USI 2018’s opening keynote speaker, Sir Ken Robinson broaches an essential topic: how we educate our children. Our society has already undergone various revolutions – industrial, political and cultural – and their effects are still with us today. But the most important revolution is currently underway, it combines technology and massive world population growth and its impact is phenomenal. To face this new reality, our societies must reinvent education and transform educational policies and institutions.
The limits of our education
Our current educational system is highly limited. Sir Ken Robinson learned this the hard way as a young child, in 1960s Liverpool. He had to choose between art classes and German which were held at the same time, and one of his teachers advised him to choose German as it was “more useful”.
Already at the time, a distinction was made between “useful subjects” (mathematics, physics, foreign languages, etc.) and “useless subjects”, interesting but not as helpful for finding employment. And yet, strangely, it is these so-called “useless” subjects which foster children’s creativity, one of the most important components of intelligence.
Learning, education and school are three very different concepts. While all children love learning, they do not always like being educated and some have real difficulties with school. And yet learning is natural and intrinsic for most of us: children learn to speak simply by observing and imitating their parents. Their curiosity opens the doors to the world and they receive their discoveries with unfeigned joyous wonder. “Every child is a unique moment in human history”. Education, in contrast, is a more intentional learning process. We educate our children because we believe that they should know certain things, or because we consider that some things are too hard for them to learn on their own through simple observation (calculus for example).
“Learning is the most natural process”
Education is promoted for four main reasons:
- Economic: we must prepare children for the labor market
- Social: to help them understand the social system they live in
- Cultural: educating children is “the right thing to do”
- Personal: we want our children to do better than us
The educational system is not designed for individual development but to fulfill those four missions. For greater effectiveness, education therefore promotes standardization of learning, and competition between pupils. The result is that education systems worldwide share the same faulty principles: they are based on conformity, docility and linearity in learning. And this system, inevitably, is reaching its limits. So even though it is designed to prepare the workers of the future, education is unable to meet the evolving needs of the market. In some European countries, unemployment rates are above 50%.
The principles of a new system
For Sir Ken Robinson, an effective and fully satisfactory educational system should reflect human diversity and creativity. We are all different. Each child has a unique mix of talents, predispositions, interests and abilities. Instead of a linear education system based on conformity, we should design an organic system which fosters creativity and diversity.
Education should be grounded in the principles of collaboration: “Education is not a monologue, it’s a conversation”. Collaboration will be indispensable to solve some of the most difficult problems our current world is facing. Education must be more personalized: it should offer activities based on personal interests. It should favor creativity rather than rationality. More broadly, education should allow every child to grow and blossom. And it’s possible because, as Robinson reminds us: “All the great teachers are students, all the students are teachers.”
Our main resource
Human talent is very varied and it is our most valuable resource. Rather than wondering how intelligent or creative we are, the real questions should be:
- What is the scope of my intelligence?
- In what areas am I truly creative?
In other words, the question should no longer be “how creative are you?” But “how are you creative?”. After all, we usually share a very narrow and cramped view of intelligence, only based on academic achievements. Creativity is just as important, if not more. Without creativity, there would be no inventions, no engineers, no architects and, if we were to dig a little deeper into social relations, no love either.
To conclude his talk, Sir Ken Robinson begs us to do away with the old education system and to reinvent how we educate our children. For him it is the only way to adapt to today’s digital revolution. Our new education system should make the most of our talents, whatever they may be. And even though it probably won’t allow us to predict the future, it should help us be as well prepared as possible.