During the nineties, the great goal was to get personal computers into every school. Now, in 2014, it’s time for a new revolutionary technology to enter our class rooms: 3D printers. In a publication on Forbes Magazine, writer TJ McCue couldn’t have pointed it out better: “Never mind the computer on every desktop, that’s a given. In the near future, teachers and students will want or have a 3D printer on the desk to help them learn core Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) principles.”
But what would this exactly be good for? In the same article on Forbes, McCue points out MakerBot’s Bre Pattis’s vision on getting 3D printers into schools: “Imagine if you had a 3D printer instead of a Lego® set when you were a kid; what would life be like now? You could print your own mini-figures, your own blocks, and you could iterate on new designs as quickly as your imagination (and your printer) would allow.” In other words: using 3D printers in schools could help children to develop their imagination and to come up with new innovational ideas.
However, the big question is still: when will those printers actually enter all class rooms? There are already schools that are using 3D printers, but those printers are often funded by sympathizers via websites such as DonorChoose. For instance, big 3D printing firm MakerBot uses this website for its Makerbot Academy project to put a 3D printer in every US school. Of course this is a smart marketing campaign, as being the first company to come up with such an idea helps MakerBot as a brand to become bigger and bigger.
However, to only focus on this aspect of the campaign would mean passing by the actual meaning behind the project: provide the young with tomorrow’s mainstream techniques. To make a comparison with the example on personal computers in the nineties: if schools would all have had (early versions of) computers during the eighties or seventies, it seems very likely that Steve Jobs would have had a lot of competitors.
But if we want children to work in an environment full of 3D printers, it’s important that teachers first learn all about it. Last year’s December, company Airwolf 3D gave a masterclass to teachers from the Orange County School Department of Education, which appeared to have been a great success.
Another important problem school’s still have with 3D printing is that the filament is still very expensive, while normal FDM style printers can easily go through 1 kg in a day or two. We got the news that American company Zeni Kinetic comes up with a 3D printing program for schools and gives participating schools discount on filaments as well as it offers free material on a grant basis.
One striking part about all of these initiatives is that they are ‘initiatives’. In other words: companies provide for 3D printers or printing materials in return for enlarging their own financial empires. Of course for them it comes along with well-meant enthusiasm for education on 3D printing, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, the big question that comes up is ‘shouldn’t the world’s governments play a bigger part in improving their own educational systems’? Companies have passed the ball, now it’s up to the governments to make a goal.
Some governments are already doing a great job, such as the British. The UK government financially enables up to 60 schools across the UK to buy 3D printers and consumables, as well as it provides for training for teachers. The UK has invested as much as £500,000 into this project. In addition, Obama has announced in his State of the Union speech that the US will launch six more high-tech hubs related to 3D printing in 2014, in order to generate domestic job growth and keep the country competitive in manufacturing. More of these governmental investments could be very useful, because who knows whether it could lead to a new “Steve Jobs”?
Image credits: Andrew Shurtleff.