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What’s the point of design and technology?

Published: May 9, 2016 4 min read

Alison Hardy

How often do we hear – why am I doing this Miss? What’s the point in learning this? I don’t want to be a designer/engineer/etc, so why am I doing design and technology (D&T)? In the midst of these questions I thought – why don’t they think as much of D&T as I do? When I moved into training teachers I kept asking the same question – why are there so many views?

We know that D&T is under threat – we know there is a significant decline in there number of pupils studying it at GCSE and my heart cannot understand why. I think it’s the best subject in the curriculum and D&T is a subject that transforms; pupils learn about designing solutions to improve people’s lives, they are able to make better decisions, they understand more about the impact of products on the world and so on. So why aren’t more people doing the subject? My head knows that there is pressure for schools to focus on Ebacc subjects, but I think you can start a small revolution in your classroom by asking yourself and your students – what’s the point of D&T?

The reasons why pupils choose to study a subject or put effort in depends on how useful they think the subject will be to them – its task value (Eccles (Parsons), et al. 1983). The value of a subject has three components: the importance of doing well in the subject, the inherent enjoyment from engaging in the subject and its utility value – how important it is for a future goal, for example a specific job or to be able to live away from home.

To help me understand some of the values people ascribe to D&T I’ve been asking people ‘what’s the point of D&T being taught in school?’, including D&T teachers, students, and deputy heads, and found a huge range of answers.

Their responses fall into five themes:

  • for future employment
  • practical life skills
  • understanding technology, people and the environment
  • creativity and design
  • making

Within each theme there are different values that are subtly different.

You might be interested to think about why you teach D&T and compare it with what your pupils think – do they value D&T in the same way you do?

Ask yourself the question – why is D&T important? And rank these statements in order of importance from 1 to 10 (1 is most important, 10 is least important).

  1. Be creative
  2. Solve real problems
  3. Learn skills that to use in a future job
  4. Learn about materials, processes and tools
  5. Learn about the effect of products on the environment & people
  6. Make things with different materials
  7. Learn practical skills to help yourself
  8. Apply knowledge from other subjects
  9. Make a finished product to take home
  10. Broadens minds about the world and people

Why not ask your pupils to do the same and compare your responses – you could do this as part of a lesson. Emphasise that the order they decide in is the order that is right for them – not what they think is the right answer – you are interested in what they think is important about D&T.

A student that puts number 3 at the top of their list is likely to be looking at a D&T related job, whereas someone who puts number 10 at the top maybe more interested in learning about other cultures than designing something for people. I am simplifying Eccles’ theory about academic behaviour but students’ views and motivations do have an impact on why they choose to work hard in D&T and continue to study it at GCSE.

Comparing how they have answered with your responses could give an insight into where you agree and why they might not see the value of D&T in the same way as you. You might have to rethink what and how you teach D&T to try and influence their views!

If you’re curious about how I ranked these values I’ve tweeted it:

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Eccles (Parsons), J.S., Adler, T.F., Futterman, R., Goff, S.B., Kaczala, C.M., Meece, J.L. and Midgley, C., 1983. Expectancies, Values, and Academic Behavioiurs. In: J.T. Spence, ed., Achievement and achievement motives: psychological and sociological approaches. San Francisco: Freeman, 1983, pp. 76-146.


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