Book review: Closing the Innovation Gap

(Here's the link to The Innovation Gap website.)

Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy

By Judy Estrin

McGraw Hill

When Mark Teixeira plays his first baseball game for a few hours this spring, he'll get paid more than what an early childhood educator, elementary or secondary teacher or college professor earns in an entire year.

Teixeira last month inked an eight-year, $180 million contract with the New York Yankees. For those of you keeping score at home, that works out to about $138,888 per game. Sure, there are exhibition games, practices and travel between ball parks. But seriously, $180 million to hit, catch and throw a baseball.

Teixeira might help the Yankees win the World Series. But he's not going to inspire the next generation of innovators who'll drive economic growth, prosperity and social wellbeing for the rest of us. That work falls to educators who get paid a fraction of what Teixeira makes for hitting, catching and throwing around a baseball.

"There is no innovation that is more important for the world than the development of young minds," says U.S. author Judy Estrin, who's co-founded seven technology companies, served as chief technology officer at Cisco Systems and been named three times to Fortune magazine's list of the 50 most powerful women in American business.

"To cultivate next-generation innovators, the most important skill we need to teach our children is how to learn."

From pre-school to post-grad, educators play a key role in helping students master what Estrin defines as the five core values of innovation:

  • Questioning

  • Risk-taking

  • Openness

  • Patience

  • Trust.

"These values are the foundation of innovation," says Estrin. "As a group, they determine the capacity for change of an individual, organization or nation."

Estrin's worried that our educational system as it's currently configured isn't up to the challenge of closing a growing innovation gap. She's especially concerned about the fast-declining number of students studying science, math, technology and engineering in the U.S. In her opinion, the overhaul should start with paying teachers what they're worth and giving them the support they need to do their mission critical work.

"It's hard to attract high achievers to teaching when the profession is not given the respect or compensation that it deserves. We have turned educating our children into the equivalent of an entry-level job that people do for a few years. Fixing the problem will require boosting starting salaries and making sure that there is a way for truly extraordinary teachers to be paid competitively throughout their careers."

Higher salaries will help bring into the classroom more elementary and secondary school teachers with science and engineering backgrounds. "With the current salary structure, those with bachelor's or master's degrees in science have to be very committed to teaching indeed," says Estrin. Along with better pay, teachers need more professional development along the lines of the mathematics for teaching master's degree offered by the Harvard Extension School and the Math for America program that recruits, trains and retains outstanding secondary school teachers through fellowships, full-tuition scholarships and stipends for college grads and mid-career professionals.

"In such a rapidly changing world, ongoing professional development needs to be an integral part of every teacher's job."

Making math and science fun for students would also help, with an emphasis on reintroducing hands-on and team-based opportunities to explore and experiment.

FIRST is an organization that sponsors robot-building competitions for more than 1,300 teams of high school students and has just added Lego League for younger kids. Closer to home, the TechnoChallenge and Popsicle Stick Bridge Building Competition dreamed up by a pair of Mohawk College professors nearly a quarter century ago is worth a long look.

We need a culture fix to go along with changes in the classroom, says Estrin. "One of the main cultural messages that has been lost to young people in recent years is that scientists and engineers tackle problems that are of crucial relevance to our lives.

"Instead of being hailed as heroes, as they were during the post-Sputnik era, scientists are often portrayed as socially awkward geeks. The next frontiers of science are not in space, but right here on Earth. Fighting climate change, battling cancer and other diseases and finding new forms of energy to replace oil are all noble missions."

Let's look for those heroes in the classroom and not at the ballpark.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s