Back to School
Richard Green, CEO of The Design and Technology Association, has extended the scope of his work beyond the UK’s borders, recently holding a teacher training seminar in the United Arab Emirates, for example, as well as greeting delegations from China and South Korea back home at the organisation’s Warwick office, which has received inquiries from Japan as well. The British concept of design education is seen as a model by many, having proven for years how applied design can be integrated into everyday school teaching with positive results.
It was a long process however leading up to what is now the (compulsory) design and technology class taught to students aged five to sixteen. Serious efforts began in the 1960s to get design its own place in the curriculum, basing upon traditional handicraft and art classes. Following the introduction of the first national curriculum in 1989, a clearly formulated teaching concept was first implemented, which has been revised several times – and is slated for another update in 2017. Today, various design areas are being taught, ranging from materials science to electrical engineering, product design, visual communications, and textile work. The unambiguous objective is to have young people graduate school having acquired a technical and aesthetic understanding, craft skills, and robust social competencies as they go on to enter the job market or attend university. According to the independent Design and Technology Association, which has worked to promote the school subject for 20 years now, the British economy is in desperate need of young creative professionals and engineers. Those who receive instructions at an early age and obtain initial experience with design and production processes have a bright future ahead of them. It has also been seen in practice that design lessons synergise with other school subjects, as theoretical knowledge of, for example, maths and physics, as well as linguistic skills have to be utilised.
A number of countries have taken the UK’s lead and followed suit in various forms, like Australia, whose national curriculum has also adopted design and technology as a mandatory class for all ages. In New Zealand, design is an integral part of the two separate teaching subjects of technology and the arts as a technical or visual orientation. Germany’s Ministries of Education and the Arts have not revealed any comparable ambitions in this regard, currently leaving design in general education schools at best as part of art class.
The pilot project “Angewandte Kunst in der Schule” [Applied Art at School], a subject the outcomes of which were presented at the Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt/Main in June of this year, has demonstrated that design can definitely be successfully integrated into Germany’s curricula. The objects and studies exhibited were created by ninth and tenth-graders at Frankfurt/Main’s Nordend integrated comprehensive school (IGS), where Knut Völzke taught design basics four hours a week over the course of a school year. The project was launched at Carl-von-Weinberg School in Frankfurt/Main’s Goldstein in 2014. The pedagogical concept is to heighten awareness of design in the daily environment, of processes and developments at an early age. Another aim, in addition to teaching about shape, colour, and proportion and developing handicraft skills, is to promote critical thinking and encourage questioning of everyday life and the objects that come with it. Pupils are introduced to the discipline by increasing their conscious perception of design as well as visualising it via drawings, text, and other forms, by conducting experiments with materials and by having them construct models and eventually design their own piece of furniture. Excursions to exhibitions at the Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt/Main round out the classroom instruction, providing background knowledge and making design more tangible through “real-world” examples.
Völzke sees the two projects completed thus far as successful. With so many differences from group to group, obviously one cannot get every pupil equally interested in applied design, he notes, although after an initial phase the majority has been quite interested and significant learning successes have been observed, which is of relevance to other subjects as well. Following a year off, the initiative is intended to be continued in partnership with the Museum Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt/Main. The schools’ openness to the idea, their structures, and support from the organisation Kunstvoll Kulturfonds Frankfurt Rhein Main, which funds non-permanent art activities at schools, have been instrumental in making the project feasible.
The Deutsches Design Museum Foundation, which is affiliated with the German Design Council, has been promoting design at German schools since 2014 through the initiative “Entdecke Design” [Discover Design], though under a different organisational concept, employing a workshop instructional setting instead of offering a school subject. Workshops may be held for a few days, extend over multiple project weeks or be distributed throughout a school year. Schools around the country interested in conducting a workshop can apply, and inquiries are also welcome from professional designers of all disciplines, who would like to hold a workshop. The foundation acts as a facilitating intermediary between the parties and provides guidelines for drafting teaching plans. Workshop methodology, topic, and organisation depend entirely on the structures of the school, the field of specialisation and the time availabilities of the individual designer. Possible focuses include industrial, product, and communications design, as well as innovative technologies and social design. Since the launch of the “Ent-decke Design” project, some 10,000 pupils have already been reached, a number that is planned to be raised to 25,000 by 2019.
The long-term goal, according to Judith Stuntebeck, project manager at the Deutsches Design Museum Foundation, is actually to achieve comprehensive integration of design into school curricula as a matter of education policy. First, however, as she noted, changes of a more concrete nature are required, such as better networking between educational institutions and creative industries. Another priority is increasing interest and competency in applied design among teachers working within existing structures and having the possibility to integrate design into their lessons.
The idea of design classes in schools in this country is of course still in its infancy, but in many places design has obtained noticeable recognition as a relevant component in cultural, social, and economic processes, thus requiring at last its place within school education. Long-term success stories such as the British design and technology model are certainly crucial, as are initiatives large and small (there being more than the two examples discussed here), for such development to get going in Germany as well.