2000 INVENTION INDEX™
AMERICAN TEENS WANT PARENTS' ATTENTION,
LEMELSON-MIT STUDY FINDS
Technology, Computer Games Take Back
to Human Element in Science Education
Cambridge, MA, January 10, 2000 — When it comes to
their science education, American teenagers are missing their parents'
support above all else. The hottest technology, games and gadgets
— while clearly important to American teenagers — cannot
replace the value of parental encouragement, involvement and mentoring
This is a key finding of the Lemelson-MIT Program's latest Invention
Index™, an annual nationwide survey of Americans' perceptions
about inventing and innovating. This year's study, conducted with
Roper Starch, asked teens for their advice to both parents and schools
on ways to get kids more interested and involved in science and
invention. Their responses underscore the importance of parental
support to teens' success in school.
The study contradicts society's image of teens as isolated technophiles,
according to economist and Lemelson-MIT Board Chairman Professor
Lester C. Thurow: "As our children know, the latest technology
is the oldest technology — brain power plus motivation. Our
study shows that kids still want attention, support and guidance
from their parents above all else."
PARENTS' ROLE IS VITAL, MOST STUDENTS SAY
More than half of teens surveyed (55%) say encouragement from parents
to do well in science is an excellent idea, compared to only 35%
who say "buying computers, technology and educational equipment"
is an excellent idea. More students selected parental encouragement
as "excellent advice" to either parents or schools than
any other category of advice included in the study. The study also
indicates areas in which teens think schools can improve. The most
room for improvement, teens say, lies in the equipment, labs and
Colin Twitchell, an "Invention Mentor" for the Lemelson-MIT
Program and director of the Lemelson Assistive Technology Center
at Hampshire College, concurs with the teens' responses: "Spending
quality time with your children — which can be very difficult
to do these days — is extremely important. Without the support,
interest and encouragement that parents can give to their children
to foster creativity and inventiveness, the inventive, creative
nature thatπs inherent in kids will eventually disappear."
Besides offering advice to parents and schools on getting young
people interested in learning, teens were also asked to predict
future career paths for themselves and for the next generation of
youth, and to choose which American inventors they think were most
influential on society.
SURPRISING GENDER, CAREER CHOICES
The study revealed some surprising gender-specific choices and career
outlooks. For example, while boys (26%) are significantly more interested
than girls (4%) in being inventors today, 40% of teens think there
will be equal interest among boys and girls ten years from now.
Such findings provide clues about career areas where young people
could especially benefit from role models and mentors.
Also of note was the interest that teens — and girls in particular
— conveyed in the areas of science, genetics and medicine.
Surprisingly, medicine tops the list of professions that girls select
as their first choice with 35%, but is only the third choice among
boys at 23%. Equally surprising is "inventor" as the boysπ
top career pick with 26%. The strong showing by these scientific
fields suggests that science may be having as much — or maybe
more — of an impact on teens as computers and technology.
Overall, "reporter" ranked just slightly better than "politician"
as a future career among teens. It was the last choice among boys
(3%) and only fourth among girls (9%).
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TEENS CHOOSE BEN FRANKLIN AS MOST IMPORTANT
Teens were also asked to choose the inventor or innovator they feel
has changed the world the most. Benjamin Franklin is considered
the most influential (39%) of a group comprised of Franklin, Thomas
Edison, Bill Gates, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford and Madame
Marie Curie. A similar proportion cites Edison (34%), while one-quarter
choose Gates (28%) and Bell (25%). In terms of the importance of
these innovators, boys and girls seem to agree at the same levels.
However, girls between the ages of 15 and 17 are twice more likely
than girls aged 12 to 14 to cite Bill Gates as the innovator who
has changed the world the most (40% vs. 21%).
ABOUT THE SURVEY
The Lemelson-MIT Invention Index™ has explored Americans'
perceptions about inventing and innovating since 1996. Previous
topics that have been covered include:
- Which inventions Americans could not live without (1996)
- What attributes inventors have (1996)
- Whether certain inventions make life easier or more complex
- Which areas of research & development American taxpayers
- Which are the most profitable career areas for inventors (1999)
The 2000 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index Survey was conducted by Roper
Starch among a nationally representative sample of 503 12-to-17
year-olds. Interviews were conducted via telephone during December
2-5, 1999. The data were weighted to correct any imbalances due
to sampling. The margin of error for the entire sample is +/- 4
percentage points. The margin of error for subgroups is higher.
ABOUT THE LEMELSON-MIT PROGRAM
Based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, the Lemelson-MIT Program was established in 1994
by the late independent inventor Jerome H. Lemelson and his wife,
Dorothy. The Program celebrates inventor/innovator role models through
outreach activities and annual awards including the world's largest
for invention, the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize. The Program encourages
young Americans to pursue careers in the fields of science, engineering,
technology and entrepreneurship. The Lemelson-MIT Program is funded
by the Lemelson Foundation, which supports other invention initiatives
at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, Hampshire
College, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance
and the University of Nevada, Reno.
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