“Later that night I held an atlas in my lap ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered where does it hurt? It answered everywhere everywhere everywhere.”
Poet Warsan Shire bled that onto a page and it is a tragic truth. And what makes it an even more heartbreaking truth is that – give or take a natural event or two – every festering sore is man-made. It is easy to feel hopeless. It is nearly impossible to talk sense into religious fanatics; seek the common good from the corrupt; seek charity from the excessive and greedy wealthy; explain freedom to the oppressed. But there is one thing we can do – pick up the pieces and engineers could do this very well.
Engineering educators should make sure that students understand that, as future engineers, they can go beyond just learning how to design and build things and need serious engagement with the bigger social challenges, locally and globally.
Abbas El-Zein and Petr Matous from the University of Sydney believe engineering students need to be interested in problems such as those faced by people living in slums in Manila, refugee camps in Jordan and remote communities. For this to happen, engineering teaching should include more content addressing such issues, including topics that have been traditionally in the domain of social sciences. And manufacturers will need to back up this new thinking and understanding by “exploring radically new ways of creating and capturing value” in a whole new landscape.
While you are watching children revelling over the holiday season, think of all those children who do not have a carefree Kiwi childhood and ponder on what you could do to make their lives betters.
Against the odds, all is not yet lost in the world – we still have the ability to change things for the better if we only realise it.