Back to School: How the Updated Design and Technology Curriculum Shapes Students for Life


One of the class assignments I was given centered around this technology: designing a wooden piggy bank using the Sketchbook app. The project was rooted in the theme of wildlife conservation, so our piggy banks were designed to look like endangered animals.

To sketch our piggy bank, we should use “shape borrowing techniques”, as well as “underpainting” to produce a 3D presentation of our piggy bank. I hoped I made the right choice in drawing an elephant, because the outline of the animal wasn’t too complicated.

While the activity seemed like something I could have done in school, the main difference was that I couldn’t do it with colored pencils and a sketchbook. Having tried drawing on an iPad before, I was nervous. The absence of “friction”, generally present with the pencil against the paper, requires a certain time of adaptation.

As Mdm Elsie Cheng, Head of Crafts and Technology Department at Edgefield High School, went through the steps of creating an initial sketch, I watched my classmates go from application to the other while using the tools of the Sketchbook app to create remarkably professional sketches. .

During this time, I was looking for how to adjust the thickness of my brush. I also discovered how to draw a perfectly straight or curved line with the ruler tool and transform my elephant sketch from 2D to 3D. But my sense of pride evaporated when Mdm Cheng asked us to hand in our sketch.

Somewhere between using an airbrush to color in the sketch and tracing my outline with a thicker brush, my elephant ended up looking sicker than designer. In comparison, the sample images that Mdm Cheng projected onto the screen could have come straight from a Pixar movie. There was no way anyone could reach them in the remaining 30 minutes of class, I thought.

A few minutes later, I found people who could. My classmates, including Deon, produced “rough” sketches that would have easily secured them an animation job. I learned later that it was also the first time they drew on an iPad.


After class, my classmate Marizztellah de Guzman told me that she found the assignment “really hard” because she was “not very good at art.”

She said her class did a similar assignment in Secondary 1 – on paper and pen. Yet despite the challenge of “trying to translate what you learned last year,” she felt she could better express what she wanted to draw now because the Sketchbook app provided more tools.

Similarly, another classmate, Tessa Tay, said she learned resilience by trying to adapt to an unfamiliar medium. She and her classmates “persevered and pushed all the way, and we manage to do what the teacher asked us to do.”

Mdm Cheng, who has been teaching D&T for 18 years, reassured me that the purpose of D&T is “not to get (students) to become designers”. It’s more about thinking like a designer; learn to apply the “framework of design thinking”.

“It’s a way of framing…the way you think. And you also get empathy with users. Because to understand the problem, you actually have to go to the user to understand what (the problem) is,” she said.

“Just like this story itself. You, the reporter, come to class to experience, to get a better (understanding) of what D&T is and what changes we have made over the years.

She was right. If I didn’t fit into a high school class, I wouldn’t be able to write authentically about the changes to the D&T curriculum. Much like design thinking, the solution to understanding today’s curriculum required me to put myself in the shoes of the user.

Or in this case, their class.

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