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)

Introduction

Creativity - technological creativity in any case -- knows not only no frontiers, but also:
no age,
no gender
or diploma.

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:

- youth,
- 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 different countries.

Two basic problems

Does the environment of the country stimulate creativity in general, tolerance and adequately encourage new and different thinking?

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 courses.

The next problem: the teachers

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 taught.

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.

Girls

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 demystify inventions.

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 possible.

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 professionally arranged.

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 the country.

And what about the Patent system and the Patent Offices?

Traditionally, promoting 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--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 country experiences.

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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