Children draw wrong conclusions about engineering

MinshallCambs300The only time UK kids think about engineering is when the school bus breaks down. That is pretty much the conclusion of Cambridge University engineering professor Tim Minshall (pictured).

In a short university research feature just published, Minshall, a senior lecturer in technology management in Cambridge’s Engineering Department, says he was surprised when he asked a group of 10 year old primary school children to draw him some pictures of engineers.

Most of the pictures, he told an audience at the Hay Festival earlier this month, depicted men fixing cars or trains. “The only time many people see the word ‘engineering’ is when there are delayed trains and bus replacement services,” he said.

Minshall believes the shortage of engineers and children’s perceptions of the profession are linked. “The UK needs more engineers, but engineering is not a thing that young people aspire to be – and this stems from them not really knowing what engineers do. Their perceptions seem to be inaccurate and negative.”

To consider whether this was specifically a UK phenomenon, he spoke to colleagues from a number of countries and they suggested doing the ‘drawing test’ in their countries, using a coding system developed by researchers at Purdue University in the US. Results could be compared and used to help inform policymakers in the UK.

Unveiling some of the results from Italy, Minshall showed that they also depicted people fixing things, but many drew rather glamorous female engineers directing people on building sites.

So far, the project has included a pilot in the UK, data from Italian schools and from Germany.  Later this year, data will be captured and analysed from schools in China and Japan.

Minshall says that some commentators believed 3D printing could revolutionise manufacturing, allowing people to create objects at home and saving shipping costs from abroad.  Low-end 3D printers could also have an important role to play in schools, helping to re-ignite enthusiasm for engineering and manufacturing.


This material is protected by copyright Ken Hurst 2013.


About Ken Hurst

Ken Hurst began his career as a journalist in London over 30 years ago, working on a range of publications before moving on to weekly newspaper production in the newly-independent Zambia of the 1970s. He returned to the UK where his work included spells on newspapers and magazines, before moving to head up Norwich Union’s corporate affairs division. In the 1990s he moved on to freelance, co-own and publish the B2B audio magazine Sound and front the BBC radio Yesterday’s Papers programme. There followed six years as Business Editor at Britain’s biggest selling regional daily newspaper, The Eastern Daily Press, where he led an award-winning team and for whom he still writes a weekly socio/political comment column. Subsequently, he was Group Editorial Director at CBM, responsible for its UK and US magazine output – including The Manufacturer magazine – research-driven industry reports and live events content. Currently he is Contributing Editor at Works Management magazine publisher Findlay Media and Chairman of the consumer publishing house TNT Multimedia Ltd. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and of the British Association of Communicators in Business.
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