Innovation In Education

I attended a major event in Belfast last week on the potential impact of innovation in Northern Ireland. The event was hosted by Nesta, an independent charity with a mission to help people and organisations bring great ideas to life.

The event’s aim was to provide an opportunity to learn about innovation, in particular about social innovation and digital education, and the speakers included Nesta chief executive Geoff Mulgan, Invest NI board member Rose Mary Stalker and civil service head Dr Malcolm McKibbin.

Innovation is certainly an area we need to focus on if we are to rebalance and grow our economy. The evidence is clear – innovative businesses are successful. But what is an innovative business? It is a business that has innovative people.

When asked about innovation one of the speakers spoke about confidence and curiosity, the characteristics of a two-year-old. I would add another ‘C’ to that – creativity.

Are our young people leaving school with these characteristics?

As with any system of manufacture, if we are to produce innovative people we must have an innovative process. Our education system needs to innovate, it needs root and branch change if we are to reach our full potential as a business community, as a society.

Our education system does not facilitate the production of innovators. What happens to our two-year-olds? How can we keep and nurture their three Cs. I am sure there are educationalists looking at this and that they have studied and researched many systems all over the world. So why have we not got what we deserve?

As a mother I have experience of many of the systems that Northern Ireland has to offer. My children attended a Catholic primary that produced As for the 11-plus, a state school that does not encourage colouring in on a P2 work sheet because they do not have time and they need to get through the curriculum and a Rudolf Steiner school that does not get state funding because it does not teach the set curriculum.

“Our highest endeavour must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives. The need for imagination, a sense of truth, and a feeling of responsibility – these three forces are the very nerve of education,” Rudolf Steiner. said.

Guess which one I preferred.

Is there a real desire to overhaul the system, and to give Northern Ireland the most innovative education system in the world?

I am sure there are many who will say we can’t do it – no funds, political reasons. Lots of reason why we can’t. But like the two-year-old with a confident curiosity we should repeatedly ask “Why not”? The very first column I wrote for this paper was ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’.

As I have also said before Northern Ireland is small, so we should be flexible. Our small size is an opportunity to be innovative.

Imagine a world-class education system, Northern Ireland the key destination for international educationalists. Imagine the far-reaching impact such a system would have. Children’s confidence, curiosity and creativity nurtured. Imagine a system that delivers innovative and entrepreneurial young people. Imagine confident young people, who do not fear failure, who are not threatened by other cultures, who are creative and who have been educated about a healthy lifestyle.

As with any good innovation, idea or plan you need to start with a blank page. We need to go back to the start – the start for a society is its children.

If Northern Ireland is to be world-class, we need a world class education system.

Roseann Kelly ( is chief executive of Women in Business, the largest and fastest-growing business network for female entrepreneurs and senior women in management in Northern Ireland with more than 1,000 members. Follow Women in Business NI on Facebook or on Twitter.