We must transform, rather than just reform education


 Professor Ken Robinson, a noted expert on creativity in education, argues that our education system works against most people finding their ‘element’ and accessing their creativity.

 In 1998, he led a national commission in the UK  on creativity, education and the economy. The Commission brought together leading business people, scientists, artists and educators. His report, All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education (The Robinson Report) was well received at the time. He claims that our approaches to education are “stifling some of the most important capacities that young people now need to make their way in the increasingly demanding world of the 21st century – the powers of creative thinking” . Education stifles our imagination (though not deliberately). And imagination is at the root of human progress and achievement. Albert Einsteins quote has resonance here – “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Education is too linear in its approach, Robinson claims. The old linear model of education invented to cope with early industrialization is outdated. We need, instead, Robinson believes, a new model, not just to reform, but to transform education.

 Robinson says that we must eliminate the existing hierarchy of subjects. Elevating some disciplines over others only reinforces outmoded assumptions of industrialism and offends the principle of diversity. The arts, sciences, humanities, physical education, languages and maths all have equal and central contributions to make to a student’s education.” Professor Robinson also says “we subject kids to all kinds of academic disciplines regardless of whether they have any interest or aptitude for them. It doesn’t mean that they should not be exposed to these disciplines, but I resist the idea that there are ‘hard’ subjects and ‘soft’ ones. People achieve at the highest levels whether it’s in the arts or the sciences. I don’t think there is such a thing as an academic subject. There are just academic processes.” And he asks why are we so fixated by age groups. Let a 10-year-old learn with their younger and older peers.

 Robinson defines creativity as “the process of having original ideas that create value”. He believes that creativity is a process, not a random act of inspiration, and that it needs to prove its worth.

He places creativity on an equal basis with literacy and numeracy and it should be a strategic priority in our system of education. So the arts, drama and dance have as much intrinsic merit as physics or mathematics. He also explores the place of creativity, and the arts, in an educational hierarchy which, generally, places sciences at the top and the arts as a poorer second. Even within the arts, he argues, there are still hierarchies. This embedded structure in education mitigates the capacity for many of us to use our formal education as a means of exploration where we can try out many, and eventually discover, our own true ‘element’. He believes the system doesn’t give pupils enough scope to be wrong. Progress is never achieved unless you are prepared to take a risk and to be wrong. If you have a school system which rewards conformity and avoids risk-taking, then youngsters will be unable to cope with the world unfolding before them. Nor will they really find their creative selves.

Professor Robinson has achieved some fame through his public speaking engagements .

His recent book ‘The Element’ (2009) articulates his views with examples punctuated with dry humour so evident in his public speaking. See also TED lecture

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