Schools urged to nurture engineering mindset

Posted on 23 May 2014 by The Manufacturer

A report commissioned by the Royal Academy of Engineering says that the natural engineering interests of young people are ignored in schools in favour of less practical skills.

The study – Thinking like an engineer – implications for the education system, drew on a variety of engineering educations and practising professionals in exploring the skills gap prevalent in the UK’s engineering sector.

It discovered in its findings, aided by researchers at the University of Winchester’s Centre for Real World Learning, that young people are natural engineers but both primary and secondary schools don’t do enough to encourage this.

Six engineering habits of mind are also identified as a means of generating specific ways of thinking and approaching problems.

These include systems thinking, adapting, problem finding, creative problem solving, visualising and improving.

Report author Professor Bill Lucas, director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester, said: “Engineers think differently from the rest of the world. And society badly needs their problem-solving, systems-thinking and relentlessly-seeking-to-make-and-improve mindset.

“Yet the education system does little to teach in ways that will cultivate the engineers we will need. We leave it too late and, too often, teach it too dully. This has to change.”

The report also suggests that in order for the UK to produce more engineers, there needs to be a redesigning of the education system to ensure these habits of mind become embedded.

It proposes that the engineering teaching and learning community considers redesigning curricula – primary, secondary, further and higher education and, potentially, family learning – starting from the premise that they are trying to cultivate learners who think like engineers.

Professor Helen Atkinson CBE FREng, chair of the Academy’s Standing Committee for Education and Training, added: “This insightful work suggests that even with an improved public engagement with engineering, our current education system in the UK does not sufficiently develop the habits of mind of young people to encourage them to pursue further study towards engineering careers.

“The Academy is grateful to the authors for bringing a new perspective on an important issue for educating future generations of engineers in the UK.”