HundrED is a global, non-profit project aiming to bring together a vision of education for the next 100 years, collecting 100 innovations from Finland and a further 100 from around the world, along with commentary from global thought leaders. The findings will be documented as a book, a documentary, a series of international seminars and a toolkit for teachers, all shared with the world for free.
In an interview with HundrED, Sir Ken Robinson, PhD and international educator based in Los Angeles, California, discussed whether schools are teaching the skills that students really need…
Education is a dynamic system, not a static one. It’s not an impersonal, inert engineering system; it’s constantly in flux. It exists in the actions and activities of people every day and is subject to all kinds of conflicting forces and fluctuations.
For example, new technology is tearing through education in many respects and subverting many of the ways in which people are connecting with each other.
Within the system there are people who are operating certain sorts of traditional models, and others, even in very traditional systems, who are innovating and doing creative things. You can find examples of tremendous innovation within the current systems as they are.
There are some features of most mass systems of public education, which I find troublesome in terms of what we ought to be providing our kids with now. One is that they’re typically based on a very narrow view of intelligence. It’s a view of academic ability in particular, which is too often contrasted with vocational learning: it’s more about theoretical than applied work. There is also an emphasis on the so-called ‘STEM’ disciplines, often to the exclusion of art and humanities.
There is an overemphasis on testing and on compliance, as well as on linearity – the view that you can anticipate not only the lives that our kids might lead when they leave school, but the lives they should lead. We express this in the way the curriculum becomes narrowed to what are thought to be more utilitarian subjects.
Somewhere in there too there is a tacit conception of supply and demand. That’s what you see in the standards: ‘We need more engineers, let’s make that the heart of education. We need more mathematicians, let’s have much more math in schools, we need more scientists, let’s have more science. We need fewer ballet dancers, let’s not have dance in schools.’ It is as if education is some sort of pipeline for manufactured products.
It’s usual to think of education in terms of what people need to know, understand and be able to do. For me, the purpose of education is to help young people understand the world around them and engage in the world within them. A lot of the education system is focused on the external world, but all children have their own talents and abilities, sense of possibilities, biographies, anxieties, hopes and aspirations. Among the reasons why kids get disengaged from school is that schools don’t speak well enough to their inner world, and so they don’t feel that school is anything to do with them, or they have been made to feel stupid by it. Or they find it pointless or just boring.
On that basis there are four big purposes of education: economic, social, cultural and personal. But rather than defining education through a group of subjects, I think it is better to think of the competencies people need to make their way in the world now and to engage with the world the way it seems to be evolving. I would include things like curiosity, because in the end education depends on an appetite to learn. If that gets stultified then learning starts to slow down and eventually become frustrating.
Creativity is an essential set of skills and capabilities. It is the capability to have and develop new ideas that are original and of value and to know how that process works. This is a fundamental skill in every field of human endeavour from the arts, the sciences, technology, mathematics to business. It’s really what sets us apart from the rest of life on earth – our capacity to come up with fresh ideas and to make them come into being – to create things in the practical world as well as conceptually.
Other critical skills are communication, which is being able to put our ideas together and explain them properly to people in a variety of forms. And collaboration. We live in a social world, we need to work with other people. And if you have an education system that’s atomized, where people work in groups, not as groups, which is rooted in competition, then it betrays the most fundamental dilemma for which most communities actually flourish – when people work together for some common goal.