Kerr: The Present State of Technical Education

The following report was written by John Guthrie Kerr, Headmaster of Allan Glen's School, Glasgow. It was published as an Appendix to John Kerr's book Scottish Education: School and University (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1910). Note that John Kerr, the author of the book, was not the same person as John Guthrie Kerr, the author of the report.

Headmaster of Allan Glen's School, Glasgow.

Technical Education as provided in colleges and other institutions with a view to the better equipment of those engaged in engineering and industrial pursuits has made great progress in Scotland during the past few years. Students are better prepared, the subjects are more immediately applicable, instruction is more direct and practical, and the State as well as the public is more generous in its support.

To form a just estimate of the present position it may be well, even at the risk of repetition, to make some reference to the stages by which that position has been reached.

It is in the first place important to remember that in the early years of the 19th century there was in Edinburgh, in Glasgow, and for that matter in every town of note in the country a most vigorous movement for technical education. Mechanics' Institutes, offering courses in chemistry, natural philosophy and mathematics, and attended by crowded audiences (one course in Glasgow had a roll of 900), testified to a widespread desire for instruction in scientific matters. As confirmatory evidence of the volume and importance of the work done it is interesting to find in 1824 an eminent mechanical engineer, M Dupin, calling the attention of France to the Andersonian College, "a school for teaching the theory of the mechanical and chemical arts - intended not only for the directors of the workshops but particularly for the simple working man." He attributes the industrial supremacy of this country to the cultivation of science, and he calls upon Frenchmen "not to remain behind in this immense progress but to proceed on the same lines in order to outstrip, if possible, a people whom Nature has made our rival in every kind of glory."

Soon however there fell a blight on Mechanics' Institutes and science-diffusing societies. Save in the great centres, and even there the falling off was rapid and decided, the Mechanics' Institute failed to maintain its vitality and the promise of its youth. The students were as a rule too old, their preliminary training was too limited, the lecture system was not fruitful, and financial difficulties appeared. This is in brief the story of the first stage.

The second half of the century experienced a strong revival of interest in science teaching. The great exhibition of 1851 supplied the stimulus, and in the course of a few years, through the operations of the Science and Art Department a "People's University," as Huxley put it, was established. Through the fostering influence of grants earned under relatively easy conditions as to equipment and staffing, but in connection with a strict scheme of examinations with rigorous tests of proficiency in the carefully drawn programmes of study of such subjects as Mathematics, Descriptive Geometry, Mechanics, Electricity, Steam, Geology and Physiology, there gradually came into existence in the cities, the towns, and even the more enterprising villages, active committees under whom classes were organised, examinations conducted, and instructors paid. Central institutions began to weld isolated classes into systematic courses and the schools also found it financially profitable to establish a connection with the Science and Art Department. During session 1892-3, for example, the grant for science given to Scotland amounted to £27,000, of which more than £5000 was earned by the eight organised science schools then in existence. In these schools the curriculum, while mainly built up of well-ordered courses in physics, chemistry, mathematics and manual instruction, had at least one-third of the school-time devoted to literary subjects. So far therefore as the associating of science study with a sound general education is concerned South Kensington can claim to have taken the broad view and to have done service of high educational value. The kind of instruction in science however was essentially academic and only indirectly utilitarian. The tender phrasing of the Technical Instruction Act of 1889 indicates the spirit in which, not only in schools but also in central institutions, the teaching of science was carried on. According to that act Technical Instruction was concerned with the principles of science and art applicable to industries but "did not include teaching the practice of any trade, industry, or employment." Since 1900 the work initiated by the Science and Art Department and successfully carried on for half a century, has been undertaken by the Board of Education; and since July, 1907, sums allotted to schools by the Scotch Education Department from the Science and Art vote have been merged in payments for the whole work done in secondary schools, provided that science subjects receive adequate attention there. The central specialised institutions are liberally supported on a separate scheme. This takes us to the end of the second stage and to the conviction that discipline in science is of service in general culture and is a subdivision of secondary education; that a full general school training must include such discipline; and that technical instruction to be of real efficacy must rest on the broad basis of the modern secondary school programme.

The third stage in the evolution, that in which we now are, is marked by clearness of view, definiteness of aim, and extended scope of operation. The progress and pressure of civilization demand specific preparation for specific services and the technical education of to-day is hastening to meet, in some cases even to anticipate, the needs of industry and commerce.

Accommodation, equipment, subjects and methods are being considered with immediate reference to practical life. In Scotland there is a great and growing supply of important institutions working along lines which lead to industrial fields where advance is not possible except through increase of knowledge and control of scientific principles. Evening continuation classes are provided by school-boards either to secure additional preparation for the higher instruction in technical colleges or to supply courses of practical instruction that will, apart from the question of higher training, improve the efficiency of workers in various industries. Aberdeen for example has organised classes of the latter kind on a liberal scale. Alongside the higher technical institute schools with commercial, domestic and science classes there are courses of instruction for architects, builders, cabinet-makers, engineers, lithographers, naval architects, painters, plumbers, stone-cutters, and wood-carvers.

Edinburgh school-board also is remarkable for its enterprise in establishing classes in millinery, carpentry, cabinet-making, machine-drawing, building-construction, applied art, confectionery, proof-reading, &c. In the Clyde area a joint committee from school-boards and other authorities has during the past four years provided in classes affiliated to the technical college most valuable opportunities for youths who desire to join the college later on. In session 1908-9 thirty-seven centres were at work with an attendance of 4000 students. A definite, uniform, balanced scheme of special preparation in these classes has been carefully thought out and is periodically reviewed by the organiser in conference with the instructors. The results obtained so far would justify a great extension of the committee's operations. Every youth who avails himself of this scheme is bound to profit even if he should not proceed to college. Some, no doubt many, will during the process discover that they have qualities, hitherto latent. They will strive to develop these qualities and in them the college will secure students of promise. In addition to classes preparatory to higher technical education the committee has encouraged for operatives trade classes in which skilled craftsmen are the instructors, the kind of work done being approximately that of the shops. The conditions of apprenticeship have undergone such change of late years that the usefulness of wellmanaged trade classes is beyond dispute. How far employers are morally bound to assist in promoting technical continuation and trade classes is not easy to determine. The earnest and well disciplined apprentice is worth cultivating for his immediate service apart altogether from the wider issue of national progress.

In the great central colleges the movement for specific training for specific function finds its highest and most vital expression. The embodiment of the technical education idea in an imposing edifice richly endowed with material appliances for its realisation is in itself of great significance and fraught with subtle and far-reaching influences. From this point of view Edinburgh with its handsome, commodious, and highly equipped Technical College-the Heriot-Watt; and Glasgow, rejoicing in the magnificence and elaborateness of its huge institute in George Street [The Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College], command enthusiastic admiration and approval.

Needless to say the credit for the progress with which technical colleges to-day are so generously and so justly credited lies with the distinguished management and their able officers of the teaching staffs. That programmes of organised instruction of a highly specialised type and related to the requirements of modern engineering and industrial advance can be successfully carried through, is due however to the excellence of the preparation of the students, and therefore to the improved character of elementary education and the remarkable extension in scope and duration of secondary school work in Scotland.

At the Heriot-Watt College last session there were in attendance at strictly technical classes 3000 evening students and 250 day students. New engineering laboratories with complete equipment for instruction in prime-movers were opened. A mining department has been established, a laboratory for technical mycology has been added to the department for the training of brewers, and extensive accommodation has been arranged for a painting school. A close and mutually profitable relation exists between the Heriot-Watt and the University, and there seems to be a likelihood of still closer co-operation in which the scope of the B. Sc. degree may be so widened as to permit Heriot-Watt students to graduate in some special branch or other of engineering practice. The number of science graduates from the Heriot-Watt College is considerable and excellent post-graduate and research work is being carried on in its laboratories.

The last annual report of the Governors of the Glasgow and West of Scotland Technical College gives the following remarkable figures as to volume of work:- Individual students 1907-8 at day classes 605, at evening classes 4621, at Allan Glen's School 692 - total 5918; student hours, at day classes 193,855, at evening classes 295,923 - total 489,778.

In that report attention is directed to the suggestive fact that the roll of students contains the names of 175 graduates of the Universities of Aberdeen, Berlin, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Ireland (Royal), London, Oxford, St Andrews and Victoria. The diploma of the college is granted in the following departments:-civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, mining, weaving, architecture (conjointly with School of Art), naval architecture, chemistry, metallurgy, mathematics, and physics. The courses of study extend, for each diploma, over three sessions. Holders of the diploma of the college are eligible for the degree of B.Sc. in engineering of the University of Glasgow after one year's attendance at prescribed university classes. There is under consideration a still closer connection between the University and the Technical College involving the likelihood of advantage to students and to both institutions, from a rearrangement of B.Sc. work in which regard will be paid to a judicious division of labour and responsibility.

In addition to classes in subjects belonging to the several diploma courses there have been provided many most successful trade evening classes - e.g. in plumbing, sheet-metal work, boot-making, printing and allied trades, watch and clock making, baking and confectionery. Of the students attending these evening classes it is interesting to note that 1374 are engineers and draughtsmen, 717 are in the building trade, 353 are civil and mining engineers, 239 are bakers, 120 are telegraphists, 161 are chemists, 110 are boiler-makers, 251 are clerks or civil servants, and 167 are teachers. The staff of the college consists of 10 Professors, 9 other Heads of Departments, and 124 Assistant Lecturers, Demonstrators, and Trade Instructors. The maintenance of the college entails an annual expenditure of about £30,000. Government grants, made under a special minute of the Scotch Education Department, with the approval of the Treasury, amount to about £10,000. About £13,000 is derived from endowments or is secured by Act of Parliament, and about £6,500 is students' fees. In 1903 His Majesty laid the foundation stone of the new buildings. The public have cherished high expectations of the benefits that will flow from the active existence of this great organisation, and the list of subscriptions to the building fund has reached £350,000, £53,805 being Government grant, £20,500 from the Corporation of Glasgow, and £10,500 from the Educational Endowments Board. Of other institutions in Scotland doing technical work mention might be made of the Schools of Art, and particularly of the Glasgow School of Art, with its vast influence on art teaching in the Western Division; of Gordon's College and Gray's School of Art, Aberdeen; of the Paisley Technical College; of the School of Mining, Coatbridge; and of the Leith Navigation School; of the agricultural colleges, and of the centres of instruction under their control; of the veterinary colleges, and of the schools of domestic economy. Enough, however, has been said to justify the claim that, as regards technical education in all its phases, Scotland occupies a strong position.

JOC/EFR July 2008

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