Repair in school, around the world

Image by Insertech

Ever since the Fieldston School ran its first Restart Party in New York, we have been working to create a body of activities and materials to support Restart activities and raise the profile of repair in schools.

Years ago, we heard of Repair Cafes in Belgium running activities in schools. It seemed like such a natural match.

And now we are seeing hints that electronics repair is spreading and proliferating in both primary and secondary schools.

In February, we heard from Insertech in Montreal, who hosted a “Réparothon” in Collège Ville-Marie. The school’s blog post reports 40 people attended from the wider community (machine translation):

In association with the Insertech team, our students acted as experts in solving various physical or software problems. Whether it was a faulty hard drive, a poor operating system, a software infection, an overheating problem, or a device that refuses to start, we were able to help more than 75% of the people who came to see us.

It was with the help of computer experts from Insertech and Microcom, that we were able to achieve such good results because they acted as mentors to the students and enabled them to their skills – already impressive in many ways – in computer science. We were also fortunate to have the involvement of a parent who accompanied our team during the event.

This event was an enriching opportunity for participating students. They were able to develop both interpersonal and technical skills in addition to a meaningful volunteer experience in their community.

More recently, we stumbled across Germany’s Reparatur-Initiativen how-to document and sub-brand for repair events in schools called “RepairKids”. We’re delighted, even with our machine translation:

We experienced that many kids are fascinated by the sight alone of a lush tool selection or in fact for the first time in life taking a screwdriver in their hands

Meanwhile, our web analytics alerted us to another upcoming school Restart Party in the US, in Redmond, Washington (home of Microsoft). Perhaps there is something going on, in Europe and North America?

It’s unclear how many of these initiatives are occurring “against the grain” of national educational trends in the US, Canada, Germany and Belgium. Do these represent irrepressible grassroots initiatives that are making their way into schools? Or do they have the support and buy-in of schools and education systems?

The scenario in the UK

In the UK in past, people learned to replace plugs on electrical appliances at school. However, repair in schools has suffered as Design and Technology (DT) was withdrawn as a compulsory subject and decreases in size. And many initiatives promoting STEM (Science Technology Engineering Maths) enrichment are keen on disassociating them from repair, which is claimed to have a ‘low status’.

The persistent notion that repair is ‘low status’ is nonsense, especially given the growth of sensor networks, smart cities and smart homes, which will necessitate more maintenance and repair than ever. These will be some of the most reliable jobs in an age of automation and outsourced everything.

Not to mention that repair teaches some of the most transferrable skills: (creative) problem-solving, team work and it serves as a real confidence-builder.

Also, what is the consequence of schools accepting and reinforcing this ‘low status’ attached to repair and care, in an age of shrinking education budgets? How can schools continue to ignore care and repair of their own computers?

Lastly, if in the UK students attempting to get a place at universities, as elsewhere, are judged on their contributions to community and civic spirit – what better way to achieve this, than through activities like the Restart Party or Réparothon, providing a service to the community and sharing valuable skills.

We are looking for more educators and schools who would like to run repair activities in secondary schools in the UK – get in touch if you would like to learn more!

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