‘Re-Maker Spaces’ for Circular Economies

Circular Economy

For 200 years much of world has prospered as a result of digging up finite raw materials, turning them into products, and after they have been consumed, these products are thrown away as waste.

Now, many people are becoming more conscious of living in a finite world. Adverse effects of the manmade world on the environment are beginning to have an impact on economics. Take Brazil, for example. 80% of Brazil’s electricity comes from hydro sources. Fantastic – a low carbon solution I hear you say. Well, yes, but decades of slash-and-burn in the Amazon and Atlantic Forests has changed weather patterns and now Sao Paulo – the engine room of the Brazilian economy – is facing severe drought and disruption to electricity supply. This is expected to have a negative effect of 2 points on GDP growth.

So what has this got to do with the use of technology in education? Well quite a lot actually. Take for example the latest buzz in education – Maker Spaces. Hardly a week goes by without hearing of a Maker Space project or plans to run a student Maker Faire. Whist we warmly welcomes this as clear evidence of the shift away from the ‘consumption and productivity tool’ paradigm towards an invention-based paradigm, we are in danger of missing an extremely important point – what and how what we make things has an impact on the environment. In Maker Spaces and Fab Labs in schools, there is deeper learning to be gained in setting the learning process in the wider context of the Circular Economy. Instead of thinking of product lifecycle as cradle-to-grave, we need to build products within a cradle-to-cradle processes.

If we look at making in Maker Spaces through a Circular Economy lens, we see several types of making activities –

  1. Repair
  2. Refurbish
  3. Reusing
  4. Re-cycle
  5. Remove

Today, our commodities are presented to us as ‘black boxes’, with manufacturers saying ‘we’ll take care of the complicated stuff – you just buy a new one when the old one breaks’. So, no wonder repairing is looked down on. The wonderful ifixit.com is attempting to change this by publishing a vast library of detailed repair manuals. There are deep learning opportunities when children learn to repair products and ‘teardowns’ are great ways to understand STEMD concepts.

Re-use– salvaging components from one product to build another one offers – offers wonderful deep learning opportunities. India is a hotbed of activity in this are with Jugaad and Frugal innovation an integral part of the economy.


Examples of Jugaad innovation – clockwise, Hearing Test Prosthesis; Local Technology Cooker; Alarm Clock Blood Pressure Monitor; Baby Warmer; Fridge; Childbirth Aid; Mobile Phone Projector. C/O Wired Magazine – http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2013/05/features/frugal-innovation

There are other Deep Learning opportunities here for students to apply the following principles to designing and making:

  • Multifunctionalism – can the product I’m making perform more than one function. This, for example, could allow one product to be produced whereas previously several separate products would have been needed.
  • Repairabilty – How easy is the product to repair. Are repair processes documented well and archived openly? Ifixit is a great example of this.
  • Reuseabiliby – Assemblies should be designed and joined in a way that makes replaceable components easy to reach. Eg a 3d printed or moulded product that permanently encases key components is less than optimal.
  • Recyclability – can reusable components be recovered easily, and are materials being used recyclable?

In recent times, learning to use a screwdriver and soldering iron has been seen as a low level skill and only for those who can’t afford new goods. Likewise, working with wood, metal and plastics has been seen as low grade skills for those not ‘smart’ enough to follow an ‘academic’ pathway towards law or medicine for example.

Thankfully, technology is disrupting this dated view of the world. The future belongs to those who can shape technology in its widest sense, and the smartest of these will have the Circular Economy at the core of their practice.

So let’s not take a ‘slash and burn’ approach to building Maker Spaces – buying the latest shiny things simply to make more stuff more easily gives completely the wrong message. Let’s think it through – what Deep Learning do you want students to gain as a result of engaging with your Maker Space? Can we use Maker Spaces to teach about the wider world that we live in? Can we even teach young people to set up mini enterprises in repair, refurbish reuse and recycling – let’s call it re-making. So let’s rename ‘Maker Spaces’ to Re-Maker Spaces – the places to go for deep and joined-up learning.