How can educators encourage creativity and excite their students? Sir Ken Robinson, a creativity expert and critic of current educational methodology, has some words of advice. He recently spoke at a TED conference in New York. TED, an acronym for “technology, entertainment, and design” hosts conferences around the globe with presenters who are experts in their fields. Sir Ken’s speech centered on ways to “escape education’s Death Valley.” He cites statistics regarding drop-out rates, which, in some communities like the Native Americans, exceed 60%. And that doesn’t count those who remain in school but are “disengaged.” He maintains that reducing that percentile by half could be a huge advantage for the American economy. He points to the Finnish educational system as a model because they do not have any dropouts. What lessons can we learn?
He believes that the current No Child Left Behind system neglects three essential principles of human behavior. The first he discusses is individuality. Rather than focus on a very narrow range of skills, students need exposure to the arts, humanities & physical education to address the needs of the whole child. Children can flourish in a number of different environments, so education needs to find a way to tap into the interests of each child.
The second principle is curiosity. “Children are natural learners. . . .Curiosity is the engine of achievement.” Teachers need to harness that curiosity. They need to be allowed to mentor and stimulate children. “The role of a teacher is to stimulate learning,” not simply to engage in the task of teaching, for if little learning is going on, then the teacher is not fulfilling her task. He puts the blame for some of this non-learning to the culture of testing. If the goal of a class is simply to pass a given test, then too much testing can actually hinder the learning process. Although some testing is necessary, it needs to support learning. Rather than stimulating curiosity, teachers are fostering compliance.
His third principle is that “Life is inherently creative.” Too much standardization tends to stifle creativity. High performing countries such as Finland provide individualized learning. Responsibility for learning is centered at the school level, and teachers are considered highly trained professionals who can accomplish this aim. He points out, “Education does not go on in committee rooms. It happens in schools and classrooms . . . Education is a human system.” It should be treated as such.