Dyson drive to help fill British pupils fill engineering vacuum: Funds used on 3D printers to boost schools' design and technology lessons
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Emma Yates surveys students manipulating 3D printers and wrestling with fibreglass moulds in the bustling design and technology studio of the school where she is headteacher. "I was amazed when I first came here and looked around," she says.
Yates took over at Hayesfield girls' school in Bath in January. It was already one of the best state secondaries in the country at teaching design and technology, thanks in part to a pounds 75,000 grant from the James Dyson Foundation.
The foundation - the brainchild of the British inventor famous for his household innovations - hopes to encourage students to become engineers and designers.
Thanks to the foundation's funds, Hayesfield has an industrial laser cutter and multi-axis router - a computer-controlled sculpting machine - six 3D printers and other hi-tech equipment, including computer-aided design (CAD) software used in manufacturing. The foundation has given four other schools in Bath, near Dyson's headquarters, similar equipment.
Dyson was involved in drafting the revised national curriculum on design and technology introduced last year. He says his pilot scheme in Bath is not just about donating whizz-bang equipment, but selling the idea of a career in engineering.
"By the time today's schoolchildren are of working age, the UK will need more than 2 million additional engineers. It's important that we demonstrate what a career in engineering is actually about and how exciting it can be," Dyson says. "If students go into engineering they'll use CAD software and 3D printers, so why not introduce them to the technology early?"
In Hayesfield's design studio, which was recently refurbished and extended at a cost of pounds 800,000, Matahilde George, a year 8 pupil, is using software to design a propeller using an industrial laser cutter. She says she has more freedom to do what she wants in design and technology lessons compared with other subjects. And yes, she would consider a career in engineering or design. A third of Hayesfield's 100 students who sat design and technology GCSE last year achieved an A* or A, but the real test will come when the pupils who have benefited from Dyson's investment choose their A-levels and degree subjects.
Andrew Barker, who works for the Dyson Foundation, says the idea came about as a result of pupils dropping design and technology at GCSE. "We thought, why don't we work with schools where we can use modern kit that shows what modern engineering looks like. Because it's hard to show that to students who are using blunt old hacksaws or chisels."
Akosua Lune and Elise McGauley, in year 8, have been working on a project to design, test and build a land yacht. "We created a prototype, and it was quite simple," says Akosua. The next stage was to build a battery-powered, more sophisticated version of the land yacht. "Yesterday we did 3D printing of the wheels," says Elise. "Before this we'd never thought about making stuff, it's really fun," says Akosua, who wants to design furniture.
The pilot scheme started in May 2012, and is set to run for another three years. Dyson says the test of its success is "more engineers - more bright minds capable of developing new technologies that the world wants to buy".
Pupils test a propeller-powered vehicle with parts made using a 3D printer at Hayesfield school for girls, near Bath Photograph: Adrian Sherratt
(c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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