Engineering can be as inspiring as space
The Guardian, Wednesday 22 May 2013 16.00 EDT
British astronaut Tim Peake (centre) with Vince Cable (left) and science minister David Willetts (right) at No 10 Downing St. Photograph: Sean Dempsey/PA
The new British space race has the potential to inspire young people and boost our economy. Space travel captures the imagination of budding young inventors and engineers – it is the stuff of childhood dreams. But there are other British industries at the forefront of technology that can inspire and propel young people towards careers in engineering and science. Without changing the way we teach, they will pass children by.
Engineers have designs on the future: fuel cells, driverless cars and super materials. Material scientists, for instance, delve into the depths of space at a micro-level, increasing the possibilities of product design and engineering. But children do not see this side of engineering. For them, engineers are men in greasy overalls fixing the boiler. We must bridge the gap in understanding – to plug the shortage of 40,000 science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates every year.
Our design and technology curriculum must reflect the potential of a career in engineering. Our foundation has worked with secondary schools in Bath, donating industry equipment and setting pupils briefs to make something with a purpose – much like in industry. It connects the idea that engineers design something tangible. The results have been startling, with more than twice the number of students signing up to study design and technology. A world class D&T curriculum that fuels young astronauts and aeronautical engineers alike would replicate this on a national scale. The results could be quite remarkable – getting Britain inventing again.
Founder of Dyson and chair of the James Dyson Foundation