Sir Ken Robinson (1950-2020) was a hugely influential governmental advisor on education and creativity who has led on strategy at national level for a number of countries, including the UK, Northern Ireland and Singapore. His ideas and recommendations on education reached a huge audience through the TED Talks. His ideas and inspiration live on.
“If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners.
What is the point of education? What are we, as a society, trying to achieve when we educate our children? These are the questions at the heart of Sir Ken Robinson’s hugely popular talks and books on education.
Most of us would agree that a key aim is to prepare children for their own future and enable them to make a positive contribution to the economic and social success of their country or society. But our current system of school fails at this. It was conceived for a different age, a different economy, and a time when different skills were needed. In the process it has alienated millions of children. What we need, argues Robinson, is a revolution in education.
It is a message which resonates widely. Ken Robinson’s TED talk ‘Do schools kill creativity?’ has been watched over 52 million times and remains the most viewed TED talk of all time.
The many ways in which schools kill creativity
The focus on being ‘right’ as the ultimate aim
The reason so many people are opting out of education is because it doesn’t feed their spirit, it doesn’t feed their energy or their passion.
A critical foundation for creativity, originality, and innovation is being prepared to be wrong argues Robinson. “Being wrong is not the same as being creative,” he says, “…but if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” A baby trying to roll over, or a toddler learning to speak their native language, is prepared to try and to fail, repeatedly; to take risks in order to learn. But in the current school system, children learn that mistakes equal failure. They learn to be afraid of being wrong and are unable to take creative risks. This alone is a disaster.
The focus on a very narrow range of skills and intelligence
Children learn to value themselves on how they match up to the very narrow view of intelligence valued by schools. Schools value STEM subjects, not the arts. An academic hierarchy, Robinson argues, which is based on the needs of a previous century. It leads directly to many talented and creative people believing that they are not intelligent because their skills were not valued in school.
The separation of subjects
Even for those who are academically talented in this narrow sense, the ‘siloing’ of school subjects further limits creativity and curiosity. Creativity and new ideas thrive on connection, finding new combinations. But the possibility of connection is stymied when subjects are divided up from one another.
The answer to the future is about creating a movement in education in which people develop their own solutions, but with external support based on a personalised curriculum.
The idea of education as a limited curriculum
A set curriculum also encourages students to view education as a once-off, linear process: you start at one point, move along to a second point, and then you’re done. But education, like life, is an organic process, not a linear one. To move through the rest of our lives successfully, we need to engage with the idea of life-long learning and a continuous process of educating ourselves. Standardisation doesn’t just damage children’s education while they’re in school; it damages their (our) view of education throughout the rest of life.
What we need instead
Instead, Robinson argues, we need to develop and support a much more diverse, much richer view of intelligence and ability. We should be educating our children in a way which engages and encourages curiosity rather than compliance. We need a system which encourages exploration of diverse and varied ideas, not one which limits them to a specific curriculum and punishes the taking of intellectual risks.
If the movement is strong enough, that’s, in the best sense of the word, a revolution. And that’s what we need.
Education needs to be able to help people find what they are passionate about, find what excites and stimulates them. Which is not going to be a standard thing, the same for everyone. We need to abandon the industrial conception of education as a linear batch process where we are trying to make sure everyone is exactly the same, with the same skills and same knowledge. Education – schools, or homes if families prefer home education – can and should be customised to the individual learner.
Robinson compares Finland’s educational success to America’s failures, highlighting three key differences. Finland recognises that it is students who are learning. A system must engage these students for learning to happen, excite their curiosity, their individual interests and stimulate creativity. Finland also holds teaching in high regard, they value teachers, believe that they need great people in the classroom, people who are supported with resources and ongoing development. Thirdly, individual schools are trusted to be responsible for teaching.
Education is a human system, Robinson points out. It is about people learning, it isn’t mechanistic. And it is time that the school system was changed to accommodate this. “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed.”
Sir Ken Robinson is a British author, speaker and international advisor on education in the arts, and was knighted in 2003 for services to the arts, and millions of people have watched his TED talks on creativity and education, challenging the current way in which schools educate our children. He has written numerous books on the subject of education and creativity, offering practical ways for parents and families to find the education that they need. His latest book is ‘You, Your Child and School’