Teach inventing in schools, says clockwork radio man

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ONE OF Britain's best-known inventors is urging the Government to introduce the teaching of invention in schools as a way of helping children to learn problem-solving skills and scrap the image of the solitary "boffin".

In a week in which inventors have unveiled a fan-assisted ironing board, a fridge that warns when it's running out of food, and smart tyres that know when they need air, Trevor Baylis - the man behind the "Baygen" clockwork radio - said inventing should be on the National Curriculum.

"It should be taught at school because it helps children learn to solve problems. That's what inventors are - we're problem-solvers," he said. "Kids don't understand the value of their creative processes. They should be taught the benefits and values of inventing in the same way they are taught other creative subjects like art."

A Department for Education and Employment spokesman said there was already plenty of room within the curriculum for inventing to be taught. "The curriculum states that children should be given the opportunity to develop their design and technology capability through assignments in which they make and design products. In addition, the Department for Education supports various initiatives like the Engineering Education Scheme, which forges partnerships between schools and local industry so that children get experience of and an understanding of the importance of manufacturing."

However, this does not take into account the value of their ideas, according to Mr Baylis. He is concerned that many would-be inventors aren't aware of what should be done if they have an idea for a new invention, or how to protect that idea once they realise it. "How many times have people thought about inventing something and wondered why no one has ever done it?" he said. "Then 10 years later they see their invention in a shop window."

However, the difficulty in knowing whether a new gadget is worth the patent that's pending is something that can be avoided. He believes that this not knowing what to do about an invention is a failing of the educational system, and one that sees Britain lose pounds 156bn annually as inventions are taken elsewhere. "Children need to be taught the value and meaning of intellectual property," he said. "Intellectual property might not look like much as a patent on a page, but in terms of a successful invention it can be worth millions."

Mr Baylis cited the experiences of Sir Christopher Cockerell as a warning. Sir Christopher invented the hovercraft but made very little money because he sold the idea quickly, unaware of what he was giving away.

Mr Baylis has proposed an Academy of Invention; if properly funded by the Government and business, it would end up paying for itself and ensure that many British inventions were not lost to foreign shores.

His own clockwork radio is produced in South Africa because he couldn't get any backing to manufacture it in the UK.