Failure to integrate engineering into the UK’s school curriculum risks ruling out the profession as a career choice for many students and threatens the country’s economy and productivity, a new report warns.
The report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers claims that the nation’s engineering skills crisis will deepen without a fundamental change in the way children are educated about the “made world”.
Entitled We don’t know what it is, but we think it’s important: The Culture of Engineering in Schools, the document highlights that school students currently have little exposure or understanding of engineering.
The subject’s low visibility in schools means students do not feel informed of confident enough to consider it as a future career, it adds. Furthermore, teachers and career professionals lack the time, knowledge and resources to communicate the breadth of career opportunities available.
“The findings from this report find positive attitudes and appreciation of engineering among students, parents, teachers and school governors alike,” said IMechE head of education and skills Peter Finegold.
“However, few schools are integrating engineering into their teaching and the wider school culture. This is undoubtedly detrimental not just to the future of pupils in these schools, but to UK society more generally.”
A school-based research study commissioned by the institution and undertaken by the Vector STEM Partnership found that almost 80% of students agree that engineering contributes a lot to most people’s lives.
However the majority of male students and around 70% of female students felt they had learned very little to nothing about engineering during their lessons in school years 7–9. Only 40% of female students agreed that they would like to know more about engineering careers, with the figure rising to 50% among male students.
The report calls for the Government to rethink how it presents and promotes engineering to future generations, especially girls. UK engineering, it points out, is “one of the least diverse professions in the developed world”, with only 9% of all engineers being women.
Mr Finegold said: “With Brexit looming and the real threat that we will not be able to attract engineers from the EU to work in the UK, we must encourage a greater number and diversity of students to consider engineering as a viable and valuable career choice.”
He added: “We accept that the Government is unlikely to fundamentally change the curriculum or introduce engineering as a stand-alone school subject. Therefore, we recommend that the socially beneficial, problem-solving aspects of engineering are integrated into the existing curriculum, particularly in science and technology subjects, enhancing young people’s exposure to engineering and its world changing potential.”
Recommendations for the Government include the establishment of a working group of leading educationalists and stakeholders to examine innovative ways engineering can be integrated into the curriculum, as well as the appointment of a National Schools Engineering Champion.
The report also urges national education departments to promote teaching that encourages problem-based learning, and says schools should appoint an Engineering and Industry Leader in their senior leadership teams, supported by an industry school governor.
Meanwhile, the engineering community is urged to agree a “unified message” about engineering, stressing creative problem-solving and the social benefits of the profession. It should provide students with the opportunity to take part in activities that explore the political, societal and ethical aspects of technology, the report says.