“Young innovators have shown incredible resilience over the past few years and have an integral role to play in the future.” says WJEC

After a tumultuous few years, sparked by a global pandemic, Jason Cates, WJEC’s Design and Technology Subject Officer, looks at its effect on students and ahead to the promising future of the subject.

 “In design, you don’t learn from success, you learn from failure, and only change something if it doesn’t work properly. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s how vital innovation and design is when it comes to solving a problem, especially one that affects the entire population.

Faced with an unprecedented situation that presented endless design problems, innovators across the world came together to create improved PPE, testing kits, mobile phone apps, and even makeshift ventilators, among thousands of other inventions, all designed to help in the fight against Covid-19.

As the world regains some sense of normality, although reimagined from before, the pandemic has highlighted the incredibly vital role of design and technology, and why every government across the world should be placing the same amount of focus on innovation as we are here in Wales.

Thanks to the Welsh Government’s forthcoming Innovation Strategy, there is to be a renewed focus on fostering a culture of innovation, including within education. Coupled with the new Curriculum for Wales, which looks to reward user centred design and encourage the process of iteration, the future looks incredibly bright for young innovators across the country.

It’s so important that this innovation mindset is championed and nurtured right from the start, and there is no better platform for this than the Innovation Awards, a joint venture between WJEC and the Welsh Government, now in its 25th year. The awards encourage young people in Wales to be technologically innovative by inventing new products and solutions, using the skills they’ve developed in their design technology GCSE, AS and A level classes. Over the past quarter of a century of these awards, we’ve seen some incredible inventions, and this year is certainly no different.

Despite many learners missing out on a huge chunk of classroom time since the pandemic took hold, they have shown a remarkable level of creativity, self-motivation and resilience, which is reflected in this year’s award winners.

From a toe protection device for cricketers, a food peg designed to turn food waste into fertiliser, to a portable blood centrifuge to help diagnose malaria in remote areas, it is clear to see that the past few years have only intensified our learners’ appetites for innovation.

It’s also encouraging to see such an involved collaboration across disciplines, with so many of the projects drawing from often very complex mathematical and scientific principles. This cross-curricular involvement highlights just how important it is for learners to adopt a broad range of skills, and the incredible inventions that can be created when these skills are united.

As an exam board, we’ve seen a blatant shift in recent years from students simply designing a product, to them responding to actual needs in the market. The designs and young designers in this year’s awards showcase just how strong our pool of talent is, and how we must nurture their skills and creativity going forward. Every single project recognised in these awards provides a real solution to a real problem, and this is exactly what we’re excited to see championed in the new Curriculum for Wales – students rewarded for identifying and understanding a problem, then creating a solution that tackles the needs, wants and values of the user.

Recent times have provided us with an avalanche of design opportunities, and together with some great minds, there are endless business opportunities and commercial potential to be sought as we reimagine the future.

It’s wonderful to see students rewarded and celebrated again, after a two-year hiatus, and to fly the flag for design and technology students across Wales.

Wales is an incredibly pioneering nation, and I’m confident that with our renewed focus on innovation, together with the talent and drive of our learners and young innovators, the future is in very safe hands indeed. “