In part one of its series, "Economy of the Future", Canadian Business magazine examines the challenge of teaching kids to be innovative.
Rachel Mendleson's report in the August 15th issue titled, "Raising Young Einsteins," highlights Youth Science Canada's Smarter Science framework and Program Director Mike Newnham's work to engage Ontario teachers in its use - as well as photos from Canada-Wide Science Fair 2011.
Framing the challenge, Mendleson notes that: "Though neither well defined nor understood, innovation is widely believed to directly influence a company’s (and country’s) bottom line. And yet, when it comes to instilling this trait in our youth, the evidence suggests that Canada’s on a slow slide to mediocrity.... Despite maintaining stable, above-average scores, Canada’s relative ranking on the OECD’s prestigious Programme for International Student Assessment, which is administered to 15-year-olds around the world, is slipping. From 2000 to 2009, Canada’s position in reading dipped from No. 2 to No. 5; in math and science, Canada’s rank dropped to ninth and seventh respectively, down from fifth in both subjects."
She identifies the Smarter Science framework and science fairs as one way to engage students in solving problems of their own design that relate to issues that interest them - and recommends that serious consideration be given to the lesson of Sugata Mitra's "Hole in the Wall" project in New Delhi, India: "Give kids a break from the textbooks, standardized tests and sit-up-and-pay-attention instruction for which North American classrooms are known. If the aim is to inspire the next generation to come up with creative solutions to the world’s biggest problems (and show them that science and math are neither boring nor hard) an unconventional approach seems like a logical starting point."
Mendleson's message echoes Youth Science Canada's message of the past 50 years: "If innovation is even half as important as everyone says it is, then the extent to which we encourage our kids to become creative, independent thinkers, and foster their passion for technology, science and math - the traditional springboards for invention and discovery - could mean the difference between building a country that leads and one that follows."
We hope business, government, and academic leaders are reading - and listening.