Engineering: New way forward

An exciting new engineering diploma is about to hit the classroom, says the director of education programmes at The Royal Academy of Engineering.

A brand new engineering curriculum is being launched in hundreds of schools and colleges this September. Part of the new array of 14-19 diplomas, the diploma in engineering will put engineering onto the main schools’ curriculum for the first time.This is the most exciting development in the teaching of engineering for years.

What engineering is all about

Engineering is a fantastic career choice. It is a genuine profession and with that comes respect. It is well paid, and with a need for more engineers, there are loads of great jobs on offer.Many will involve international travel, high level business negotiations, and leadership skills in those that take them on.

But engineering is a bit of a hidden gem. When The Royal Academy of Engineering and the Engineering Technology Board asked 1,000 adults recently, very few really knew what 21st century engineering was about. Too often, engineering was limited in people’s minds to building bridges, maintaining the family car or repairing a central heating boiler. All these are valid examples of engineering, of course, but the profession is so much wider.

Food is an engineered product (for better or worse) and the problems caused by our overcrowded cities will need engineered solutions. As will the problems faced by a rapidly ageing population (the number of 18-year-olds in the UK will reach a peak in 2010 and then fall away rapidly).None of this mentions the much-talked-about subjects of climate change and sustainable energy. If the engineers don't find technological solutions to these, what will our politicians do about it?

New engineering diploma

So engineering is a red hot topic for young people and their families, yet most people know so little about it. This is where the diploma in engineering can change everything. From September, people as young as 14 years old can learn all about engineering at school and they can choose to carry that forward until they are 19.This will be nothing like regular school. For a start, the diplomas are set up as partnerships between schools, colleges and local universities and they have a lot of input from local employers. This means that fresh ways of learning can develop: project based learning, active learning by doing, learning in teams, learning outside the classroom, learning in the workplace. What is learnt will be different as the curriculum will be set in an engineering context. Learning abstract facts will be gone, replaced with the development of thinking and doing skills that help solve practical problems.

In England, Year 10 and 11 students will study the diploma in engineering for one or two days a week alongside regular GCSEs in English, maths, science and ICT. Older students taking the advanced diploma will spend the whole week studying engineering, although there will be room for one or two additional courses such as a BTEC unit, an AS-level qualification or even a full A-level. So the stage is set for new things in September. The most exciting thing is that students can opt for a course that really opens doors. Not all students taking the diploma in engineering will become engineers. That’s not the point. What they will get is new learning experience in different learning environments. They will get new skills in maths and in science. They will gain experience and confidence in making decisions, often very technical ones. They will learn to harness their creativity and to design new products and services. They will learn to work in teams as well as on their own. All these are very transferable skills, applicable in just about any walk of life. Employers often say that what they want are articulate recruits, with good self awareness, good thinking skills, flexible minds and the ability to make good decision. The diploma in engineering gives all of these. And some of its graduates will like their time spent in engineering so much that they will choose it for life, which can’t be a bad thing.

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