The French education system is killing creativity, according to a Paris-based academic who told a conference on innovation that teachers there "have become masters at destroying confidence".
Soumitra Dutta, professor of business and technology at INSEAD business school in Paris, said the US produces more creative students and makes outsiders feel more welcome – factors which help explain why the US is still more innovative than Europe.
"French schools have become masters in destroying confidence. They take a child and pummel them, insisting that they copy word-for-word what the teacher has written on the blackboard," he told a conference organised by the American Chamber of Commerce in the EU (AmCham EU) in Brussels last week (8 October).
He said his own daughter had been brow-beaten by the French school system, whereas the American system encourages creativity and tells children that it is okay to make mistakes.
"We have to become better at inspiring young people and giving them role models who have made it as entrepreneurs and innovators. At the moment, we're not very good at supporting creativity," said Dutta.
He said Europeans are as innovative at birth as others but "somehow as they grow up their curiosity is stifled". Even the European university system lags behind the US because they are "stuck in the middle ages" and need reform, according to the professor, who has taught on both sides of the Atlantic.
Dutta warned that the EU and US have fewer young people going into science and technology compared to developing countries, where participation in maths and sciences remains strong.
Also key to fostering innovation is welcoming foreign talent. He said it is considerably more difficult to adjust to life in Europe compared to Silicon Valley, where newcomers are made to feel at home.
US business wants European reform
AmCham, which speaks for American multinationals, is demanding reform of Europe's tax system to eliminate incentives for early retirement and boost labour participation.
The US business lobby has published a new paper designed to diagnose and address Europe's innovation deficit. Many of the ideas reflect those included in the EU executive's Innovation Union document last week (6 October).
AmCham wants to see Europe's education system reformed to incorporate business skills into courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They want to encourage more internships to help students gain hands-on experience in industry and establish business-run schools or academies.
The plan also backs the idea of a government-sponsored social investment bank, which would help civil society to get projects off the ground as well as providing advice and support to attract private investment.