A key element for preparing learners for life in a technological world is the ability to provide them with access to tools to realize their innovative ideas as physical artefacts. The post apartheid education system is still paralyzed by the inability to provide avenues for learners to operate outside the realms of the pages of text books. Information transfer is the order of the day in the vast majority of classrooms even in those institutions privileged enough to have some form of science and technology equipment and access to well stocked school libraries. It must also be said that very few schools, even the private schools, do not have the necessary available funding to be able to install high tech equipment such as laser cutters, milling machines, vinyl cutters, etc to be able to produce top quality artefacts.
Marc Prensky refers to “digital natives’ as being the youth of today while the older generations are “digital immigrants”. We have to acknowledge that there are differences in the way the youth think, listen, learn, communicate and collaborate. In order to reach them requires a different pedagogical approach that encompasses their expectations of life. They are growing up on a diet of instant communication and digital information and are often starved into total boredom through a system that does not cater for their needs and is grounded in pure information transfer.
The White Paper on Science and Technology defines “innovation as the application in practice of creative new ideas”, which in many cases involves the introduction of inventions into the marketplace. In contrast, creativity is the generating and articulating of new ideas”. Creativity and innovation are often not interrelated as a creative person is not necessarily an innovative one and visa versa.
Access to high tech manufacturing equipment has the potential to unleash either the creative or innovative aspect of learners. The formation of the Fab Kids project aims to demonstrate the educational potential of exposing learners to such a high tech environment. More importantly the process of generating Fab Kids will make provision for learners to experience some degree of specialization within the context of solving a technological challenge. The ultimate aim is to provide the learners with the right knowledge, skills attitudes and values to be able to utilize all the resources at their disposal in a Fab Lab type of environment to be able to produce artefacts that are innovative and have an entrepreneurial component as well.
The current situation in most schools is that Technology Education as a learning area has limited impact on the real learning experiences of the vast majority of learners. Many educators are still bound to the text-book as the learners are often completing one word answers in workbooks as a trail of evident for a technology experience. This is largely due to a lack of training on the part of the teachers but is compounded by a lack of resources to purchase the necessary tools to provide a more stimulating learning environment and large pupil to teacher ratios. Access to computers in the vast majority of schools is clogged by a limited number of learners taking Computer Science which tends to occupy the computer laboratory for most available lessons. Very few learners will be given the freedom and latitude to produce creative solutions to challenges which is critically needed to nurture the scientist, engineers and technologists that the South African economy needs to sustain a significant economic growth pattern.
The project aims to contribute to the scientific and technical know-how about how groups of learners are able to use future Fab Labs that will be installed across South Africa in the coming months. The project aims to uncover new approaches to utilizing the resources while exposing the learners to a structured design process. The research work will be disseminated to all interested parties.