The pace of technological change is reshaping the way we educate; it is increasingly hard to predict what kind of skills will be required in ten years' time, and teachers cannot be expected to shoulder the entire burden. A growing number of RSA Fellows believe that there are ways to work with emerging technologies and introduce school students to the fact that their future success will rely on an ability to be flexible, creative and entrepreneurial. What follows is a story of how a regular Fellows' network meeting turned into a nationwide initiative that is now equipping hundreds of children with the skills and mindset to thrive in our uncertain future landscape.
Fellows’ network meetings take place regularly across UK, as well as some abroad. The purpose is to bring people together to share ideas and think about ways to collectively tackle social problems. Back in 2013, when I was Chair of the South Central region, I organised a small meeting for Fellows in my area. I admit that I was bemused when one of the Fellows at the meeting, Charles Ross, stood up and harangued attendees about the need to educate children about 3D printing as a manufacturing skill of the future.
In spite of his approach I was struck by Charles’ vision and intensity, and following that initial meeting I helped Charles to organise a Fellows’ interest group across the entire region. Together, we identified the need to set up after-school clubs to enable students to sample 3D printing before they took the step of moving into more formal design and technology courses. If you’re not sure how important 3D printing can be, take a look at a recent blog about the printing of prosthetic arms for amputees in war-torn South Sudan.
To test the idea, we installed 3D printers in schools as a pilot project. With my support, Charles brought on board a range of partners, including the New Scientist, the Royal Institution and WS Atkins, and held an introductory meeting in the House of Commons. Then, through a meeting with John Bradley FRSA (previously involved with RSA Scotland), the potential obstacle of school funding was addressed with the introduction of a partner that could offer crowdsourcing for schools at no cost.
This stimulated the interest of another Fellow, Richard Shearing, who had been a governor for an Academy school in Wokingham, and the chain of action continued until Charles and I formalised the idea and established You Invent; a subscription-based website that helps set up and equip design and technology focused after-school clubs which offer students the opportunity to prepare for fulfilling careers in the creative industries.
The first Fellow to take up the opportunity was Richard Shearing and his Forest Academy School, for which You Invent provided crowdsourcing that raised £2,000 in just two weeks, enabling them to purchase the 3D printing equipment. Having set the ball rolling, the You Invent website has recently entered the national stage, with schools involved from as far as Bristol, Manchester, Huddersfield and Dublin. And, in partnership with Joe Hallgarten and the RSA ARC team, You Invent held a workshop at London’s FabLab for teachers interested in developing 3D printing in their schools. Nearly 60 teachers attended, with very good feedback from them about the value of the event.
The project certainly makes a good start at solving the problem of future skills, but there are also other less immediately tangible benefits at work here. Giving young people maker spaces that allow them to invent freely, and understand that they have the power to create real products, will no doubt influence their entire approach to life. The world needs entrepreneurial people and not because we’re crying out for another Apple or Facebook, but because we need people who are excited by their potential, are prepared to work with change rather than against it, and realise that creativity is for everyone.
So, will the 'mighty oak' grow from this initiative? Only time (and teachers and students) will tell, but because of the active participation of far-flung Fellows, it stands a very good chance.
If you would like to understand more about the You Invent initiative, please visit the website or contact me firstname.lastname@example.org