Some of the most significant inventions, such as the personal computer, the Internet and Google, have come about, not through individual genius, like another Einstein, but through collaborations, and people who sparked each other with their ideas. The Internet was first developed because the American government funded collaborations between university research departments and industry. Personal computers did not come about through the individual efforts of someone such as Steve Wozniak tinkering in his garage. If Steve Jobs had not partnered with Wozniak to provide the entrepreneurial flare, it is likely that Apple would never have been born. Historically, computers developed from machines such as ‘The Colossus’ developed by Alan Turing to break German code during World War Two. Even as far back as the 19th century, Lord Byron’s daughter, Lady Ada Lovelace, had a vision of a ‘universal machine’, which could be programmed to figure out complex mathematical equations
Since 1975 there has been a spate of technological developments in this field: the microprocessor, the personal computer, the internet, the worldwide web, search engines and applications, which mean that now any individual who has a computer connected to the internet has a vast array of resources and knowledge at his fingertips.
When one looks at how this all came about it is a story of bright young people (usually Americans), sometimes with rebellious spirits and a lack of respect for authority,who got together and pushed the boundaries of technological experimentation, matching it with the entrepreneurial spirit which made their discoveries into commercial reality.
America’s school system is not rated the best in the world, in fact it compares rather poorly to countries such as Norway and Finland. But young Americans have consistently been at the forefront of developments in technology over the past half century. Why is this?
Perhaps it is the way that Americans are taught in the school system: to be inquiring, to be confident and even to question the status quo. This is seen as rebelliousness in Uganda, and the International Schools are often blamed for allowing their students to be‘badly behaved’. However, if good behavior is the equivalent of being dull, and not developing an enquiring mind, the ability to ask and articulate questions, then perhaps we need to abandon the practice of making our young people conform to ‘good behaviour’.
The young Americans who have brought breakthroughs to modern technology are undoubtedly very smart, but they could not have done it alone. They stood on the shoulders of the knowledge of their predecessors, which they learned at school and university. At university they debated with peers who sharpened their intellect, sparking more ideas. In some cases the developments came through someone who was a brilliant engineer partnering with a visionary, while at other times it was two best friends sparking each other, as with Larry Page and Sergey Brin who developed Google, or Paul Allen and Bill Gates the founders of Microsoft.
The American educational, cultural and industrial environment has provided the substrate for the growth and development of young people with brilliant minds. They in turn, have sparked each other with ideas and have been backed by venture capitalists and entrepreneurs prepared to put in start-up funds to develop those ideas commercially.
It is like a greenhouse which has all the right conditions: the soil, the fertilizer, the seed, the temperature and control of weeds, which results in a bumper crop. If we apply these lessons to Uganda, we should start with the question, how are we training our children? We need to produce young people with inquiring minds. Is that what our educational system is producing? We should then ask, what culture are we nurturing in government, in universities, and in industry? Do these institutions nurture promising talent? We could then ask, do we foster collaborations – between government, universities and industry? When we analyze current practices we might conclude that we do more to stifle talent and inculcate wrong values than to provide the environment which nurtures talent. Americans still have the attitude that a young person can make it through talent and hard work, and they provide the institutions to foster this. In Uganda the prevailing attitude is that we can make it through the right connections, allied to dubious practices, which will ensure that we get rich quick. This may benefit the few individuals who have the right connections, but it does little to foster talent and develop the nation.
Dr-Ian Clarke is the Founder and Chairman of Uganda’s Leading Healthcare Providing Company – The International Medical Group and the Current Mayor of Makindye Division – Kampala City – Uganda