Innovation and Human Consciousness

Innovation and Human Consciousness

Fundamentally, innovation is linked to human consciousness. The misplaced notion that ‘everything that can be invented has been invented’, is unsound and vacuous as it negates human agency and the centrality of human consciousness to innovation and invention. Curiosity is intrinsic to humans, with the quest to understand the universe propelling the pursuit of knowledge, and consequently innovation. Innovation is causally related to human consciousness and human attempts to explain the past, understand the present and forecast the future. Innovation, though often generically described, is not a universal descriptor but rather a dynamic, complex and non-linear activity encompassing more than just research and development (R&D). The conversion of a priori knowledge into innovation is a complex process influenced by social, economic and political forces. Central to innovation is education and the philosophy that underpins is.

Our education system restricts innovation, and our innate curiosity, as it rewards regurgitation of information and not the interrogation of what appear to be self-evident truths. Learning, especially in the digital age, ought not be based on memory but the ability to ask questions. Our schooling system fails our children, through its archaic and anachronistic incentive and reward structure, which asymmetrically rewards the ability to answer questions as opposed to critical thinking. This pedagogy of learning needs to be transformed. Freire, in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, argues that ‘narration (with the teacher as narrator) leads students to memorise mechanically the narrated account. Worse yet, it turns them into containers, which are mere receptacles to be filled by teachers. The more completely they fill the receptacles, the better a teacher they are. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.

Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the “banking’ concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits.’ This ‘banking approach’ to education is best evidenced in Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother on parenting, wherein she writes about ‘hours of forced music practice every day, severe restrictions on extracurriculars, outright bans on social activities like sleepovers, and punishment and shaming on the rare occasions her children failed to attain their mother’s high expectations’.

Constructivism is more likely to lead to educational outcomes that spur innovation. It is a ‘child-centred theory of education that encourages learning via active experience, rather than passively by rote.’ It has its roots in both cognitive psychology and philosophy, and postulates that learning is active construction of knowledge and meaning based on one’s experience. This approach to education ‘lays emphasis on the ways in which knowledge is created in order to adapt to the world’. It encourages autonomy and independent thought, which are prerequisites for innovation.

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