Education should be all about problem solving, says MIT Prof

1 min read

There has been much discussion over the years about the relevance of the education system when it comes to producing engineers. A consistent theme has been employers suggesting that graduates don’t have the skills needed for modern engineering roles. Academics counter by saying they need to train students in the fundamentals.

The topic was revisited recently in the US, when MIT Professor emeritus Woodie Flowers noted that much of what passes for education is really training – preparing people for the kinds of tasks that are the most likely to be taken over by robots and artificial intelligence. Real education, he suggested, should focus on open-ended tasks that encourage creativity, inventiveness and cooperation.

Education that emphasises problem solving, he contended, encourages patterns of learning that could lead to productive and meaningful work and the ability for people to tackle global problems.

A recent report from Engineering UK says there continues to be real concerns about the number of people studying engineering and it calls for STEM education to be improved and for more young people to be attracted into an engineering career.

But can the education system in the UK respond to the challenge? An article published in The Guardian last year suggested the curriculum should be developed to support ‘doing, designing and problem solving’ – just the kinds of thing that Prof Flowers was talking about. But, according to author Peter Wilby, ‘the Government prefers to impose a rigid academic curriculum that fails (and bores) roughly half of our young people’.

As ever, it comes down to the Government setting the agenda. The opinion polls suggest a Conservative government will be elected and, with it, a return to grammar schools. That doesn’t look like a recipe for the changes required.