The report, Thinking like an engineer – implications for the education system, was compiled by the University’s Centre for Real World Learning on behalf of the Royal Academy of Engineering. The report says young children are natural engineers, but the primary school system does not allow them to flourish. Researchers also found engineering teaching in secondary schools to be highly variable.
The report makes the case that if the UK wants to produce more engineers, it needs to redesign the education system to focus more on engineering skills in subjects such as maths, science, computing and design and technology.
Researchers at the University of Winchester found young children are natural born engineers, constantly seeking to understand the world around them. However, society has come to believe that people who design, make and fix things must be less intelligent than those who are more academic.
During the study, the researchers interviewed a wide variety of engineering educators and practising engineers to identify six ‘engineering habits of mind’ that generate a very specific way of thinking and approaching problems. These are: systems thinking, adapting, problem finding, creative problem solving, visualising and improving.
“Our research has uncovered the distinctive ways in which engineers think – their habits of mind,” said Professor Bill Lucas, Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester. “Now the education system needs to wake-up to how it can create the conditions to cultivate young engineers.
“This requires authentic real-world problem-solving, rigorous enquiry and collaboration between scientists, mathematicians and technologists and it needs to start early – in primary school.”
The report proposes that the engineering teaching and learning community considers re-designing engineering curricula at all levels – starting from the premise that they are trying to cultivate learners who think like engineers. It also suggests that the introduction of the new National Curriculum for England from September 2014 offers an important opportunity to do this.