Dan's Rants

Innovators Of Tomorrow

Josh Hall

As the nation increasingly looks to innovation as a way to become, or just maintain competitiveness, it’s important to ask ourselves who are the innovators and where do they come from?. I once heard an innovation professor once say ‘any idiot can have an idea’, (he was being deliberately provocative of course as he talked about the wider context and ecosystem needed). However, ideas are special and can change the world – if we can harness and nurture the upcoming creators, and create environments and ecosystems that let them flourish.

More often than not we see individuals who were brilliant from an early age, often we hear how they may have disengaged with educational systems from an early age (or later on). For the stalwart, the creative spark and intrinsic desire re-emerge after retreating to a garage or workshop. Biographies of a famous innovator highlight these examples (think Gates or Jobs in the computing world), Gladwell’s book “Outliers” has a fair treatment of the problem too. Surely though with what we know about education we can do better than squeezing everyone into one size fits all educational systems.

Recently I went to an international conference on gifted education. Many aren’t comfortable with the word gifted, but if you consider a standard deviation above the average population as a starting point ( on some accepted scale of choice) then I’m happy with that.

So who are the gifted? Well, there are the outliers that can do calculus before they can walk of course but more usually they might be the quick learner, the abstract thinker, the socially quirky but brilliant inventor even from an early age. Name a disruptive technology or innovation of your choice and chances are it came from the mind and hands of a gifted person, rather than a committee (a camel is a horse designed by a committee after all)

Whilst the initial interest for the conference was driven by my child’s progress through the formative years of school, I soon realised this is right where it starts and where the nation’s productivity can have a real boost.

My sons principal describes it quite neatly, and is a great analogy for the sports tech space:

“If a child plays in the next age group for football it applauded, but if a child does maths at a higher level ‘no, no, no you can’t do that – thats elitism’. We never tell a gifted high jumper, sorry you can only jump to a 1.1m height, as thats what we set the bar at for your age group, next year when you are in a higher grade we’ll let you jump at 1.2m. In sport we want our athletes to be their best, but somehow we are reluctant to do this with academic schooling.”

It turns out the there are serious consequences of not meeting the needs of the gifted. Gross in her celebrated longitudinal studies looked at what are the outcomes of acceleration vs. no acceleration.
They were clear in the opportunity they represented but also frightening in opportunity missed. This was not just for the student involved, think of the wasted talent, but also think of the potential productivity for society missed, when we as a nation need productivity and STEM skills like never before to kickstart our knowledge economy
So it turns out these days acceleration is possible in schools (if you look for the right ones), secondary schools offer early entry to universities and universities have accelerated and honours programmes. Within the local area, there are a few initiatives like

Holland Park SS, Robertson SS, Cavendish Road SHS

and my own university has an honours colleague to extend people: Griffith Honors College

and then there are the research degrees and labs and more recently innovation spaces and programmes.

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