PROMOTION OF TECHNOLOGICAL CREATIVITY
AMONG YOUTH AND STUDENTS
by Dr. Farag Moussa
President of IFIA
Lecture given at a workshop
on Strengthening Technological Capacities
of Developing Countries Through Inventive Activities
(Manila, Philippines, February 21-22, 1989)
Creativity - technological
creativity in any case -- knows not only no frontiers, but also:
This means that everyone in any
country can have ideas and become an inventor. Indeed inventors and other technical
creators, as well as potential inventors, exist among:
- boys, but also girls,
- students, but also among young workers who have hardly had any school education.
For the purpose of this
presentation, youth and students will be up to 20-21 years maximum.
Let us recall two well-known
cases: the legendary "King" Edison (who left school after three months, sold
newspapers at 12, first invented at 21, and is credited with over one thousand
inventions); and today's Steve Jobs (in 1976, at the age of 21, he invented the
micro-computer, the future Apple).
And now please note these two
1987 winners of WIPO Gold Medals for young inventors in national contests: in the USA, the
winner was a girl, her invention: an edible pet food server, her age? only 6 1/2! In
China, the Outstanding Young Inventor was also a girl, her age: 14, her invention: an
instrument which allows you to devise an angle into as many equal parts as you wish.
Although some children are
gifted and talented, creativity needs to be promoted and this at a very early age. Young
persons are like seeds in dry earth, you have to water them. If you want that their
creativity grows, develops and flourishes, they need to be encouraged and stimulated.
Promoting creativity among youth
and students - who form the great majority of third world's population - should be a major
question for every society.
Here are some thoughts on how
boys and girls up to age 20-21, whether they be students or workers, can be properly
directed and their talent exploited so as to develop their creativity skills and, in the
long run, increase the country's indigenous capacities for inventing. Let us examine some
of the problems encountered, the solutions offered, and the programs developed in
Two basic problems
Does the environment of
the country stimulate creativity in general, tolerance and adequately encourage new and
On the other hand, if it is
essential to increase the technological awareness of the youth, what is more important is
that educational systems should be oriented in such a way as to stimulate
creative thinking. Therefore, it is not sufficient that more emphasis be placed on the
teaching scientific disciplines, it is necessary that this teaching, as well as the
teaching of all disciplines, be based on the discovery of knowledge and the development of
critical attitudes rather than on the more passive absorption of knowledge.
Unfortunately, school teaching -
and this is a general trend all over the world - is based on the ability to learn and
repeat. The highest marks are given to those who studied well their lesson! The pupil who
is more on the creative side is often looked upon as disturbing the schoolwork. Even at
university, the student often has to "please" his professor and recite his
The next problem: the
The persons who in school are
responsible for developing the child's talents and potential, namely the teachers, are the
next biggest problem! They themselves are educated to develop mainly - if not only - the
receptive capability. In general, they merely cram the heads and minds of the children
with facts and figures, they do not encourage them to work things out for themselves.
All organizations promoting
creativity among students are therefore faced with this major problem, for the teachers
are often in difficulty when it comes to leading creative project work in schools.
The solution: you have to teach
the teachers creative thinking! You have to offer them special programs. In Japan, and
since a long time already, every year there is an exhibition dedicated to the inventions
of the teachers, which runs concurrently with that of their pupils. In Sweden, 1989 will
be the first year when a contest is being organized among teachers who will be asked to
propose new educational material and creative thinking tools to be used in schools.
Similar programs are now envisaged in the United States.
Children and adolescents
When promoting inventive
activity among youth, it is necessary to distinguish two age groups:
- 6 through 12,
- 13 through 18-20.
Often children and adolescents
are neglected, inventions being usually related to higher school grades, where science is
But if there is no age for
teaching creative thinking, special programs must be offered for the very young.
In Japan, every year children
participating in the invention contest have one of two choices. Either they follow that
year's specific theme proposed by the organizers for their inventions (i.e.
safety devices for daily life or material for use in the field of education) or an
optional one, where their choice is unrestricted. In both cases, the child inventor must
submit a model in addition to the design.
In the USA, children are not
obliged to submit a model. And the purpose of the contest is to stimulate creative
thinking skills in all students in a given class. All pupils in a class should be involved
in the invention process activity, and each class chooses the best individual or group
invention to participate at the level of the national contest.
To return to Japan, there are
also special contest for small kids who can express their creative impulses through colored
drawings rather than through technical designs and models. I recall for instance a
calorie-balancer or an umbrella attached to a satchel and which can be guided
automatically by the child who will have his hands free.
The main difficulty here resides
in the fact that girls lack role models. School texts, popular science books offer men
role models to which girls cannot identify themselves. It is therefore necessary to make
known to the young generation successful women inventors, be they Nobel Prize winners or
simple housewives like the German Melitta Benz who invented, in 1908 already, a
revolutionary method of filtering coffee with paper filters.
Other forms of encouragement are
necessary so that girls participate in greater number in science clubs, in invention
contests. Experience in several countries shows that year after year the percentage
of girl students taking part in invention contest increases and that in the final instance
their interest is not less than that of boys.
In Finland, the percentage of
girls increased in seven years to 39%. In Sweden, only 12% of the participants were girls
when the student's contest started in 1979, in 1988 that rate had reached 41%. In the
United States, their percentage reached 49% only three years after the invention contest
started. Such statistical figures should be made known to encourage girls to compete with
boys in this field of science and technology, traditionally a man's domain.
What is also interesting is that
the percentage of girls is even greater that that of boys when it comes not to individual
participation, but to group participation. This point was noted in 1988, both in the USA
and Sweden, where around 60% of group participants were girls. This confirms a certain
opinion which says that girls (women in general) work better in groups, and only with
other girls. If you question girls you will often hear the following answer: "If we
take boys in our group, they will take the command!"
Some more general problems common to boys and girls
It is important to cultivate the
confidence of the youth by making them aware that inventions are often adaptations and
improvements which are not beyond their ability. Here we could say that it is necessary to
If young persons are "rich
in ideas" most of them are "poor in money". This applies even more to young
workers. One problem to be solved is how to finance the cost of patenting. In Egypt, the
Patent Law specifies that students will be exempted from such fees.
Talented young inventors and
researchers should be offered, the earliest possible, the opportunity to have their
creations seen, judged and rewarded. Exhibitions, with their contests and prizes, offer
them a chance to distinguish themselves and reach an earlier accomplishment than otherwise
Speaking about exhibitions, some
advocate that young inventors participating at major national invention fairs, should be
allowed to arrange their own stands in the simplest way possible - and not have them
Rewards to adult inventors
is also a must. These serve as models for youngsters. All over the world, pop and
folk singers as well as big stars in football and in other sports are considered as
national idols, while inventors are very much ignored.
Students and young persons in
general also need other role models in the inventive activity. Schoolbooks and other means
must be used to give recognition to local inventors who is the past - even in the very far
back history - have contributed significantly to the social and economical development of
And what about the
Patent system and the Patent Offices?
technological creativity among youth and students - subject of this presentation - is a
task undertaken by organizations outside the patent system and administration. When
sponsored or supported by Government, science clubs or inventors clubs fall under
ministries responsible for school education, rarely for science and technology. As to the
promotion of inventive activity in general - mainly vis-à-vis adults - special
institutions have been established in different countries.
The Patent Offices were only
concerned with the protection of inventions - not their promotion. As to inventions by
young people, they perhaps never even saw one! In any case, no non-adult, although like in
all cases there are a few exceptions, has ever knocked at Patents Offices' doors.
Recently, very recently, things
are changing, although still very slowly and much depending on the personal views of some
heads of Patents Offices. Let us mention two examples.
In the USA, the Patent and
Trademark Office has established in 1987 a program known as Project XL which is also
called "A Quest for Excellence." Its purpose is towards building a network of
individuals and organizations concerned with teaching critical skills. It published a
catalog of organizations that assist young inventors, a number of text materials and
resource materials for the teaching of creative and inventive skills.
In the United Kingdom, the
Public Relations Department of the Patent Office will publish in a few months, and for the
first time, booklets addressed to students and schoolchildren.
A final word: what is WIPO doing?
The prestigious international WIPO
Gold Medal is offered, on request, to reward and recognize outstanding young
inventors and technical creators. Until January 1989, 12 countries, including the
Philippines, have availed themselves of this WIPO scheme, and 35 medals were awarded,
several of which to girl inventors. The WIPO Gold Medals to outstanding women inventors
aim also at offering role models to young girls.
In 1986 and 1987, WIPO mounted
an illustrative exhibition on young people and their inventions.
WIPO also sponsors an
international invention exhibition for young people (up to 35 years of age), together with
the Bulgarian Government. It is held in the Bulgarian City of Plovdiv. The first event
took place in 1985, the second will be held in 1991. In this respect, young persons will
appreciate an exciting event, which recently took place and which is a symbol of the
conquest of space: three cosmonauts, one of whom was a Bulgarian, made a unique experiment
in outer space: the fusion of the Plovdiv-Expo'91 Gold Medal and the WIPO Gold Medal.
WIPO has initiated since 1987 a
series of studies on the subject of promotion of inventive activities among youth. They
are undertaken either through lectures given at national, regional or international
meetings, or through studies prepared by experts. Most of these papers and studies are
These studies will continue
during 1989-90, to culminate in a worldwide exchange of experience at a conference WIPO
will be organizing in August 1990 in Finland, where the question of young inventors will
be the subject of one of the workshops.
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