The Institute calls for a major rethink about the role of schools and colleges in promoting engineering in a new report entitled Big Ideas: the future of engineering in schools.
In addition to proposing that pupils should be explicitly taught about engineering and the manufactured world as part of existing lessons from primary level upwards, the report also calls for maintaining a broad curriculum for all until the age of 18. It also says that routes into engineering should be broadened by promoting flexible entry requirements for engineering degree courses.
Peter Finegold, head of education and skills at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and lead author of the report, said: “We have an engineering skills shortfall at a time where technology looks set to increase its dominance over much of our lives. Our schools need to adjust to this reality, both by increasing the number and breadth of young people choosing engineering careers, and by empowering those who do not. We need a step-change in the way we talk about engineering in schools and colleges.
“This means ensuring that primary school children are taught not just about the natural world but also taught about the manufactured world too,” he added.
The new report is supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering and is said to reflect the views of leading engineering education experts and key stakeholders such as employers, parents and pupils.
“Maintaining a broad curriculum until the age of 18 would mean pupils wouldn’t have to make decisions to give up subjects before they really knew what they were,” said Peter Finegold.
“The consensus is that early specialisation routes young people into either arts or sciences too soon, and prevents many from considering engineering study or training before they’ve encountered it.
“It is essential that we also consider a broader range of entry requirements for engineering degree courses, encouraging people with the right aptitude, but who may not fit the traditional archetype. Not only would this boost the number of people who might consider engineering as a career, but also encourage other creatively-minded people into the profession.
“We need to stop talking about the skills gap and start taking action to ensure that we give children and students the best chance to make informed choices in our technological society. The best way to do this is to change the stories we tell about engineering and make the subject more visible throughout school.
“Engineering is not a job or a set of objects, it is a way of interacting intelligently and creatively with the modern world.
“This report puts forward a number of ways we can ensure engineering has the presence it deserves in the UK school education system. Engineering skills are the linchpin to economic growth, a vibrant jobs market and tackling issues such as population growth and climate change.”
The report can be read and downloaded here.