Why is arms company BAE Systems encouraging schoolchildren to play with LEGO?
The company wants children to develop the skills it needs for developing high-tech weapons platforms, and has hit upon LEGO’s programmable robot kits called Mindstorms as a fun way to get kids interested.
BAE Systems runs LEGO Mindstorms sessions in British classrooms, and last year the company enlisted the help of Eastenders actor Todd Carty to front a school roadshow in which children worked to create a robotic LEGO vehicle. Meanwhile, in the US, BAE heavily sponsors the FIRST LEGO League, in which children compete to build the best LEGO robot.
For BAE, this is part of a wider involvement in schools aimed at steering the best and brightest pupils into a career making military machines. BAE also sponsors school equipment, provides lesson plans to teachers, and even places representatives on school Governing Bodies.
BAE claims that this is part of their “commitment to the community and education”, but this is disingenuous. The company’s true motivation is a need to recruit engineers to develop weapons platforms such as the Fury armed UAV and the next generation of nuclear missile submarines.
In universities across the country, students are taking action against BAE’s attempts to recruit graduates, but we need to be aware that BAE’s recruitment strategy is also aimed at much younger minds.
BAE’s “Education Programme” (Editor: which has a new site) is aimed at children from five years and up. The website draws them in with animation, games, and videos of BAE’s “awesome submarines, ships and planes” and BAE engineers “talking about their cool jobs.”
Beware of arms companies bearing gifts
It can be hard for cash-strapped schools to resist expensive educational gifts from corporate and military donors. One teacher at a junior school in Kent remarked that the BAE roadshow gave pupils “a chance to use LEGO Mindstorms which we do not have in school.”
As government funding for education dries up, we should be vigilant for corporations moving in to co-opt the education system, from primary schools through to higher education.
BAE’s influence in schools can be resisted, and it is vulnerable. Chairman Dick Olver is already concerned about there being “fewer candidates for technical positions” in his company. Of course it’s good for kids to learn about science and engineering, but we don’t need BAE Systems insidiously guiding them towards a career in mechanised murder.
If you find BAE meddling in your local school, you can expose them for what they are – a corrupt arms company whose products facilitate wars and repression around the world. Group together with concerned parents and teachers, and press for the school to say thanks, but no thanks.
After all, what is LEGO – a favourite childhood toy, an engrossing construction kit, or a training tool for developing robotic killing machines?
Editors note: this is a historical article, and some of the resources originally linked to no longer exist online. Where possible, alternative links have been established.