To teach D&T you have to teach economics and politics – really?

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New technologies do not emerge out of the blue. Increasingly their development begins with science. The work of research scientists reveals phenomena which can be exploited as the basis for new technologies. But turning this knowledge into technologies that can be used by society requires vast amounts of money. In some cases governments provide this money, often to support military developments to enhance national security. The work of DARPA in the USA is a good example here and these developments often spin off into useful developments for society in general. But in most cases the money is provided by venture capitalists who back various developments with very large sums of their own money in the hope/expectation of making even more money. Hence the development of new technologies is strongly tied to the capitalist system. In the past new technologies have generated more jobs than they eliminated. The rise of the motor car completely displaced the need for horse drawn transport and all the occupations associated with this but generated lots more employment in manufacturing, driving, garages, vehicle maintenance and infrastructure. However this may not be the case in the future.

The National Curriculum Design & Technology Working Group Interim Report (DfE&WO 1988) laid the foundations for the nature of the subject in the National Curriculum. Its influence is still very much alive today and this can be seen in the nature of the new single title D&T GCSE. The Report noted that in addition to pupils actively engaging in the processes of D&T there was an additional dimension to consider and this entails “critical reflection upon and appraisal of the social and economic results of design and technological activities beyond the school.” There can be little doubt that the increasing role of automation through robotics and artificial intelligence is having and will continue to have significant social and economic effects and this is the starting point for this blog post.

The latest report from the McKinsey Global Institute (2017) A future that works: Automation, employment and productivity indicates that while less than 5% of all occupations can be automated entirely using demonstrated technologies, about 60% of all occupations have at least 30% of constituent activities that could be automated. A key phrase here is “demonstrated technologies”. Given the rapid increase of machine intelligence demonstrated for example by the recent success of AlphaGo in beating the world Go champion and the use of IBM’s Watson in medical diagnosis combined with the increasing physical capabilities of robots such as those developed by DARPA, one might suppose that the long view adopted by McKinsey of the next 100 years might become compressed to 25 years. In a long view of 100 years we might then find ourselves in a situation in which the majority of ‘work’ has become automated. This has serious consequences for capitalism. At the moment, the captains of industry and commerce make huge sums of money by employing vast numbers of workers to create goods and services which these workers then purchase to a greater or lesser extent by spending their earnings. As industry and commerce become more automated there will be fewer and fewer workers and hence less purchasing power for the goods and services produced by industry and commerce. The drive for technological efficiency through automation will literally do capitalism out of a job. This train of thought has led economists to consider the idea of a universal basic income (UBI) paid to all citizens whether they are in work or not. Far fetched? Well perhaps not that far fetched. Several countries have considered this and Switzerland held a referendum in 2016 (BBC news 5 June 2016). The idea was rejected but 27% did vote in favour. Most recently the results of a trial in Finland (Independent 2017) has indicated mental health benefits for those in receipt of UBI. As more and more jobs are lost to automation it is not difficult to envisage a swing towards supporting a UBI. It is unlikely that this will happen very quickly but we can imagine moving towards a tipping point at which there becomes sufficient unemployed or lowly paid human workers that there are insufficient earned wages to purchase the products and services of automated industry. Bill Gates has argued for a tax on robots with the revenue from such taxation being used to ameliorate the impact on workers. It is perhaps worth asking ourselves what the role for education becomes in a world where pupils are guaranteed an income when they become adults? To quote Neil Postman we might move to a situation where school teaches, “how to make a life as opposed to make a living.”

Four_futures-183ac70241fda54162674557095cf068 Peter Frase has considered the situation in which capitalism is no longer viable in its present form in his entertaining book Four Futures: Life after capitalism which is short and accessible. It is an interesting thought experiment. He takes two sets of critical uncertainties and uses them to create four future scenarios.

 

 

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Four possible post capitalism futures as envisaged by Peter Frase

Frase calls on science fiction to embellish his scenarios, particularly the use of the replicator from Star Trek to provide the ability to replicate whatever we want from constituent atoms. This might be the ultimate destination of 3D printing. The extremes of the Abundance/Scarcity axis refer to the extent to which we have overcome the environmental challenges we currently face. The extremes of the Equality/Hierarchy axis refer to extent to which the majority or minority of society have access to available resources. A limitation of such an approach is that it necessarily limits itself to two sets of critical uncertainties. Frase does note consider other sets of critical uncertainties which might provide different scenarios. But for the purpose of this post I will accept this limitation.

In Scenario 1 (equality & abundance) we have a situation where the planet has been saved from environmental disaster, automation produces all goods and services required for living, a situation Frase calls post scarcity. All are relieved of the need to work and can carry out activities as they are inclined. Their status is not dependent on what they own or who they control. Although this society does not have the central mission of the starship Enterprise and hence the related command hierarchy it does mirror the post scarcity situation enjoyed by members of Starfleet. Frase names this scenario Communism. Clearly this is a utopian view but in a non-derogatory sense.

In Scenario 2 (abundance & hierarchy) there is a clear hierarchy between those who own the data files that allow goods and services to be produced by replicator and AI ‘assistant’ technologies and those who use/consume these goods and services. These users/consumers do not need to do the work that provides the goods and service; this is automated. Hence some redistribution of wealth to this large majority of society will be necessary, perhaps via a UBI, in order for them to access these goods and services. Frase names this scenario Rentism on the grounds that those with power ‘rent’ goods and services to the rest of society with strict conditions as to availability and use. The scarcity experienced by the majority of society is in fact an artificial scarcity created by those who own the data files. Frase asks for how long the majority will accept such a situation. Clearly this is a dystopian view.

In Scenario 3 (equality & scarcity) the world is recovering from the impact of global environmental disaster and the survivors have limited resources to build the society they want. They are committed to a society without any significant hierarchy. The replicator and AI assistant technologies are in operation but provide what might be termed rations in order that all will get a fair share of the limited resources. Without the need to work for these products and services members of society commit themselves to the task of ecological reconstruction, building a world in which there will be less scarcity in the future and in which humans and the other living creatures on the planet co-exist to mutual benefit. Clearly this view tends towards the utopian although life in this scenario is more demanding and less immediately attractive than life in scenario 1.

In Scenario 4 (hierarchy & scarcity) we have a situation in which a small elite live in luxury compared with the vast majority who live in extreme poverty, do any work required and are kept under control by robot police. This matches the situation described in the film Elysium. Taken to extreme this situation could move to the point where a revolution by the workers is put down so severely by the ruling elite that those not in the elite are exterminated. Frase names this scenario Exterminism Clearly this is another dystopian view.

Given the limitations of such scenario building techniques we have to ask shouldn’t we take all Frase’s writing with a very large pinch of salt? Possibly, but thinking about the future and what it might be like, and perhaps more importantly, what we might want it to be like, is surely a worthwhile activity for young people at school. The scenario descriptions presented above are very much an oversimplification of Frase’s more detailed descriptions and considerations. His point in building these scenarios is not that they are intended to be predictive but to be clear that any future we build will depend to a considerable extent on the way technology is deployed, how environmental issues are tackled and how power is distributed as we move towards that future. As a committed socialist and environmentalist he argues that the distribution of power should be as non-hierarchical as possible and humanity should live in harmony with the natural world with deployment of technology to both those ends. But of course this cannot and will not happen unless people are given the opportunity to debate the sort of society they want and the intellectual tools to argue for and then build that society in their future. So a critical question is, “How much of this sort of thing should we teach in school?” David Brown of pop band You and what army considers this question in his You Tube channel ‘boyinaband’ and if you haven’t seen his rap video ‘Don’t go to school’ it’s well worth a watch.  Consider this extract:

I know igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks
Yet I don’t know squat about trading stocks
Or how money works at all – where does it come from?
Who controls it? How does the thing that motivates the world function?
Not taught how to budget and disburse my earnings
I was too busy rehearsing cursive.
Didn’t learn how much it costs to raise a kid or what an affidavit is
But I spent days on what the quadratic equation is

This dissatisfaction with the school curriculum indicates perhaps that some lesson time spent considering possible futures and how to reach them might be well received. And this of course leads to the question “How much should we teach in D&T?” It’s not as if we don’t have a lot to do in developing designer – maker capability to be used in response to the contextual challenge of the new single title GCSE. Yet understanding something of the impact of technology on society is now part of this new GCSE specification. But I suspect that any written paper examination questions will not require the sort of critique outlined above. So if not formally taught then perhaps as part of an after school technology – society debating club? You mean you don’t have a technology – society debating club! Why not?

Returning to the Interim Report here is a quote which indicates that this aspect of design & technology was considered to be of particular importance.

Our terms of reference refer to pupils being able to ‘appreciate the importance of design and technology in society, historically and present day, particularly as it affects the economy’. Understanding of technological change and of the ways in which it is restructuring the workplace and influencing life styles is a crucial aspect of an education in design and technology. The consequences of technological change are profound and pervasive. Furthermore, technological revolutions are irreversible; no technological change can be uninvented after it has taken place. We need to understand design and technology, therefore, not only to solve practical problems, to invent, optimise and realise solutions, but also so that we can acquire a sense of its enormous transformatory power. … By the end of the period of compulsory education pupils should have some understanding of the value options and decisions that have empowered the technological process in the past and which are doing so today. [DfE & WO (1988) pages ⅚]

This seems to me to be a highly persuasive argument to spend at least some time in D&T lessons considering possible futures in the light of technological developments. There is no doubt that this is challenging but so interesting and so relevant to young people and their future lives; not in a narrow vocational sense but in a wider political sense.

As always comments welcome.

Post Script

For a different take on a world without work you’ll find this piece by Yuval Noah Harari both challenging and intriguing

References

BBC News 5 June 2016 available at this url: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36454060

Department for Education and Science and Welsh Office (DfE&WO) (1988). National Curriculum Design and Technology Working Group Interim Report. London: HMSO

Frase, P. (2016) Four Futures Life after capitalism London: Verso

Independent 8 May 2017 available at this url: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/finland-universal-basic-income-trial-pilot-scheme-unemployed-stress-levels-reduced-a7724081.html

McKinsey Global Institute (2017) A future that works: Automation, employment and productivity McKinsey & Company

 

 

 

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Re-Building D&T v2

Re-Building Design & Technology v2 is now available here. It has been informed by the responses we have had to the first version. We have taken many of these responses into account in rewriting the original eight sections and have introduced a completely new section Re-building – necessary but not sufficient.

Prior to publishing v2 of this document we sought the support of the D&T Association. To this end, we had a very productive meeting with Julie Nugent, the new CEO of the D&T Association and Andy Mitchell, the deputy CEO, at which they welcomed v2 of the Re-building paper and looked forward to working with stakeholders in responding to the recommendations. However we want to reiterate here what the paper says:

Our recommendations all carry implied costs, in some cases relatively modest and in others significant. These costs are beyond the current budget of the Association and it is really important that the whole D&T community works with the Association to help the realisation of these recommendations with both practical and financial support.

If you would like to discuss the provision of either practical or financial support with the D&T Association, you can contact them via their website; we suggest that you mention the Re-Building D&T document and it may be helpful to note that your message is for the attention of Julie Nugent, CEO.

In addition we look forward to receiving any comments you have on v2 and would welcome indications of how you might be using v2 of the document in your school, your initial teacher training or in the provision of CPD.

As ever, you can comment on this post or contact us directly.

Tom McLeish and the case for understanding the nature of science (and perhaps technology) through Biblical Revelation

Tom McLeishTom McLeish is a self-confessed ‘faith head’ i.e. a very committed Christian (a Reader in the Anglican Church since 1993) but also a highly successful scientist (Professor of Physics at Durham University and chair of the Royal Society’s education committee); a combination that isn’t as unusual as we might think. I was very impressed with his book Faith and Wisdom in ScienceThis book challenges much of the current ‘science and religion’ debate as operating with the wrong assumptions and in the wrong space. It is critical of the cultural separation of sciences and humanities, suggesting an approach to science, or in its more ancient form natural philosophy – the ‘love of wisdom of natural things’ – that can draw on theological and cultural roots. His writing led me to the work of Deepen Project, which taking nanotechnology as an example, explored why the general public are often suspicious of new and emerging technologies.

The Project identified five narratives underpinning this suspicion. These were:

  1. Be careful what you wish for – the narrative of Desire
  2. Being kept in the dark – the narrative of Alienation
  3. Messing with nature – the narrative of the Sacred
  4. Pandora’s box – the narrative of Evil and Hope
  5. The rich get richer – the narrative of Exploitation.

In teaching young people about the nature of technology I think it might be useful for teachers to keep these suspicions in mind and discuss them openly with their students. See this post which comments on this work.

If I have one criticism of Tom’s writing it is that I think he often conflates science with technology and we know where that gets us in the secondary school curriculum – science ruling at the expense of design & technology. Never the less I was really looking forward to his new book, co-authored with David Hutchings a physics teacher at Pocklington School, Let there be scienceIt’s a terrific read whether you are a Christian or not and I urge all D&T HoDs to get a copy for the department library. Partly because the book has some really interesting things to say about the nature of science plus its relationship the Christian faith but also because Tom (and now David) still to my mind often write about technology as well as science.

The following comments from eminent scientists, cited in the book, indicate that science and faith need not be strangers or incompatible.

Michael Faraday (1791 – 1867) responsible for discovering the principles underlying electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis, “I cannot doubt that a glorious discovery in natural knowledge, and the wisdom and power of God in the creation, is awaiting our age, and that we may not only hope to see it, but even be honoured to help in obtaining victory over present ignorance and future knowledge”.

James Clerk Maxwell (1831 – 1879) Responsible for formulating the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism and light as manifestations of the same phenomenon, “I think men of science as well as other men need to learn from Christ, and I think Christians whose minds are scientific are bound to study science that their view of the glory of God may be as extensive as their being is capable”.

Max Planck (1858 –1947) originated the quantum theory, which revolutionized human understanding of atomic and subatomic processes, “Both religion and science require a belief in God. For believers, God is the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations … to the former He is the foundation, to the latter the crown”.

And my favourite, from Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976) responsible for the creation of quantum mechanics, “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you”.

We know that there are scientists who are atheists; Richard Dawkins is the example that comes to everyone’s mind. But, as a friend of mine who is a committed Christian said, “The God Dawkins doesn’t believe in is the God we all stopped believing in when we were 14”. Tom and David have a very sophisticated and nuanced view of God and Biblical revelation and there is much of value in Let there be science for teachers of design & technology as well as science whether they believe in God or not, or are agnostic.

It’s too difficult to do Let there be science justice in a short blog post and I’ll be writing a more detailed commentary in the working papers section shortly. And of course one of the questions I wish to explore will be the extent to which Tom and David’s writing can be used to consider the possibility of Biblical revelation as to the nature and purpose of technology.

A final word from Albert Einstein, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible”.

As always comments welcome.

Are you using biomimicry in D&T?

A guest post by Rebecca Mallinson

Fish Gill Design used to remove trapped air from water pipelines

Fish Gill Design used to remove trapped air from water pipelines

Biomimicry is the manufacturing of materials that imitate the phenomena of life’s natural processes. From 2014, biomimicry was introduced as a design methodology within the UK Design & Technology curriculum with the aspiration to align the subject more greatly with design outside education.

Burrs are the most widely known biomimic inspiration - responsible for velcro

Burrs are the most widely known biomimic inspiration – responsible for velcro

As an anthropology researcher at the crosshairs of Material & Visual Culture, Sustainability and Education, my interest lies in how this directive is technically interpreted and taught for Key Stage 3 students. How is such a complex subject understood, embraced and employed to create artefacts where ‘thought is made concrete in design’? In abstracting nature’s properties, are we teaching a re-assertion of our own power over it, or fostering an apotropaic (harm-averting) closeness with our increasingly vulnerable environment? Is there an immateriality – a spiritual rather than physical quality – to embedding biomimicry within a design curriculum?

Beijing National Aquatics Centre inspired by bubbles

Beijing National Aquatics Centre inspired by bubbles

I would love to be able to explore this for my masters dissertation at UCL but to do so, I need to find D&T teachers willing to be interviewed. This could be via email/Skype/phone or in person depending on your location.

Anyone is welcome to contribute their perspective whether they have:

  • Embraced this element of the curriculum and found innovative ways to articulate it?
  • Examples to share of how students have employed biomimicry within their artwork from the most mundane to the most spectacular?
  • Experienced creative, strange, fascinated or confused responses from students?
  • Felt skeptical about its inclusion within the curriculum entirely?

If you would like to know more and/or participate, please email Rebecca at rebecca.mallinson.15@ucl.ac.uk before Friday 28th April.

Rebecca MallinsonRebecca Mallinson

Working with the Creative Directors at London College of Fashion, Rebecca has coordinated industry projects with Microsoft, United Nations, SHOWstudio and Cass Art alongside the design/organisation of catwalk and exhibitions. Her previous experience encompasses Research & Policy at the Crafts Council plus supporting researchers at Centre for Sustainable Fashion and Textile Futures Research Centre which each stimulated her interest in the potentials of design embracing natural technologies.

Big Ideas for D&T

When we published the Re-Building Design & Technology Working Paper, one of the core things we suggested was that the D&T community could agree on some Big Ideas that should underpin learning within D&T.

We didn’t think these Big Ideas were particularly radical; they already mostly appear in one form or another in the current KS3 Orders for D&T as well as in the new D&T GCSEs.

We outlined some of the responses to the Re-Building paper in an earlier post, and, as we said there, some correspondents disagreed with the idea of Big Ideas and others felt they’d like to hear more detail on how these Big Ideas had been developed, so that they could understand our argument better.

We agree that this would be helpful and we hope that our second Working paper,  Big Ideas for Design & Technology, serves the purpose of explaining where the Bg Ideas we are advocating have come from.

As ever, we hope this paper will stimulate discussion and we look forward to your comments.

Daily Telegraph Headline “Design and technology GCSE axed from nearly half of schools, survey finds”

We were pleased that the Daily Telegraph reported on the problems facing our subject. So, of course, we wrote to the Telegraph about it. We were less pleased when the letters’ editor told us, “Sorry there isn’t room on the letters page.” So here is an extended version of our letter explaining what a tragedy it is that the government has ignored the contribution design & technology can make to the general education of all pupils whatever their intended careers. Feel free to forward to all who might be able to use it for the good of the subject.

The recent piece in the Daily Telegraph newspaper (10-3-17) on the imminent demise of design & technology GCSE merits an urgent response. Amongst the factors that have contributed to the decline in numbers taking GCSE design & technology, we think two are key; the role of the EBacc and the DfE’s inability to effectively plan for a supply of new teachers into the profession. Unfortunately, the effects of these interact to create the dire situation reported. As far as teacher supply is concerned, UCAS reports that applications to train to become a design and technology teacher have dropped by 34% since last year (a year in which recruitment was already low, following a pattern of year-on-year decline), yet the government insists “…we do not consider that there is compelling evidence of a shortage of DT teachers.” The Telegraph’s article provides a clear explanation for this apparent paradox; in the face of recruitment difficulty, school leaders are simply not replacing design & technology teachers as they leave and instead are shrinking and closing design & technology departments. The financial pressure on schools gives an added incentive to take this path as does the EBacc, to which we now turn.

Our recent Working Paper ‘Re-Building Design & Technology’ has detailed the way that design & technology sits outside the EBacc, which inevitably puts it down the pecking order when it comes to student choices for GCSE. This means that there needs to be considerable clarity about the contribution design & technology makes to young people’s learning, particularly regarding its uniqueness (i.e., the learning it provides that is not offered by any other subject) and its rigour (both practical and intellectual). It seems to us that a high level of clarity about design & technology’s role in developing fully rounded young people is not always present (in schools or amongst parents and students) when discussions about GCSE options are taking place. Therefore, we would like to offer four arguments that emphasise design & technology’s importance in the curriculum.

An economic argument

A steady supply of people who have studied design & technology is essential to maintain and develop the kind of society we value. Design & technology is central to the innovation on which our future economic success as a nation depends. For those young people who achieve a design & technology qualification at school the experience may well predispose some of them to consider a technical career. This is important as our country faces a “STEM skills” gap.

A personal argument

The learning achieved through studying design & technology at school is useful in everyday situations, as it enables young people to deploy design skills and technical problem solving to address and solve practical problems at both the personal and community levels.

A social argument

In their communities, their workplaces, and through the media, people encounter questions and disputes that have matters of design and/or technology at their core. Often these matters are contentious. Significant understanding of design and of technology is needed to reach an informed view on such matters and engage in discussion and debate. For example, students designing and making robots in design & technology have to engage with both hardware and software design issues; these provide rich opportunities for them to consider some of the wider implications of robots in society such as their roles in elder care, in warfare and in displacing human jobs.

A cultural argument

Technologies and the design thinking behind them are major achievements of our culture. Everyone should be helped to appreciate these, in much the same way that we teach pupils to appreciate literature, art and music.

The sentences below have their origins in the writings of Jacob Bronowski’s seminal work, The Ascent of Man. We think they provide a powerful justification for teaching the subject that touches on all four of the arguments noted previously (economic, personal, social, cultural).

Envisaging what might exist in the future and using tools and materials to create and critique that future is a unique human ability, which has led to the development of successive civilisations across history. It embodies some of the best of what it means to be human.Through teaching young people design & technology, schools introduce pupils to this field of human endeavour and empower them to become people who see the world as a place of opportunity where they and others can, through their own thoughts and actions, improve their situation.

The implications are that design & technology requires young people to be imaginative, develop practical skills, be thoughtful and develop intellectual skills, develop a positive attitude towards confronting problems, be both reflective and active, make judgements as to what is worth doing and understand the ways that design & technology underpins cultural and social structures.

If taken seriously, the arguments given above provide compelling reasons for teaching design & technology to all young people, whatever their career intentions might be, as part of a rounded, general education. We are utterly mystified that the government continues to marginalise the subject both through the EBacc and through its inattention to teacher supply.

 

As always comments welcome.

 

Technology Education according to Neil Postman

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that I am a huge admirer of Neil Postman. I first discovered him early in my teaching career through his book Teaching as a subversive activity (if only!) and more recently through re-reading Technopoly which I blogged about on this site. Last week I managed to get a second hand copy of one of his later works The End of Education. It does not disappoint and what do I find in the last chapter a list of ten principles for technology education.the-end-of-education-and-technopoly-book-covers

Here they are:

  1. All technological change is a Faustian bargain. For every advantage a new technology offers, there is a corresponding disadvantage.
  2. The advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population. This means that every new technology benefits some and harms others.
  3. Embedded in every technology there is a powerful idea, sometimes two or three powerful ideas. Like language itself, a technology predisposes us to favour and value certain perspectives and accomplishments and to subordinate others. Every technology has a philosophy, which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards.
  4. A new technology usually makes war against an old technology. It competes with it for time, attention, money, prestige and a “worldview”.
  5. Technological change is not additive; it is ecological. A new technology does not merely add something; it changes everything.
  6. Because of the symbolic forms in which information is encoded, different technologies have different intellectual and emotional biases.
  7. Because of the accessibility and speed of their information, different technologies have different political biases.
  8. Because of their physical form, different technologies have different sensory biases.
  9. Because of the conditions in which we attend to them, different technologies have different social biases.
  10. Because of their technical and economic structure, different technologies have different content biases.

All this written was written 20 years ago.

Postman argues that through teaching technology according to these principles young people will know something worthwhile, have made sense of how the world was made and how it is being remade, and may even have some ideas on how it should be remade. I think that the Disruptive Technologies Project that I, Torben and Nick Givens are working on has significant resonance with Postman’s ten principles and that they form an excellent guide to what we have named Technological Perspective which provides insight into ‘how technology works’ informing a constructively critical view of technology, avoiding alienation from our technologically based society and enabling consideration of how technology might be used to provide products and systems that help create the sort of society in which young people wish to live.

It’s not that technological capability in terms of designing and making isn’t important, of course it is but to neglect technological perspective is to provide an education that lacks an essential dimension crucial to young people’s futures. Our challenge is to include both in the way we teach design & technology.

As always comments welcome