Award-winner’s call for passion for invention in the classroom

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DESIGN and technology must have the same status as English and science on the school curriculum in order to boost Britain’s economy, according to an award-winning Yorkshire inventor.

Emily Cummins, who was voted one of the most outstanding young people in the world in 2010, told an audience of children and business leaders that teaching should meet the needs of the “real world”.

She made the comments after addressing the Solutions for the Planet conference at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, which encouraged children to become inventors.

The Leeds University graduate has saved lives with her inventions, including a solar-powered refrigerator that is being used to keep food and medicine cool in dozens of deprived African communities. Ms Cummins devised a sustainable fridge which is powered by dirty water. Her prototype consists of two metallic cylinders, one inside the other, between which a material such as sand or wool is packed, before being soaked with water.

The sun’s energy causes the outer part of the fridge to “sweat”. Water evaporates from the sand or wool and heat energy is transferred from the inner cylinder, which becomes cooler. The design is ideal for use in the developing world because it doesn’t require electricity and can be built using barrels, spare car parts and ordinary household materials.

Ms Cummins said: “You’ve got to accept that you’re going to come across hurdles and challenges and some ideas aren’t going to work, but if you alter your ideas slightly you come up with a different solution.”

Ms Cummins, 25, refined her fridge during a gap year in Namibia. She decided to give away the design plans in townships across southern Africa because she wanted as many people as possible to build their own fridges.

She added: “What that gave me was a real sense of passion, because I had put so much energy into this idea. I wanted to see it in use.” She believes that children can pick up a passion for invention in the classroom.

She added: “Design and technology is as important as English and science. What other subject can have an impact on real life?

“You’ve got to align it with other key messages coming from the Government.

“You can solve a real problem in a design and technology class. You might not necessarily be able to do that in some of the other subjects in school.

“If we want more things to be built in Britain, we’ve got to have it taught in schools, along with engineering.

“I’m looking at creating a commercial version of my fridge for camping and for yachts.”

Ms Cummins was voted one of the 10 Outstanding Young Persons of the World by JCI (Junior Chamber International) in 2010 and she also received the Barclays Woman of the Year award in 2009.

Other speakers at the conference, which was organised by Bradford-based not-for-profit company Partners in Innovation, included Hilary Benn, the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

More than 100 representatives from the region’s businesses, universities and public sector organisations attended the conference, which highlighted the importance of encouraging children to devise environmentally friendly business ideas.