The number of children and young people going into design careers is falling. We only need to look at recent drops in GCSE, A-Level and university art and design students to know that the current education system is favouring other subjects over creative skills.
Critics have previously put this decline down to several factors, including the Government’s focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), cutting of specialist resources and staff and the running costs of creative subjects.
Almost 20,000 fewer students took D&T in 2017
Interestingly, despite the Government’s push for tech skills, there has been a knock-on effect on this subject, too. Design is often taken in the form of “design and technology” at GCSE, and this course saw a 11% drop last year, with 19,500 fewer students taking the qualification compared to 2016.
While the education issue is systemic, a new summer programme aims to go a small way in teaching young people about some of these neglected subjects.
FixCamp: a summer school for young people
FixCamp is aimed at children and teenagers aged nine to 14, and looks to bring together creativity and engineering to offer young people a chance to learn about both sets of skills.
The summer school has been set up by FixEd, the organisation which puts together curriculums based on making and design skills for schools and universities. FixCamp has also been supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE), which has enabled it to offer some students free or subsidised places on the course.
The workshops will run for three weeks, with students encouraged to complete a minimum of two days, at six hours per day.
Ideas to making
The workshops will be focused around four areas: ideas, tools, skills and big making, and will see young people brainstorm ideas, get to grips with a range of physical and digital tools such as 3D-printers, hacksaws and software, develop skills such as problem-solving and team-working, and finally work together to create large-scale installations.
With the summer camp based in Brixton, South London, the students will be tasked with creating concept design solutions for relevant social issues, around transport, lack of shelter and housing, citizens’ rights, and more.
Daniel Charny, co-founder at FixEd, says the programme aims to teach young people both technical and life skills, from “how to whittle [wood], 3D-print a bolt or drill a timber connection joint” to developing their “imagination, confidence and how to apply effort in a team”.
“Creative education is suffering”
“Creative education in schools is suffering generally, and design and technology is having a particularly bad time,” he says. “There’s also a worrying divide between which subjects are seen as ‘vocational’ and which are seen as ‘academic’. We can’t hope to take on the systemic issues or even fill what we see as a huge gap, but we can try to show what’s possible, and hopefully influence the conversation.”
The summer course is priced at £50 per day, and a quarter of places on the programme will either be discounted or offered free to students “who would struggle to pay” these fees, alongside those living locally in Brixton.
Open up design and tech to more kids
Charny hopes this will open design and engineering skills up to a diverse mix of young people, from different ethnic and social backgrounds.
“[The diversity of the design and engineering industries] is currently a disaster,” he says. “The RAE has said it is desperate to widen the pool and attract under-represented communities, or risk the profession’s stability long-term. Some simple arguments for diversifying is creating greater equity, smarter and more creative teams and better targeted products and services.”
FixCamp joins a host of other digital, tech and design workshops that look to provide accessible and affordable courses for young people, to open their eyes to these professions and teach them worthwhile skills, adds Charny. “MakerClub, Code Club and the Museum of Making in Derby are all examples of organisations committed to this cause – then there’s YouTube, as well,” he says.
How to “improve the world” through creativity
The overall aim is to teach kids and teenagers how to solve important problems through creativity, regardless of whether they go on to become professional designers or engineers.
“This is about how anyone can learn to understand and engage with the world around them, and apply their intelligence and creativity to improve things,” he says. “If we can encourage that thinking in all kids, we think the world would be a better place for all of us.”
FixCamp runs 9.30am-3.30pm, Monday to Friday, 23 July – 10 August 2018, at South Bank Engineering University Technical College (UTC), 56 Brixton Hill, Brixton, London SW2 1QS. Tickets cost £50 per day, with a two-day minimum booking, with free and subsidised places available. Ages nine to 14 are permitted. For more information, head to the FixCamp site.