Opinion and Analysis

Education system must take blame for stifling innovation

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 A teacher with her pupils at a Nairobi school. Our education system must prepare our young ones for a future that we cannot grasp, bringing out their creativity as much as developing their literacy. FILE

A teacher with her pupils at a Nairobi school. Our education system must prepare our young ones for a future that we cannot grasp, bringing out their creativity as much as developing their literacy. FILE 

By Mike Eldon

Posted  Wednesday, June 12  2013 at  18:21

In Summary

  • We are educated into timidity and conformism instead of promoting creativity among us.
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I recently watched one of Sir Kenneth Robinson’s classic TED talks, Do Schools Kill Creativity? And it wasn’t for the first time. For it contains the kind of messages we need to hear repeatedly.

No wonder they’ve been downloaded over 13 million times. I urge you to watch them too, but meanwhile let me tell you something about what he said, together with some reflections on his views for Kenya.

Robinson’s thesis is provided through answering the question posed in the title of his talk with a big fat “yes”, and for 20 minutes he explains why. The whole of public school education, he has concluded, is really designed to make us all university professors.

It’s actually nothing more than a “protracted system of university entrance”. There’s nothing wrong with professors, he adds swiftly, but they’re just one form of life among many others.

Professors, he has observed (while confessing he is one himself), “live entirely in their heads, considering the rest of their body just a vehicle for transporting those heads around”.

In the process, schools have evolved a universal and immutable hierarchy of subjects: mathematics and languages are at the top, followed by the humanities, and then below them the arts (where drama and dance feature below art and music).

How foolish, more so in these times when great careers can be forged by those talented in the arts rather than elsewhere.

Formal education, he reminds us, was evolved to take care of the needs of the industrial revolution. It stressed academic ability as the dominant criterion in qualifying for university entry, and so it is until today.

But intelligence is diverse and it is dynamic, not to mention that a comprehensively intelligent person knows how to link other components of their brain to the purely academic one — not least the creative element.

Public education has been operating like strip mining, Robinson scoffs, excavating for a particular commodity… rather than developing the whole being.

He complains that university education is over-rated, exacerbated by the fact that now a first degree is considered inadequate and that in more and more situations a full PhD is specified. How inadequate a measure of a person’s performance that is, he groans, when so many other aspects need to be considered.

In today’s fast changing world of knowledge workers, where even predicting what will be happening in five years’ time is quite impossible, our education system must above all prepare our young ones for a future that we cannot grasp, bringing out their creativity as much as developing their literacy.

For it is only if tomorrow’s workers are able to keep coming up with original and useful ideas that our planet will keep evolving.

But “bringing out” creativity in our students doesn’t capture the process as it should. Robinson tells us that children are born creative, and it is the school system that wilfully insists on beating that creativity out of them, on “ruthlessly squandering their talents”.

What, he asks, if the seven-year old Shakespeare would have been told to stop scribbling away and go to bed? What if he had been ridiculed for expressing those rich thoughts that swarmed around in his head? What if he would have been told to speak normally, more straightforwardly?

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