The Institute of Imagination, the UK charity whose mission is to unlock the power of imagination among children, is embarking on its first partnership with ARC.

Science and imagination are in fact two sides of the same coin. One of them is firmly rooted in the physical world: in facts, hypotheses and tangible realities. The other is a lofty space in our minds, untethered from those realities. But it takes a lot of creative thinking to be a good scientist, and that’s something that the Institute of Imagination (iOi) is looking to instil with the next generation. Tom Doust is the co-director of the iOi, a UK-based charity with international reach that’s working primarily with children from disadvantaged groups between the ages of 5 and 11. “At the heart of what we do,” he says, “is championing the power of imagination.” Through a series of immersive experiences, the charity aims to equip children with the skills they need to hit the ground running in our rapidly changing world — and job market. Imagination can play
a powerful role in that: according to the World Economic Forum, 65% of children now entering primary school will assume professions that have yet to be created. “We need to start now to understand what those pathways are into their future careers,” he says. “And children need to be part of the process to help design what those pathways are.”

Doust is in the midst of finalising the plan for the growth of a programme called RE:CODE, which began as a partnership between LEGO and The Mayor of London and is now joining forces with ARC to roll out into Oxfordshire. The programme introduces students from participating schools to social or environmental challenges that our society is currently facing. Participating students are encouraged to come up with design solutions that tackle their given issue using LEGO robotics kits. “It’s got a bit of engineering, a bit of creativity, a bit of ideation,” says Doust. “When you compare that to a school environment, that’s quite a different experience.” It’s part of iOi’s mission to make up for the skills
that aren’t typically taught in school. Traditional classroom learning usually has children “taught from the front”, before writing an exam to evaluate how well that knowledge has been retained. “Our approach is about coming in and learning by doing,” says Doust. Rather than the siloed approach of keeping different disciplines separate, iOi encourages students to blur the lines between disciplines in order to solve problems. For example, with RE:CODE, they might be using LEGO kits to imagine new solutions to tackle air pollution.

Mutually beneficial partnerships like RE:CODE are key to the iOi’s success. Doust is keen to work with partners who understand their vision and who can see how imagination and creativity can be incorporated into their own work. “The spectrum is huge,” he says. “At one end we’re working with puppeteers and arts companies, and at the other end we’re working with virtual or augmented reality companies.” ARC has recognised that iOi aligns with their vision for the future of their campuses. By partnering with iOi, ARC becomes part of a legacy of social impact. ”In this first step, the partnership is about supporting ARC with an educational programme that compliments the work at ARC around skills and innovation,” says Doust. In the future, the partnership will likely evolve to bring the programme to ARC’s clusters.

It’s possible that the RE:CODE programme will reveal new answers to climate and sustainability challenges. What’s certain is that it will empower children to know they have a
voice in decision making. It provides the rare opportunity where they are encouraged to let their minds wander — a crucial skill that’s often scolded in the classroom. For science and innovation companies, initiatives like this help prime children for innovative thinking — the type of knowhow that could land them at those companies a decade or so later. Doust acknowledges how tough it is to be a child growing up in 2022. Between the climate crisis, the pandemic and the growing risk of slipping into poverty, his wish for the next generation is to develop resilience. “If we can equip children and young people with the skills to build resilience, to develop confidence, to have the ability to reimagine a future and place themselves within it — that’s one of the most important things we can do right now.”