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Stan Owers (2001)

The Place and Perception of Technology in the Curriculum: Historical Developments up to 1997

PhD Thesis, Anglia Ruskin University.

Background: Technology was introduced with the 1988 Education Reform Act, and was the last subject to appear in the curriculum on a national footing, but it was not well defined. Without a conceptual framework for the subject, the role of technology could not be adequately appreciated. As part of the 1988 ERA, Economic and Industrial Understanding (EIU) was introduced as a cross-curricular theme against a background of two intangibles: (a) though technology was so recently introduced, the products and services of technology and industry have long been visible, and (b) although the first country to experience the Industrial Revolution, Britain has been in industrial decline for decades. Thus the declared general purpose of this research was based on the viewpoint that the educational system of 'the UK has consistently failed to respond appropriately to "technology", and to test the hypothesis that 'this failure has contributed to the problems associated with the place and perception of "technology" in the National Curriculum'.

Goals: Specifically, the research explored: (a) the place of technology, (b) the perception of technology, and (c) a conceptual framework for technology for inclusion in the curriculum.

Methodology: Various groups were tested for their understanding of technology and EIU. Classroom exercises were conducted with student teachers and teachers. A-level students were tested using a 3-page questionnaire; a one-page schedule was used for recorded interviews with teachers, student teachers, parents, and A-level students. The research was informed also by iteration, and included the literature review.

Outcomes (a): The literature research confirmed that technology is as old as humankind. The foundations of technology resides in our imaginative capabilities as toolmakers. Humankind has always used tools, and recently technologies, as extensions of itself. Tools and technological evolution have been constant companions to the evolution of humankind. The underlying purpose has always been sustainment, and this applies with every type of nation whether hunter/gatherer or industrialised. For industrialised societies, as new tools and technologies raised productivity and capability, the socio-economic community sustainment model became less dependent on the widespread use of craft skills, and more dependent on products from manufacturing industry whether locally produced or imported. However, there will always be a requirement for core craft skills, particularly in the fields of precision technology. The tool-making and tool-using activities of prehistoric times have been identified with 'industry' and 'manufacture'.

As graphs, the statistical data from the A-level student survey casts original light on causes for serious concern. In the context of getting a job, all students regarded Maths as important whether taking the subject or not. Students also regarded Maths as important in the context of Economic and Industrial Understanding. However, poor levels of creativity were perceived as allowable in the curriculum for the subject of Maths by students taking and not taking the subject. The statistical survey disclosed many other causes for serious concern, indicating a 'crisis' thesis.

Outcomes (b): An exploration of historical developments up to 1997, has disclosed that the status of technology was not representative of its crucial role at the core of society. As an intellectual subject, technology has many component parts including maths and science. Maths and science in the curriculum was resisted for many decades, particularly by the middle and upper classes. During the 19th Century, technical education was for the 'industrial classes' or 'the lower orders'. So there was a lack of social esteem associated with technical education and industry, and particularly among the opinion leaders of society. In society, technology occupies a largely unseen pivotal role; as we become more productive and capable, we become more dependent, but the opposition created by our value judgments, threatens the standard of living for our society. Before the formative years of education, other sources of stigma influenced the value judgments of our society. The roles of industry and technology have yet to be understood in the depth required to sustain ourselves as a society; in reality, the past is in the present.

Outcomes (c): Among many systemic barriers identified in this research, the lack of a consensual conceptual framework for technology emerges as critical. This research concludes with a conceptual framework for technology that underpins its pivotal role in society, and is recommended for inclusion in any future legislation. Future policy was never part of the remit of this research; the findings could not be anticipated. However, the research findings provide useful pointers for policy makers, and these are included.

Future developments: This research points to the need to re-map the statistical survey data to look for possible shifts in the vectors of direction and change. That work is now ongoing, informed by this thesis.

Richard's PhD

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