I went to a fascinating roundtable event hosted today by The Guardian. It was designed to fly the flag for ICT and computer science and to ensure that young people enjoy the benefits of excellent teaching and the improved job prospects that come with being tech savvy and able to create and produce digital content and applications as well as consume them. There will be a piece in Educational Guardian about our discussions on 10 July, so I don’t want to jump the gun on that, but I do want to talk about an issue that intrigued me: the poor popularity ratings of engineers.
There has been a shift in society towards recognising the benefits brought by being able to tinker with technology and make things work. To build things and to make technology do what you want it to do rather than just what a manufacturer wants you to do with it. As Ian Livingstone, author of Nesta NextGen report, heralded by Education Secretary Michael Gove, put it, it is now “chic to be a geek”.
This is great for those of us who would like to see more students and teachers able to think computationally and to produce digital technology and content, from web pages to phone application, games and beyond. Students who want to pursue these activities need no longer hide their ambition, but can be proud of it: they are now cool. However, the same is not true for engineers, so we were told. Engineering does not being such kudos. Who can name famous engineers? Who knows what creative things engineers really do? Apparently not many of us?
When I think about engineers I think about my own school days and people like Isambard Kingdom Brunel who designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the tunnels, bridges and viaducts of the Great Western Railway. Engineers are the people who built the infrastructure that revolutionised transport and communications in the 19th century. They are also the people who revolutionised our current 21st century digital infrastructure.
Without the creative enterprise, scientific approach and technical skill of engineers the infrastructure upon which we all rely would not exist and the clever software and computing technology that helps us book a restaurant table, buy our weekly shopping or find out the time of the next train would not be at our finger tips. So let’s not just embrace computer science and ICT, let’s also recognise the engineering element of hacking, tinkering and mashing up. We need all these disciplines to work in harmony, along with industry and schools to develop an effective education for our young people, so let’s not leave engineers out in the cold.
Go on… Hug an engineer today