Friday, June 15, 2007

TechLinks 2007

I spent the day at Duxford today with the TechLinks programme. This is a grass root programme to encourage school going children to take up science and engineering. Britain is currently undergoing an education problem with few people taking up careers in science and engineering. This has resulted in the country losing it's technological lead in the world.

The programme is funded by various funds, from both the government and private science, technology and engineering companies. It is run by volunteers, who come from both academia and industry. My group was led by Mike, an engineer from Pi Technology who used to work with ARM on the RiscOS in it's early days. When he found out that I was a processor designer, we had quite a long conversation. He was assisted by Mick, the local IET treasurer who had retired from BT nearly a decade ago. Mick is a Chartered Engineer and knows my supervisor as they've both served on the IET committee together at one time. As you can see, the volunteers are all hardcore engineers who are trying their best to encourage kids to take up science, engineering and technology careers.

We were joined by a couple of apprentices from Turbine Motors. Apprenticeships are something that I've not encountered until coming here. I'm not aware of any formal apprentice training schemes in Malaysia but they may exist, just not to the extent that they do it here. Unlike the very theoretical approach of engineering degree programmes, most of the apprentices start by getting some practical work and training with a company. As part of the programme, they undergo many certifications and some go on to earn an engineering degree. Mick doesn't have an engineering degree either as he started of as an apprentice as well and he gave them some advice on how to build their careers beyond an EngTech. Personally, I think that this is a very good idea and it could benefit a lot of people back home by giving them skills and training to perform engineering tasks.

As for the kids, some of them were very smart and finished the tasks very quickly. However, most of them were quite bored as they had thought that the trip was a history trip. For our group, they had to build a combination lock with 3 switches. For one of the groups that had extra time, I asked them how many switches it'd take to make a 1 million combination lock. One of them actually did some math to work out the results. This worried me as he couldn't do x2 multiplication and had to resort to sequential additions to get the answer. He did get the correct answer after a while. I'll give him marks for perseverance. Mind you, these are secondary school students.

Anyway, the activity ended at 12.30 and we were provided a sandwich lunch. After that, we were free to do whatever we wanted and I decided to visit the Imperial War Museum at Duxford instead. This is covered in the next blog.

PS: For some reason, we were all sternly warned not to accompany any kids to the loo. If any of them need to go, we are supposed to get one of their teachers to accompany them.

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