This article was first published in the September 2009 issue of the now defunct Today’s Fluid Power magazine.
Fluid power isn’t sexy.
That’s the conclusion the international fluid power industry came to in 2007 as the reason why there is a shortage of people with fluid power skills influencing design decisions regarding which motion control technologies to use. The fluid power industry isn’t the only industry seeing this image problem. It’s a systemic crisis that permeates the entire US culture.
A 2008 Harris Interactive study for the American Society for Quality found that 44% of kids, ages 8-17, don’t know much about engineering, and 30% of the respondents want a more exciting profession than engineering. While 97% of parents stated they believe that knowledge of math and science will help their children have a successful career, only 20% encourage/will encourage their sons or daughters to become engineers.
The study further reports that kids don’t feel confident enough in their math or science skills (21%) to be good at engineering — despite the fact that the largest number of kids ranked math (22%) and science (17%) as their favorite subjects.
OK. We now know what the problem is so how do we fix it?
The US fluid power industry decided to develop alliances with FIRST (Foundation for the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), Project Lead The Way, and SME (Society of Manufacturing Engineers) Education Foundation to promote fluid power education in middle schools and high schools. They’ve created a ‘key school’ program, the Fluid Power Challenge, and the Fluid Power: A force for change video among other initiatives. The Fluid Power Education Foundation has scholarships for college bound student who will study fluid power.
I commend the US fluid power industry for their efforts, but there is shortsightedness to these educational outreach initiatives that I don’t think many engineering and fluid power industry leaders understand.
Starting in 8th grade is too late!
Why is it too late? It’s because the 2009 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) show math and science scores to be the highest in 4th grade and continually fall off at 8th and 12th grades. They also show that only 18% of high school graduates are proficient in math and science, and math and science direction is all set by 9th grade. So starting in 8th grade only gives the industry 1 year to capture the hearts and minds students, which, at that age, clearly isn’t enough time.
I wrote about the problems of math and science scores in United States in September 2003. At that time the National Assessment of Educational Progress found, while overall mathematics and science achievement have improved marginally since 1970, only 17% of 12th graders scored at the proficient level in 2000 exams. The latest TIMSS report shows we have not don’t very well as a nation to improve math and science scores, even though the whole purpose of the No Child Left Behind mandate was specifically targeted to improve math and science proficiency in high school graduates.
According to the US Department of Education, the US ranks 3rd in education expenditures per student, yet the TIMMS report states our 4th graders rank 11th and 8th, and 8th graders rank 9th and 11th in math and science respectively against the rest of the world. The studies also show that Asian countries spend far less per student than the United States but are far superior in their math and science proficiencies and scores.
Even 4th grade is too late. We must start at Pre-K if not infancy!
The only way to change this systemic problem is for our engineering and fluid power industry leaders and our educational system to understand that interest in math and science doesn’t start at 8th grade or even 4th grade — it actually starts with parents at infancy. But with 10.6 million single mothers living with kids under 18 and 80% of families needing the wife’s and husband’s income to support their families, early child development is typically left to grandparents, nannies, baby sitters and nursery schools or the TV.
Therefore, the engineering and fluid power communities have to work with educators, book writers, TV/video producers, early childhood development experts and websites and community outreach organizations among many others to develop a comprehensive educational program that starts at Pre-K at the very least. The program has to stimulate all the senses through the use of hands on, video and reading because as John Ratzenberger, founder of the Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs Foundation puts it we have a generation of our society who don’t know how to use their hands to build anything.
These programs have to be graduated for each grade level with increasing complexity, and can’t be done for just one week during national engineering week. They require continuous integration into physical science programs.
Now the question is. Are the industry leaders and members of the fluid power industry going to step up to the plate and swing for the fences, or are they going to sit on the sidelines hoping that they don’t become extinct?
Want to learn more? Read our second article titled Fluid Power Fundamentals: More Educational Institutions Needed Now To Educate Workforce.