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06 Jul 2022

Creativity and critical thinking programme recruiting Carlow mentors for Irish students

Creativity and critical thinking programme recruiting Carlow mentors for Irish students

There are 10,000 students now waiting to take part in the programme

Irish product designer Kim Mackenzie-Doyle, founder of The Big Idea, says the free education programme is rocketing ahead teaching teens to solve problems through creative thinking.

The design trailblazer behind a popular creative thinking programme being run in Irish schools says her team is this month about to embark on a gargantuan recruitment drive for mentors, seeking a whopping 800 professionals from Carlow and across Ireland from across all sectors to help roll out The Big Idea to 4,000 students next year.

Kim Mackenzie-Doyle from Carlow says creative thinking is a much-needed skill required by society and industry but has not been taught in Irish schools until now.

The designer founded the multi-award-winning, free, creative-thinking programme for 15 to 16-year-olds in 2020 to bridge the gap between industry and education.

“Creativity is a much-needed skill required by society and industry, yet it’s not taught in our schools. And when I say creativity, I don’t mean art. I mean using creative thinking to solve the biggest problems that face society,” says Kim.

More than 2,000 students were supported by 400 Big Idea mentors this year. The mentor list reads as a who’s-who of the innovation scene in Ireland with tech gurus, designers, creative directors, financial advisors, entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, architects, educators, graphic designers, legal experts, marketing and brand specialists and more taking part.

Mentors volunteered from innovative companies such as Stripe, Ikea, Bord Gáis Energy, UCC, MSD, Aerogen, Primark, Microsoft, Accenture and Deloitte to name a few. 

Kim says creativity is undervalued and misunderstood in Ireland.

“When people think about creativity they think about the arts. Being an artist is quite different to being creative. Artists make art of their choice from their inspiration. Creativity is everywhere and is fundamental to progress, in industry, society and education,” she says.

She says that creativity thrives in collaborative settings which is why a diverse range of mentors steps up the learning for the students.

“The more diversity the better. People with different experiences and backgrounds add so much richness to creative collaboration, proving that two or more heads are better than one.”

Teaching the creative process

Kim, who designed the world’s best-selling computer mouse - the Logitech MX305 - while she was working at Design Partners, says the creative process is a step-by-step approach, which is why it can be taught.

However, she fears that Ireland needs to put more time into creative education. 

“On a national scale, not investing in creativity will dampen Ireland’s innovative spark. That’s why we need programmes like The Big Idea so we can be proactive, focus on the issues that need solutions and teach and engage creative and critical thinking to come up with big ideas to solve national and global issues – now and in the future.”

The winning Big Idea 2022 came from a student team at St Leo’s College in Carlow with their app which uses QR codes to give recycling instructions with an integrated recycling reward scheme.

“The other Big Ideas this year were incredible such as flatpack wind turbines, sustainable housing domes, an LGBTQ+ social media platform, a youth centre designed by teens for teens to promote positive mental health and a disease tracker app.

“While all of the projects and ideas were fantastic, we are also interested in the creative process that the students follow for the programme. How they arrived at their idea is just as important as the idea itself. But of course, we would love to see the students develop their ideas,” says Kim.

Kim is also a member of the Design Skills Implementation Group as part of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs. She is representing education in a multi-sector approach to address the national shortage of digital, product and strategic design professionals.

The group recently published ‘Together for Design – Year in Review 2021-2022’, a report which focuses on the design skills required by Irish enterprise from 2020 to 2025.

The Big Idea was highlighted as one of the interventions being seeded in Ireland to provide a pathway through education to help encourage more into design professions.

The Big Idea completed a Leaving Certificate Applied pilot in 2021, launched a Youthreach Pilot Programme in Carlow/Kilkenny this year and began working on an EU-level project with Kaospilot in Denmark. It is also focused on developing a Big Idea Junior Cert module.

There are 10,000 students now waiting to take part in the programme and it is hoped that by 2024, the programme will be able to accommodate 8,000 students.

To become a Big Idea mentor, visit thebigidea.ie.

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