Appointment should be beneficial to young folk

First published in Postbag

WHILE the reaction to the appointment of the Dstl deputy chief executive Dr Pete Thompson as the UTC’s chairman (UTC appointment 24/7/14) has been overwhelmingly positive, I am aware from comments on the Journal website that some local residents still have concerns about our link to the defence and protective science industries.

I would like to take this opportunity to address those concerns at a number of levels as well as inviting those who are unconvinced of the value of working with employers to launch young people’s careers to contact me directly.

South Wiltshire UTC will be a very different option for young people in and around Salisbury precisely because of the close connections with local science and engineering employers and the world class research taking place at the University of Southampton. Our 14 to 18-year-old students will have direct and regular inputs from a wide range of employers, many of them world leaders in their fields. This input will give background context to the knowledge and skills young people need to pass exams and make their learning come to life by showing how science and engineering are applied in the real world.

Some, but by no means all, of these employers are involved in defence and protective science research (it would be very odd in South Wiltshire if they were not) and this will inevitably raise moral issues.

However, it is vital to stress that we will not be training young people to enter any specific field of science or engineering nor will we be seeking to skew their personal attitude to complex moral issues.

We will be using the tremendous support we are being promised from major employers like Dstl, Stannah Stairlifts and Salisbury Hospital to make the students’ learning real and relevant.

Crucially, we will also be building a very strong ethical and moral aspect into the students’ pastoral curriculum, giving them every opportunity to develop their own views based on a solid bedrock of knowledge and information.

While it could be tempting to try and influence the developing views of young people with one’s own personal perspective this goes entirely against the grain of professional educators.

Our young people will leave the UTC with much deeper understanding than most of the ethical issues around some aspects of science and engineering.

They will see the applications of engineering to protect soldiers against IEDs and rockets and the development of countermeasures to protect ships and aircraft (military and civilian) against missile attacks.

They will meet the scientists who protect the public and the military against chemical and biological attacks and the bio-medical engineers working to improve prosthetic limbs for military and civilian amputees.

However, they will also meet representatives of groups who campaign against weapon developments or who have strong views on the ethical limits of medicine in areas like stem cell research and animal testing.

I do not know at this stage what conclusions our students will draw but I’d be disappointed if they did not seek the most information they could get from all the viewpoints before reaching those conclusions.

This ability to gather information, reflect and assess will be just one part of the skill set that will launch UTC students on what I believe will be highly successful and very varied careers. Gordon Aitken Principal Designate

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