Ingenious

2 December 2014

BT launches first National Inventors Day to inspire the next generation of inventive thinkers

#Inventors Day on BT Tower

To celebrate the first National Inventors Day, BT has launched its Great British Invention Index, which reveals British perceptions of, and attitudes towards, invention. The index, launched on 2 December, recommends ways to inspire the nation’s future inventive thinkers: ‘Generation I’.

The UK has produced some of the most notable inventions in history, including the telephone, the television and the jet engine. However, according to 68 per cent of the 2,000 UK adults involved in the study, invention and inventive thinking needs to be made more mainstream and accessible.

“As a company with a long history of innovation, BT wants to celebrate inventors past and present – and help bring invention home,” said Tim Whitley, head of research at BT. “That’s why we’ve launched the very first National Inventors Day – and our new report – to raise awareness of the contribution that great British inventors continue to make to society, and to inspire the next generation of inventive thinkers.”

Tackling perceptions of innovation and STEM subjects

BT’s wide-ranging study, which involved 2,000 adults and 1,000 12 to 16 year-olds, highlighted key challenges that need to be resolved to secure Britain’s future in invention, such as:

  • Women are more likely than men to doubt their inventiveness, and girls are more likely boys to do the same
  • Almost half of girls say they aren’t inventive, compared with 42 per cent of boys
  • As students move through secondary school, they are less likely to consider themselves inventive thinkers
  • Just over half of UK adults (58 per cent) and close to one-third of UK children (32 per cent) can name a British inventor.

To address these issues and help make innovation more mainstream and accessible, the report highlights the need to update what it means to be inventive. For example, among adults an inventor is perceived as a genius (65 per cent), scientist or engineer (64 per cent), who is hard-working (41 per cent) and is male (37 per cent).

Among children surveyed, the concept of the male (37 per cent) scientist or engineer (58 per cent) as a typical inventor also prevails – although geekiness (39 per cent) and a bit of craziness (38 per cent) also apply. Almost two-thirds of children (64 per cent) and nearly half of adults (49 per cent) agree that the most important inventions are made by great scientists, engineers or geniuses.

The report suggests making creativity and inventive thinking part of the national school curriculum – a notion supported by more than two-thirds (68 per cent) or adults. Findings also recommend changing perceptions of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects as it transpires a fifth of girls believe making it more socially acceptable for them to study these subjects would encourage them to be more inventive or even become an inventor.

Challenging gender stereotypes

Nineteen year-old inventor, Amber McCleary, embodies this gender challenge to traditional thinking. In her sixth-form studies she invented Copper Clothing, which has powerful anti-microbial properties. It’s used by the NHS as a means of controlling dangerous infections including, potentially, Ebola.

“I am proof that anyone, from any background, can be a successful inventor with enough perseverance, self-belief and courage,” said Amber, “and I am delighted to be involved in the first UK Inventors Day. Whether or not you want to be an inventor, as BT’s study shows, there is a huge appetite amongst adults and kids alike simply for more inventive thinking in their lives. To encourage more young people to think big, be creative and become the inventors of the future, we need to invest in school children who are hungry for experiences that will develop their inventive capabilities.”

Inspiring the next generation of innovators

Amber was talking to students at BT Tower in London. BT hosted a session for the pupils with STEAM co., an organisation that promotes creative and inventive thinking in schools by harnessing the talents of teachers, parents and the local community, including artists, scientists and engineers.

This is just one part of BT’s commitment to encouraging women in innovation. BT is also committed to supporting schools and the wider community in their role of inspiring the next generation of innovators. The firm currently delivers a range of school activities using technology like Bee-Bot robots and Raspberry Pi computers to offer practical ways to encourage creative thinking and invention in the classroom. In Ireland BT has supported the BT Young Scientist and Technology exhibition for 14 years, nurturing the talent of scores of future scientists and engineers.

BT is also lead principal sponsor of the Science Museum’s Information Age Gallery, which celebrates more than 200 years of innovation in communication and information technologies. Find out more about this exhibition.

Download the full research report and infographic