What do you want to 3D when you grow up?

I have been working in Education for the last ten years and for most of those I’ve been building 3D printers in my spare time so there has been some significant overlap. I have been involved acquiring 3D printers for schools and specialized education institutions, I’ve been a guest many times who’s come in to show off what a 3D printer can do.

 I’ve also been asked to come and help people in these places use their printers and learn about maintaining them but there are some things that seem to always be the same in all of these places. Firstly, there is no such thing as the job title ‘3D printer’ because education is mired in bureaucracy and changes less slowly than every other part of society except the church. 

Every school is happy to have a visit from someone who has a magical device that helps educate children about their future and every teacher and child wants to see something that they’ve heard the hype about. Many schools are even willing to pay thousands of dollars to have one of these amazing machines on their premises. Sadly a decidedly lower number are lucky enough to have a teacher already there that knows about computer aided manufacture, or who has the motivation and the time to learn to use a 3D printer properly and often they will malfunction after a few months and thereafter only gather dust. 

Arguably, curricula must be developed first of all to incorporate 3D printing into the lessons children learn and without designated space in the timetable this is next to impossible. What could you sacrifice in current learning that would be worth giving way for learning about the manufacturing techniques of the future? Therein lies the problem – this question if it is even asked – has to climb the rungs of the educational ladder to the lifeless meetings of local and national politics, before it has any chance of being addressed. 

Some countries are more progressive than others of course, and some children are lucky enough to have 3D printers, and 3D printing savvy parents, at home. 3D printing is a bridge between the imagination and the real world of solid objects. If you can imagine an object, you can 3D print it and hold it in your hand hours later. Top industrial designers in years gone by were wowed by being able to touch a prototype only weeks after having finished their designs, some children these days lose interest if the house they just dragged together out of primitives on Tinkercad doesn’t finish within the 1 hour allotted lesson time. 

In the end these things are all about balance. Education is there to be disrupted and it is happening as we speak, online learning, Youtube tutorials, Makercamps and Hackathons are becoming the places where real learning takes place, the kind of learning young people want to apply and are relevant to their lives. Any child today – almost regardless of where they grow up – have access to such technological wonders that any adult cannot really predict what it must be like. Similarly trying to educate them in the same ways we have for decades, where they will all supposedly be –insert job title here- when they grow up makes very little sense. 

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