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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 83

Technical Education,* — As Applied to Industrial Schools for Boys

page 13

Technical Education,*

As Applied to Industrial Schools for Boys.

I shall begin my subject by defining its title. Technical Education is, as I understand it, a special education with a special object. A mutual friend of ours, I saw, described it at the Dublin Conference as "another name for Industrial Work," and for his purpose the definition answered very well, but Technical Education to my mind means a good deal more than that. The idea involved in the term is a double one—first, that the most complete acquaintance with the theory of an art or industry is not a complete education in that art or industry, and second, that no mere handicraftsman in any industry is a sufficient exponent of its resources. Technical Education seeks to supplement the deficiency in each case by adding to it its proper complement. For the workman it establishes schools where the principles which underlie his craft are expounded; for the student it supplies workshops where at the lathe, the forge, or the bench, he can test the soundness of his theories by their practical application to things. The one finds that his work embodies principles and rules; the other awakes to the fact that his theories are mere barren formul till they are practically applied.

Actual experience has taught that it is the wise union of theory with practice in the prosecution of any industry which creates the conditions most favourable to its successful development. The great discoveries and inventions which have placed Great Britain foremost among the manufacturing nations of the earth have, almost without exception, been due to men, who united to minds of more than ordinary power and originality, the skill and dexterity of the trained workman. It is only, however, of comparatively speaking late years, that the full significance of this fact has been actually realised in this country. For many years after the great Continental wars of the early part of this century, Great Britain was the sole possessor of the improved machinery employed in our great manufactures. The result was that our trade advanced by "leaps and bounds" (as a great authority has put it), and left all possible rivals on the continent far in our rear. To make this position still more secure, various Acts of Parliament, which were not repealed till 1825, made it a penal offence to enlist English workmen for service abroad. But trade keeps a keen eye on its rivals, and if it cannot compete in one way, has a wonderful knack of finding another. So our neighbours across the "silver streak" established Technical Schools; the French had their École Centrale at Paris, and the Germans and Swiss their Polytechnic Schools where engineers and men of science, trained in England, taught Technology. This instruction filtered down through the industrial mass till it reached the ordinary workman, and the result was that soon page 14 the printed cottons of Mulhouse, the woollen fabrics of Rheims and Roubaix, the silks and velvets of Basle and Lyons and Crefeld competed successfully with, and even excelled in the open market the products of Manchester and Bradford and Coventry. English manufacturers then found it necessary to bestir themselves, if their manufacturing superiority was to be maintained. What newspaper correspondents call the "great mind of England" is not easily agitated—it appears to be in a chronic state of somnolence—but when it is roused it generally faces its difficulties, and solves its problems in such a way that all the world understands the solution. So, given the question "How are we to maintain our manufacturing superiority?" the enquiry has been "How is it jeopardised?" and having found the bane it straightway discovers the antidote—in this case the homæopathic one of "like cures like."

"Continental manufacturers are taking the wind out of our sails by Technical Education, we will overhaul them by Technical Education." So there is a general, I might almost say universal, move in this direction, with results already so satisfactory, that they have more than repaid the trouble and expense incurred, while opening out for the future an era of advancement of which no one can foresee the ultimate consequences.

In 1881 a Royal Commission was appointed to look into, and report upon this question; and on April, 1884, their report was issued, from which I quote the following:—

"The manufacturers of Nottingham speak with no uncertain voice of the important influence of the local School of Art on the lace manufacture of that town." "Without the Lambeth School the art productions of Messrs. Doulton could scarcely have come into existence." "The linen manufacturers of Belfast are becoming alive to the necessity of technical instruction, if competition on equal terms with foreign nations in the more artistic productions is to be rendered possible." "The new generation of engineers and manufacturers of Glasgow has been trained in the Technical Schools of that city." "The City and Guilds of London Institute owes its existence to the conviction of the liverymen, that technical instruction is a necessary condition of the welfare of our great industries."

Here you will see that the desirableness of, and even necessity for, Technical Education is shown with a conclusiveness that admits of no question whatever. One witness in his evidence before the Commissioners speaks thus of the results of the influence of the Science and Art Classes established in Oldham.

"In the case of pattern makers for instance, they understand their work better than they did previously. It has caused the men to be more intelligent workmen, and to understand better the instructions given them and the object had in view in the work performed, and they understand the working better. Our foremen draughtsmen are now all taken from the Institution. Before the Institution existed we used to get Swiss and French and Germans principally. Now there is hardly a foreigner in the town."

In addition to an exhaustive enquiry in detail into the nature of technical instruction given on the Continent, twenty-seven of the most important agencies for the diffusion of technical instruction in England page 15 were visited and reported upon by the Commission. They range from the London School Board with its elementary education, to the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, from the special schools of the manufacturing centres to the National Science and Art Department at South Kensington. These efforts, whatever their nature and degree, are, one and all, recognised as helping to supply a national want, viz., English workmen who can, in productive power, intelligent and effective workmanship and artistic excellence, outstrip in the industrial race any continental or transatlantic rivals. Technical education, assiduously disseminated abroad, did, as before shown, for a time and in certain industries, threaten to wrest the palm of superiority from our hands; but the impending danger was discovered in time, and technical education diligently cultivated at home, has again set the balance in favour of England.

To quote the report again. "But, great as has been the progress of foreign countries, and keen as is their rivalry with us in many important branches, we have no hesitation in stating our conviction, which we believe to be shared by continental manufacturers themselves, that taking the state of the arts of construction and the staple manufactures as a whole, our people still maintain their position at the head of the industrial world. Not only has nearly every important machine and process employed in manufactures been either invented or perfected in this country in the past, but it is not too much to say that most of the prominent new industrial departures of modern times are due to the inventive power and practical skill of our countrymen."

To he continued.

* A Paper read at a meeting of Officers of Institutions in connection with the Reformatory and Refuge Union, held at the Stockwell Orphanage on the 11th of December, 1884.