According to Unesco, “80% of the world’s learners are now being kept out of educational institutions by country-wide closures.”
This sobering reality means that we are now faced with the results of, as one teacher recently put it, “ …an enormous experiment executed with very short notice.”
As we await the conclusions from this experiment, it seems appropriate to begin the discussion around what we have experienced in our endeavours to maintain some semblance of schooling from a distance and what we should now change to secure a better future for our young people.
Most of our students aren’t all that motivated to self-direct formal learning in adherence to the expectations of our current education system. That’s why we have such a behemoth of an infrastructure we rely upon to get them through their schooling in the first place. Separate rooms for separate subjects at separate times. This is how they are trained to learn.
Who could have predicted that there would be a scenario in which students would be required to be intrinsically motivated, emotionally intelligent enough and have strong enough communication skills to avoid learning loss during mass school shut-down? Is it that surprising that most students are not keen to manage themselves to meet the same expectations which require such a rigid learning infrastructure?
It is a tall order to expect teachers to be equipped and trained to implement educational technology in a way which would be more enticing than binge-watching the Tiger King? (And yes, Nicholas Cage playing him in the upcoming dramatization is the best news on this planet right now…)
This pandemic has outed an inadequate education system and that this might be the best time to revolutionize the way we teach and guide our young people to be adaptable for the uncertain future.
As we all baked and sang our way through the hours in our ‘well-lit prisons’ there was a particularly human characteristic shining brightly across the world through our palm-sized black mirrors. Creativity. The good-hearted but poorly executed ‘Imagine’ collaboration and the questionable Elton John performance aside, we relied upon human creativity to get us through the time spent in isolation. As people across the globe risked themselves on the medical front lines, we celebrated them through You Tube videos during the Together at Home initiative and it was super meaningful. We rely on creativity in times of crisis.
To poke the bear more on this issue I revisited a TED talk which has been haunting me recently. All the way back in 2006 Ken Robinson delivered what is still the most-watched Ted Talk in history. That single talk has been viewed 65,108,222 times. So, I’m going to assume that you have seen it. This video which has clearly permeated the entire education universe is provocatively titled: Do schools Kill Creativity?
TED: Want to watch a knight tell you schools kill creativity?
65 million of us: Yes.
What Sir Ken Robinson suggested back in 2006 might be more relevant now than ever. As we imagine how to reignite our schooling in the wake of this pandemic might we dare to change some fundamentals and recognize the obvious failures of this outdated manner of nurturing our youth?
In that 2006 TED talk Sir Robinson made the proclamation that:
“Creativity is as important in education as literacy.” Ken Robinson
What many observers found to be quite controversial has been largely misunderstood and many of you who have watched that talk may not know that Ken sat down for the TED podcast in 2018 and unpacked much more from his famous talk. In this very powerful hour of enlightening discussion, the host prods Robinson to reimagine modern schooling.
Creativity is central to human progress and there is no corner of our societies not enhanced by it. Not long after the discussion begins, Robinson clarifies his definition of creativity beautifully:
“Creativity isn’t exclusive to a particular field, it’s a function of intelligence.” Ken Robinson
One of the most memorable aspects of his 2006 talk was his observation of the ‘Subject Hierarchy’ and his pondering on why creative arts aren’t equally as valued as STEM subjects. This acknowledgement that creativity is a core aspect of intelligence might refresh how we view the purpose of our curricula. It is time to reflect on the archaic manner in which we prioritise subjects. Sure, our society demands specific skills for specific endeavours but at the core of all endeavours is the need to be creative. Thinking of our school subjects this way, I feel it is hard to argue with Robinson’s comparison of creativity with literacy. In light of this conceptual understanding, there is also a firm rationale delivered for what we consider to be ‘creative subjects’:
‘The arts are among the most profound ways we come to know ourselves.” Ken Robinson
This point of knowing ourselves is suddenly very important. Our students who have not spent a balanced amount of focus on developing personal skills will have had a tough time coping without the direct and interactive guidance of teachers. The recent Pivot Survey conducted to 3500 teachers across Australia and New Zealand also confirmed this fear from the perspective of teachers, 80% of whom believed students will require additional instructional support when they return to the classroom. This lack of focus on facilitating students in exploring their inner lives and developing the capability to manage themselves is now becoming a gaping hole in our national curricula.
As I listened to Robinson quote H.G wells I couldn’t help but cheer in agreement:
“Civilisation is a race between education and catastrophe.” H.G Wells
How true this is. As we consider what has happened we must now acknowledge what might happen again. Does our current model of education equip generation Z and Alpha for the invisible future we are thrusting them into? The imagined separation of subjects and dividing students into groups based on age, our timetabled classes and our subject hierarchy should all be up for review.
Of course, there is great value in many of the aspects of our education systems and we have incredible potential to come out of this experience with a renewed sense of optimism regarding human potential, but we must act. Our technology has shown that teachers are capable of much much more than preparing students for assessments and disseminating information easily sourced by any connected device. Teachers are the living part of learning. They are the conduits between information and life. Facilitating experiences within which education happens and is not just consumed. As Robinson says:
“What really makes a difference is pedagogy – teaching is an art form.” Ken Robinson
So why not ensure we return our teachers to the stage on which they perform best but also provide them with a revised curriculum and education infrastructure with which they can empower our future generations to be creative and to create the best lives possible. We are all part of this system, so we must all collaborate to create a system which at the very least, does not kill creativity.
‘Life is a constant form of improvisation.’ Ken Robinson