“Children have extraordinary capacities for innovation and all kids have tremendous talents but we squander them, pretty ruthlessly… Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” These are the words of Ken Robinson, world famous educator and author, advocate of non-conventional education that promotes creativity and value students who have a special talent for subjects that are not considered important in traditional schools. Robinson, who led a national commission on creativity, education and the economy for the UK Government, and received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts, explains: “I studied for a Ph.D. I write books. I was a university professor (for 12 years, editor’s note). It’s not as if I’m some outcast from the system who thinks it’s all awful.” But as he has observed, for too many people the current education system, which is considered to be the sole measure of intelligence, simply does not work.
Sir Ken is the most watched speaker in TED’s history. His talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity” has been viewed online over 60 million times and is the most-viewed TED Talk ever. He holds that school teaches us how not to be creative. All children are born with natural talents, but schools do not value or develop them. “Picasso once said this – he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.”
But what is creativity? For Robinson it is having original ideas that have value. But there’s more. Human creativity, he explains, is diverse and varied, it often comes from the interaction of different ways of seeing things. And it is linked to the fear of being wrong, or better to the lack of fear of being wrong, and children have this capacity. “Getting things wrong is not the same as being creative. If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original. By the time children reach adulthood, they are fearful of mistakes, which have become stigmatised. We're running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result of that is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.”
Picasso once said this – he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up
We have to radically rethink our definition of intelligence. “We have cultivated a very narrow conception of intelligence, and while academic work is important in itself and rewarding for the people who enjoy it, it should not be seen as the sole measure of intelligence.” The whole system of public education around the world is based on academic ability and gaining a place at university. The consequence is that “many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.” The world of education considers only those children who are brilliant at academic subjects to be intelligent. These children will go to university, while others are destined to do more lowly and less qualified jobs. Every education system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects, says Robinson. At the bottom are the arts with acting and dance even lower down. It’s a standardised system which does not take into account the diversity of people and their different talents.
For too many people the current education system, which is considered to be the sole measure of intelligence, simply does not work.
There are many types of intelligence, it is not static and does not work in the same way for everyone. “The subjects taught at school are designed to develop the brain, and not the body, and just one part of the brain, usually the left part”, which is dominant in calculations, logical ability and mathematics. “There are people who need to move to think.” Like dancers for example, but for others too. Because intelligence is diverse and “we think of the world in all the ways we perceive it. We think visually, in sound, kinesthetically and abstractly.”
In his Ted Talk “How to escape education’s death valley”, Ken expresses his concern for the increasing focus on STEM subjects, which are “necessary but they're not sufficient. A real education has to give equal weight to the arts, the humanities, to physical education.”
Robinson is also concerned about the high stress levels experienced by students. In the USA, millions of children have been diagnosed with some form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) “I'm not saying there's no such thing. I just don't believe it's an epidemic like this. If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low-grade clerical work, don't be surprised if they start to fidget. Children are not, for the most part, suffering from a psychological condition.”
“Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents, not just a small range of them. And by the way, the arts aren't just important because they improve math scores. They're important because they speak to parts of children's being which are otherwise untouched.”
Curiosity is the engine of learning. It’s fundamental to stimulate and incentivise also the power of imagination in a child and if that is done “the child will learn without any further assistance, very often. Children are natural learners… and teaching is a creative profession.” Good teachers engage with students and stimulate their imagination. The problem with today’s schools is that children are neither motivated nor interested and are not learning. In the USA, the dropout rate is extremely high.
Teaching needs to be personalized, geared to the interests and attitudes of students rather than standardized. “The real key to transforming education is the quality of teaching.”