Taiwan Tech Minister Proposes to Increase Access to 3D Printing in High Schools

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United Daily News and Economic Daily New report that in a cabinet meeting, new Minister of Science and Technology Chang San-Cheng proposes to increase access to 3D printing for high school students. Premier Jiang Yi-Huah identifies with the idea and assigns officials to draft projects and funding.

It sounds like a progressive policy at first glance, especially since maker culture is popular around the world. In the last few years, quite a few dynamic communities, such as hackerspace, maker space and Fablab, appear in Taiwan. Educational system is also eager to reinvent itself to include more hands-on occasions in curriculum. Mechanical and electric industry chains are anxious to find their own path. 3D printing, in some ways, seems to be the solution for all.

Based on government records in the past, however, projects implemented in a rush often end up miserable. I’ve compiled several official common mistakes:

1. Focus on Hardware Procurement

According to media coverage, this one already happens. 3D printing grows in popularity because designs proliferate after patents expire. People can even use 3D printers to produce new ones (Google “RapRep“). Relevant components and software are useful in other inventions and innovations as well. How to build your own 3D printer, therefore, is a great first step, in which students learn maker culture and inspire creativity with limited costs (or create Air Hockey robots by accident). Our officials, however, plan to procure readymade printers with 6-digit price tags as soon as possible. It’s not helpful to future development.

2. Ignore Innovation and Design Capabilities

Even with hardware, can students create and design? 3D printers are merely an output tool. Without great original designs, you can only print out online downloads. To equip students with these capabilities, we need to revamp curriculum and revolutionize aesthetics education, which won’t happen overnight, before buying expensive hardware. Also, if we only aim to drive down costs as OEMs in Taiwan, without innovation and creativity, it simply won’t work.

3. Think Inside the Box

As mentioned before, online and offline maker communities are emerging in Taiwan and in social networks. Members share and gluttonize knowledge from each other. Several startups are exploring software/hardware integration. They can be the most valuable inputs for formal educational systems in this international race. Rather than offering 3D print facilities to every high school, it’s better to start by matching maker communities with local schools. After understanding the essence, culture and core values, teacher and students can experiment with existing facilities. If learning activities are limited on campus, the whole idea remains the same as traditional handicraft courses.

Officials should really visit fablabs around Taiwan before deciding a new policy, otherwise it will only profit a few companies in the end.

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on PunNode, TechNode’s partner in Taiwan.