Last week, prompted by a request from a doctor parent, 3-D printers in Wishford schools were pressed into a new kind of service, printing protective face shields for healthcare workers. We are among a growing number of schools forming an unlikely production line across the country. School 3-D printers are certainly not industrial in size. Nevertheless, there are enough of them to make a small but tangible difference to the immediate shortfall in Personal Protective Equipment. From a standing start on Tuesday, our printers were able to equip two GP surgeries with enough reusable face shields for all clinicians and staff by the end of the weekend. More were delivered on Monday. Just a few short weeks ago, this would have been unthinkable. Even now, when we have become accustomed to rapid change, it is mind-boggling.
It is certainly not something we could ever have imagined back in 2014 when Heywood Prep became the first school in the group to incorporate 3-D printing into the curriculum. The move was driven by the school’s IT lead, Mr Pitman-Jones, who was evangelical about the role of technology in education. Right from the start, he was determined to impress upon the children the opportunities for problem solving the printer gave them. They worked on creating virtual light bulbs to capture and direct sunlight into windowless slum houses, and experimented with printing spare parts for the International Space Station. The children continue to be encouraged to design products that will serve a need, to send their designs to the printer and see them realised. Real-world problems. Real-world solutions. A relevant, applicable education that is more than the sum of its parts.
There’s another twist to the story. Mr Pitman-Jones went on to develop an online administration platform, Complete-Ed, which the schools use to manage things such as admissions and parent communications. Our use of the system to email school reports has made printing and binding redundant, freeing up plastic covers which have been repurposed as screens for the visors.
In this time of confusion and change, those small, whirring printers still have something to teach our children. Firstly, the power of the individual to make change happen. An idea from a GP has expanded into a country-wide initiative that is making a real difference, with the potential to save lives; an initiative that is being realised, not in a huge faceless factory, but in our children’s schools, using the equipment they have used. And secondly, that our boys and girls already have the skills that will help them go out and do amazing things themselves. They can identify a need, design a solution and create it. All it takes is the will. Right now, that seems a positive message for all of us.