Educators and policy-makers should work together to create an ecosystem that can nurture innovative talented people, according to Charles Chen, a philanthropist and core-founder of Tencent.

“Innovation requires an open mind, burning curiosity and the resourcefulness to put ideas into action, and education can instill these qualities in us,” Chen told an audience of about 300 at Singapore Management University (SMU).

“As individuals participate more in education, they develop a more open mindset, which in turn increases a country’s innovation potential,” Chen said, citing research conducted by scholars from Ghent University and the University of Cambridge.

Based on data collected from various countries, education has been shown to increase the pool of talent equipped to promote innovation, he said.

“In English there is a saying ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. Today, in a world where many people’s basic needs for survival have been met, it is no exaggeration for me to say: ‘education is the mother of innovation, and innovation is the modern-day necessity’,” Chen said.

On May 31, Chen’s talk, titled “Zero to Infinity: How Education Unlocks Endless Possibilities” at SMU, was attended by 300 people, including Prof. Lily Kong, the president of SMU, Prof. Gerard George, Dean of SMU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business, plus SMU faculty, staff and students, as well as leaders and others from the public and private sector.

Chen, citing a study from Finland Helsinki Center of Economic Research, said innovation can be encouraged through the right education policies, resulting in more inventions. He said investment in subjects such as engineering and science has a direct link to the number of patent registrations while a university STEM education – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – increases the net gains of innovation and induces more people to become inventors.

“The important task facing policy-makers, investors, researchers and educators lies in understanding how their work and decisions will shape the innovativeness of future generations,” he said.

He added that Finland, New Zealand and Singapore had shown themselves to be good examples of what an ecosystem of innovation should look like. He said their key success factors are strong, comprehensive policies, well-trained teachers and strong assessment frameworks to test for students’ future skills.

He praised Singapore for its perfect performance in the coverage of 21st-century skills in its national education strategy. He said the city-state had put a lot of efforts in reviewing its education policy by giving considerable attention to future-skills, putting in place an extensively developed framework that emphasizes problem-based learning, and adjusting the scoring system for university entrance exams to consider factors beyond grades.

In May 2016, Chen launched The Yidan Prize that aims to recognize and support innovators in the education system. The prize was funded by an independent trust of HK$2.5 billion (US$320 million).

Full version of Charles Chen’s talk at SMU.

The talk was attended by 300 people. Photo: Yidan Prize Foundation