The debate about whether our education system equips school leavers with the right skills for the world of work has long rumbled on, and even recently we saw a report from leading business organisation, CBI, stating that employers increasingly need to invest in reading, writing and maths skills in their workforce. However, as well as making sure young people have the basic skills needed for employment, there is a pressing need to unlock their potential to stimulate innovation in Britain.
We've undertaken research with the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) which has identified that curiosity is key to stimulating innovation, but that, worryingly, Britain may be in danger of losing the kind of curiosity that we need to maintain our reputation as a nation of innovators.
Britain has won 76 Nobel Prizes for science and technology: more than anywhere else in Europe. Yet the RSA report has revealed that Britons are now more interested in experiences than they are in the pursuit of knowledge. This may be compounded by modern technology - whilst unlimited access to internet search opens up a whole world of information, it also discourages an in-depth search and engagement with a topic. Our hunger for knowledge becomes shallow rather than deep and impactful.
We've all experienced relentless 'why' questioning from very young children. Not a day goes by when my four-year-old daughter doesn't inundate me with questions, and I'm often tempted to ignore the inquisition after a while or say "just because", exhausted by a long string of 'why's.
But now there is an urgent need to foster this curiosity, in a child's early years, and also as they grow up and go to secondary school, university and out into the working world.
Our report draws together some powerful recommendations for parents, teachers and students of all ages to cultivate curiosity. Rather than the focus on the 3Rs that the CBI report calls for, it recommends that a movement away from rote learning and lessons that are exam question led is what's really needed for the future of British business. It is by allowing young minds the freedom to explore questions and time to develop an in-depth understanding of a topic that we will spur the innovation that is imperative to meet future challenges.
It is our hope therefore that we can help champion and encourage curiosity in young people. We want to harness their curiosity to help change the way people use energy. That's why, as part of our Generation Green programme in schools, we're launching a nationwide search for a panel of 11 children aged seven-14, who are the most curious and have the 'why factor'. The children will be invited to work with British Gas innovation experts to create new ideas to solve our energy challenges and address Britons' lack of curiosity about their own energy usage. We're also giving everyone the opportunity to test their own curiosity using a quick online quiz, developed with the RSA.
Our ambition is to help encourage curiosity among young people and ultimately help drive innovation in Britain as a result.
Visit www.generationgreen.co.uk/curiosity to test your curiosity and nominate a child you think has the 'why factor'
The full report is available here.