There's a lot of focus on innovation--the development of new ideas that improve products and production--is the current best candidate to drive global change in education. A few reasons....
- Globalization has increased competition among manufacturers and other companies in different companies.
- Governments are recognizing that innovation is:
- Definable and measurable
- The product of specific enabling conditions
- A key factor in corporate competitiveness and so a factor in economic growth
What's more, governments are also coming around to the position that they have the capacity--through incentives, regulation, allocation of resources and other activities--to influence innovation across their economies.
In his 2005 book, "Democratizing Innovation," Eric Von Hippel, a pioneer in the field, suggests that businesses in certain sectors (outdoor sports and sporting goods being one of them) should look at their customers. Malcolm Gladwell, in "Outliers," demonstrates that world-class innovators in business and other fields tend to arise out of a confluence of conditions--economic, cultural, intellectual--that are if not common throughout society at least common to specific cohorts within it.
Education, its quality, its ubiquity and its characteristics, is routinely cited as a factor in the emergence of an effective culture of innovation, but the link between education and innovation has not been analyzed in much detail, especially once you drop down below higher ed. However...
Can Governments Till the Fields of Innovation?
... governments are increasingly wading into the innovation game, declaring innovation agendas and appointing senior innovation officials. The impetus comes from two fronts: daunting challenges in fields like energy, the environment and health care that require collaboration between the public and private sectors; and shortcomings of traditional economic development and industrial policies. The rising worldwide interest in innovation policy represents the search to answer an important question: What is the appropriate government role in creating industries and jobs in today’s high-technology, global economy?
That central issue animated much of the discussion at an unusual gathering earlier this month at a lodge north of San Francisco. This invitation-only affair was organized and moderated by John Kao, a former professor at Harvard Business School and founder of the Large Scale Innovation. A few speakers covered big-think issues like climate-altering geoengineering and water-management technologies. But the main participants were innovation-policy practitioners from nine countries: Australia, Brazil, Britain, Chile, Colombia, Finland, India, Norway and Singapore....
In Britain, a national innovation agenda is beginning to take shape with policy documents and the creation of a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Finland has long taken a comprehensive approach to innovation policy, investing in areas as varied as an outstanding national education system and high-speed Internet connections for its residents. It has also produced a power in the cellphone industry, Nokia.
Other governments are also focusing on targets of potential advantage. In Australia, the government is looking to nurture industries that arise from its harsh climate and a scattered population. So research centers are working to improve strains of drought-resistant wheat and cotton for export as adaptive technologies to cope with climate change, said Terry Cutler, who recently headed a government-appointed expert panel on innovation in Australia. And Boeing last year selected Australia as the location for a Phantom Works lab for developing unmanned aircraft, he said.
“Test flights don’t bump into things,” he said. “Sparsity can be a global competitive advantage.”
In India, the government and industry have financed research into products and services that reverse the traditional pattern of innovation flowing gradually from wealthy nations to the rest of the world, said R. A. Mashelkar, chairman of the country’s National Innovation Foundation. Early evidence of the trend, he said, includes the $2,000 Nano automobile, and low-cost drugs for tuberculosis and psoriasis.
On the one hand, there are probably a raft of short-term actions that governments can take to increase the likelihood of innovation in industry, which will have payoffs much more swiftly than changes made in schools. However the bulk of potential government support for innovation happens through the construction of incentives and disincentives, or through other indirect actions. Schools and education systems, on the other hand, are--you might recall--themselves government programs. While politicians like short-term results, in cases where measurement of those results is difficult or the potential outcomes are of dubious real value, those politicians will accept short-term outputs, such as the introduction of innovation-specific programs for students.