Education expert Sir Ken Robinson is more than a New York Times bestselling author. He is a dynamic public speaker and leader in the development in creativity and innovation. Now a professor emeritus of education at the University of Warwick in the UK, he has received honorary degrees from five different universities as well as numerous awards. Over the course of his prolific career he has been a strong advocate of creativity and arts in educational systems throughout the world.
After viewing Ken Robinson’s talk at the prestigious TED conference in 2006, I couldn’t help but marvel at his astute perceptions on the educational system of yesterday, today and tomorrow. What exactly did I take away from his speech? The following five points sum up how as Robinson puts it, “our schools are killing the creativity in our children”.
1. We Are All Innately Creative Beings:
The key to unlocking creativity, as Ken Robinson puts it, is to accept the fact that sometimes as thinkers and innovators, we will be wrong. Unfortunately, most adults are stifled by a fear of being wrong. This fear is instilled in us at a young age and follows us into adult life. Preschool children do not share this worry and therefore have no trouble tapping into their creativity. When asked a question, young children will eagerly volunteer a multitude of creative answers. It is not until they are repeatedly told they are wrong that they begin to be cautious about volunteering. Creative people accept failure as part of the innovative process. Thomas Edison tested his version of the electric bulb over 3000 times before getting it right, yet he didn’t see it as failure. When asked about it, he merely said that he didn’t fail 3000 times, but found 3000 “ways it didn’t work”. This is the kind of mentality it takes to succeed in innovation – and in life, for that matter.
2. Intelligence is Diverse, Dynamic and Distinct:
We know that each individual demonstrates their intelligence in uniquely different ways. A system that focuses on merely one path, one way of doing, undervalues those that don’t fit the mold. In his talk, Ken Robinson brought up the story of dancer, choreographer Gillian Lynne who, as a girl, struggled in the typical school system. She just couldn’t keep still. After discovering dance, she flourished and went on to have a fabulous career as a dancer and choreographer. Today’s teachers and doctors would have assessed her with ADHD and given her medication to calm down! Her talent would never have been recognized. How sad that we stigmatize other forms of intelligence that don’t measure up to the current norm. Too many talented children are falling through the cracks because their unique gifts don’t fit the mold in today’s education system. We need to widen the scope of how we teach our children so all of them realize their full potential!
3. We Are Educating for a Different Era:
As public education was developed to meet the needs of the industrial revolution, subjects that were the most useful for training the work force were prioritized. The majority of jobs during the industrial revolution did not require creative thinking. Still today, we have an educational system with a primary focus on math, sciences and standardized testing. Left-brain dominance is preferred. A system that tends to push creativity aside. Schools, more often than not, teach kids that there is only one answer to a question. When we are taught to believe there is only one answer, we see the world as binary – right and wrong. When we begin to see the world this way, if a teacher asks a question and students do not know the answer, they will not open their mouth. As a result, children tend to lose their willingness to try new things and come up with their own independent ideas. We should be encouraging the opposite. We need to change our education system to meet the demands of the current job market, where innovation is a prized commodity.
4. We Need to Adopt A New System If Our Children Are To Flourish:
As Ken Robinson explained, our educational system has, “mined our minds” for a commodity. We enacted this system for a purpose in the past, but it has become outmoded and needs to be revamped. The world of tomorrow with its ever-growing population, increased global instability and fragile environment, will need highly creative people. We need people who can predict emerging trends, propose solutions to new issues, and stay calm in a challenging, ever changing world. The system that is currently in place will only stifle the creativity and ingenuity of tomorrow’s leaders and innovators.
5. “Academic Inflation” and Global Competition:
More people than ever are getting degrees across the globe. In 30 years time, a Bachelor’s degree will be almost worthless. To have a career, you will need a masters or doctorate. Already we see college graduates returning home to live with mom and dad with no career prospects. So how do we ensure that our children stand out from the well-educated crowd? Inevitably, we have to rethink our definition of intelligence if our children are going to make it in this increasing competitive world. Only if we nurture their creativity will they stand a chance.
Transforming our educational system is not just desirable, but critical. Embracing all forms of intelligence will prepare us for an unpredictable, ever-changing future. Continuing on the same path, with an outdated system in place, will mean throwing away talent and undiscovered potential. Nurturing undiscovered potential and talent is one of my favourite things about working with young people. What a life-changing gift to give to another human being. I for one, am not prepared to let more and more kids fail in life because they don’t fit the mold… Are you?