t want the knowledge and skills being forgotten in this modern world of Computer-Aided Design and Manufacture; even though CAD/CAM has its place in the curriculum as well.

So with regards to the questions set out before, Design & Technology has a number of attributes that make it unique in the way that PLTS and Functional Skills fall almost effortlessly into a relevant today’s world and youth culture. It provides untold amounts of contexts to learn about social, moral, ethical and environmental issues. It can provide a vocational and academic backdrop for developing key skills and practical application. It can engage all types of pupils in fun, exciting but relevant ways as long as the focus of learning is put before the outcome of what will be taken home at the end of the project. I bring skills, passion and enthusiasm to Design & Technology and I am not alone in doing so, but I plan to demonstrate how important Design & Technology is by contributing to the development of every individual in becoming creative thinkers, independent enquirers, self-managers and reflective learners that can work alone or as an effective participator of a team.

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