Call on schools to champion curiosity

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A new RSA report has revealed that Britain may be in danger of losing the kind of curiosity needed to stimulate innovation and solve future challenges.

The research, commissioned by British Gas Generation Green, found that Britons are experience-hungry, possibly at the expense of gaining depth of knowledge. It identifies a vital link between curiosity and innovation, and calls on schools and businesses to champion curiosity to ensure that the next generation can maintain Britain’s reputation for innovation, having won more Nobel prizes for science and technology than anywhere else in Europe.

Kate Lemon, Programme Manager of British Gas Generation Green, said: “We will face big energy challenges over the next few decades, and we know that we need to innovate and use energy in new ways. This report shows that inspiring curiosity in young people could play a key role in addressing these challenges.

In response to the findings, the RSA is calling on schools, parents and learners of all ages to cultivate curiosity by:

  • Teaching for competencies and skills, like curiosity, that encourage problem solving rather than rote learning
  • Encouraging forms of mental attention, including mindfulness, that make people reflect on things that might not have been noticed
  • Giving pupils the opportunity to develop a full understanding of a topic, rather than just the answers to exam questions 
  • Allowing the minds of learners to explore and experiment with ideas

Further findings include some interesting variations in curiosity across Britain, and a number of curiosity profiles:

  • Being curious for knowledge (epistemic curiosity) is less common in the UK than other types of curiosity (e.g. curiosity for experiences of sensations)
  • The Welsh appear to be the most curious in the UK and Scots the least curious
  • Women are more curious about things they experience through their senses (perceptually curious) than men
  • People who live in households with three or more children are more curious than those with one child.

Dr Jonathan Rowson, report author, RSA Social Brain Centre, said: “Our research indicates that curiosity may play an important part in stimulating innovation in ways that we urgently need to meet energy challenges in Britain. Understanding curiosity can help to create more effective feedback on home energy consumption, improve how we communicate environmental messages, and develop more sophisticated strategies to change behaviours that are habitual in nature. We also explore several ways that we could try to build on the natural curiosity of young people in educational settings.”

Curiosity profiles identified by the research include:

  • Problem solvers (Epistemic specific): who focus on acquiring knowledge to answer specific questions
  • Day dreamers (Epistemic diversive): who use information in an exploratory fashion, to understand a variety of ideas
  • Scientists (Perceptual specific): who desire new sensations – sights, sounds, textures - directed towards answering a particular question (“I’m just going to put my hand in that aquarium to find out what that star fish feels like”)
  • Explorers (Perceptual diversive): who desire new sensations – sights, sounds, textures – to discover as many different things as possible rather than being directed towards answering any particular question
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