Kids need real opportunities to innovate

As a child, I was constantly reading my way into the worlds of Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl or Alex Rider. I searched for a place with endless possibilities and freedom. Literature was my method of escape from the confines of our world. Like most kids, I was full of inventive energy and needed somewhere to let my mind wander.

Today, children around the world build their own clocks, design new apps or create their own Iron Man suit. Young people in Australia are also full of entrepreneurial energy.

With a new Prime Minister talking up ‘innovation’, we have to ask ourselves if the current education system is preparing our students to take part in this ‘most exciting time to be an Australian’?

Children seem to have a near-unrivalled ability to develop creative solutions to complex problems. However, they crave authenticity and the chance to live out their fantasies in the real world. With technology comes the possibility of helping make kids dreams a reality, while they are still young and free from the confines of a world that usually says ‘no’.

A few days ago I read this article about a Canberra primary student Will who had been selected as a finalist for Origin’s ‘littleBIGidea Competition’. The development of his idea – a blood test strip disposal unit – highlights the endless possibilities of student-lead innovation.

Online education platforms like the Khan Academy and Code.org provide incredible opportunities for students around the globe to learn modern STEM skills online. Unfortunately, without embedding the development of these skills within our curriculum, our students will struggle to compete with kids in countries that do. To really make this work we also need local grass-roots organisations that build excitement and passion in these areas.

The student designer Will and hundreds of other students have participated in events run by local Canberra company HACT. I have recently seen the passion of local HACT cofounder Matt Stimson, specifically designing a company to help young people get excited about the possibilities of technology. HACT runs events for kids aimed at developing their STEM skills like coding and enabling them to create their own tech from the ground up.

Children will only be inspired through opportunities where they can get their hands dirty and be inventive. Witnessing their ideas come to life and having an opportunity to pitch for real finance or support helps make this authentic. Mentoring and advice from those who have done it themselves is also crucial to develop our students.

Governments should consider working with organisations like HACT to incorporate this style of learning within schools. The example of Will and others highlight the importance of providing students real opportunities to develop their ideas. Either by partnering with local organisations or embedding an authentic style of tech-learning within curriculums, schools need to get in on the action.

The new Prime Minister is right, is is an exciting time to be an Australian. However, without the right investment in education and support for our students, the dream of a more innovative Australia will not materialise.

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