Saturday 24 September 2011

Why the UK needs Inventors, Innovators and Entrepreneurs

ost economies and GDP are founded on exports. Exports of certain tangible, physical products. Many developed countries do not have such exports, they rely on their financial sector. The past 8 years has shown us that we cannot rely solely on our financial sector, only 2 days ago did the markets slide; it was the biggest fall in share prices since 2008. This is a global issue, not just a national issue.

In the UK, we used to be renowned for producing high quality "physical" exports-coal, suits, shirts, stainless steel, cars. However due to lower labour costs in developing countries and also (ironically) due to a more-educated and service-orientated workforce, we no longer produce that many tangible exports. However, there is still one thing that we are good at and that is creative exports in the form of inventions, innovations, design and entrepreneurial ideas.

In terms of designers and inventors we have Paul Smith, Lee (Alexander) McQueen, Vivenne Westwood, Punch Drunk, Tim Brown (Ideo), Jonathan Ive (Apple), James Dyson, John Baird, Alexander Graham Bell, Isaac Newton, Norman Foster, Tim Berners Lee and many more.

Entrepreneurs we have: Richard Branson, Phillip Green, Duncan Bannatyne, Alan Sugar, Peter Jones, Duncan Cameron, Simon Nixon and many more.

Food for thought: How many of the aforementioned would have gained their English Baccalaureate at school (5 GCSE's at grades A-C including History/Geography and a language).

Our national creative heritage is long running and can be clearly seen in our popular culture and the TV show "Dragon's Den" which has been running for nine seasons and "exported" to 20 countries. Contestants have pitched some seriously ridiculous and useless products, however every episode there is usually an invention which makes you go "Wow" and at the same time think "I wish I had thought of that". It's almost in the British spirit to tinker and create. One of my favourite ideas is shown below:

However, whilst there is a spirit of creativity in the UK, our national education system is not doing our creative culture justice:

So what is the answer? Sir Ken Robinson would argue that we should find the best in our students and not force them to study a narrow range of subjects. Yes, Maths, English, Science are important. Music, Latin, History, Languages and Geography are also important, but they should not be forced upon students instead of other subjects which students actually enjoy. Without students studying Design and Technology, Art, Dance, Drama, Textiles, Computing at KS3, KS4 GCSE and KS5, students will not have the skillset, knowledge or quite simply the access to become designers, inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs.

I don't believe we need a national prescribed curriculum. Students should not be forced into studying any subject at GCSE (provided their literacy and numeracy is good enough for the workplace). They should simply study what they enjoy studying. Ultimately, most students know what subjects they like even at the age of 11 or 14, as long as they have had the opportunity to experience the subject in the first place. So the next time a student asks me if they should study my subject next year, I will answer them honestly. Do they enjoy the subject? Are they studying it because they think it will be easy, or because their parents or friends think it is a good idea? There are far too many students leaving school with C's and D's in subjects which they never wanted to study in the first place. Many did not choose applied/practical subjects for fear of being chastised by others for choosing an "easy subject". If there is one thing I know for sure, it is that getting an A-grade in Dance, Drama or ICT is no easier than getting an A-grade in Maths. They require different types of intelligence as Howard Gardner would put it and every student will have differing strengths which we need to nurture.

The UK Immigration department has a list of shortage occupations . If you your skillset is on the list and you wish to work in the UK, you can easily get a Tier 2 work permit as the UK does not have enough people with these skills. The list includes hydro geologists, dance choreographers and horse carers. However, we do not need more hydro geologists, dance choreographers or horse carers; we simply need more students doing what they enjoy doing.

We cannot single handedly change the system or national policies on a macro level, but we can have an impact on a micro level in our classrooms and conversations with students. We need to have an impact on a micro level. Our country and economy needs us to!

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