Sir Ken Robinson started by introducing three themes. One is the extraordinary evidence of human creativity. The second is how he felt we had put us in a place where we had no idea what would happen and no idea how this may play out. He then continues by expressing his interest in education and how education cannot prepare us for the future as we do not know what the future holds, leading to the third theme, which is the extraordinary capacity that children have. He then continued saying he wanted to talk about education and creativity. He contends that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.
That does not mean to say that being wrong is the same thing as being creative. What we do know is, if you’re not ready to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become afraid of being wrong. As a result, people are educated out of their creative capacities. He adds on saying: “Truthfully what happens is, as children grow up, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up. And then we focus on their heads. And slightly to one side.”
Our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability. The whole system was invented round the world; there were no public education systems before the 19th century. They all came into being to meet the needs of industrialism. So the hierarchy is rooted in two ideas: Firstly, the most useful subjects for work are at the top. So students were steered away from school things they liked because they would never get a job doing that. The second is academic ability, which has really come to dominate our perception of intelligence because the universities designed the system in their image. The whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance.
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And 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 in the next 30 years. According to Unesco, more people worldwide will be graduating through education than since the beginning of history. It is the combination of all the things — technology and its transformation effect on work, and demography and the huge explosion in population. Suddenly degrees aren’t worth anything. When he was a student, if you had a degree, you had a job. If you didn’t have a job, it’s because you didn’t want one. But now kids need an MA where the previous job required a BA, and now you need a PhD for the other.
It’s a process of academic inflation. And it indicates the whole structure of education is shifting beneath our feet. We need to rethink our view of intelligence radically. We know three things about intelligence: One, it’s diverse; we think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually; we think in sound; we think kinaesthetically. We think in abstract terms; we think in movement. Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain is not divided into compartments. In fact, creativity, which he defined as the process of having original ideas that have value, more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.
The brain is intentional — by the way, there’s a shaft of nerves that joins the two halves of the brain called the corpus callosum, and it’s thicker in women. I think this is probably why women are better at multitasking. The third thing about intelligence is, it’s distinct. He then gave an example of how Gillian, a lady who did not perform well in school but found her interest in dancing, became a multimillionaire. She is a choreographer who was involved in ‘Cat’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth for a particular commodity, and it won’t serve us in the future. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we are educating our children.
There was a wonderful quote by Jonas Salk, who said, “If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years, all forms of life would flourish.” What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now that we use this gift wisely and avert some of the scenarios we’ve talked about. And the only way we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being so that they can face this future — by the way, we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.