About Sir Kenneth Robinson (mostly)

At the risk of sounding glib, I’ll start with this. There are two types of students in the world, those that are conventional… and everyone else.

Oscar Wilde would have probably done more with that idea but the thing is, I’m not really trying to be witty. This really does explain a lot. In fact, if student dropout rates are anything to go by, I can even give you a ratio. For every 7 students that are served well by the traditional education model of schooling, there are 3 who find it awkward enough to give it away and leave early. The ratio varies slightly around the world, and there is a real effort being made to address this amongst OECD member nations who have made some improvements, but the 7 to 3 is a fairly strong global benchmark.

For the past month my plan had been to focus this week on the marginalised 3 in 10. Here’s why. ‘Q and A’ (see previous post) fielded a whole bunch of questions from people who represented the disenfranchised and disillusioned students of Australia. When I went back to look at the transcripts, what struck me was that these groups would be given their opportunity to raise public awareness of the challenges they face, and then asked the major parties what they intend to do about it.

Somewhat predictably, the politicians were quick to recognize these groups’ plight and explain that they already have policies to help them. Most of this help was described in terms of funding they have allocated or intend to release.

Well, I’m sure that the minister and his opposition counterpart were sincere in this. I’m pretty sure also, that implementing the Gonski review would fund all these groups effectively and equitably. I’m not at all sure that’s going to happen but, above all else, what I’m sure of most of all, in fact what I’m absolutely certain of, is that none of this presents a solution to a problem.

Here’s the problem. The traditional model of schooling (be it public or private) was not designed to be universal, and it struggles to meet the expectation of the modern world that it is.

Therefore, I’ve decided, mid post, to change focus. Instead of methodically working through the complexities of unconventional students and maginalised minority groups, I’m going to write about Sir Ken Robinson. You’ll soon see why.

I was first introduced to Sir Ken through a TED talk on Youtube. His talk “How schools kill creativity” was given back in 2006 and lasts for 20 minutes. I found it a pretty compelling 20 minutes but I would understand if others didn’t so below I have listed three versions of this talk for you to choose from. I suggest you watch one of them before continuing. In fact, I recommend you go off and make a nice cup of tea, come back and then watch one of the videos below. Don’t worry, I’ll wait right here and continue when you’ve seen it.

The original, unabridged version.

A 6 minute summary of the main points.

A ‘value added’ version of the talk that nevertheless runs just under 9 minutes. 

There are two qualities in Sir Ken that I admire greatly. One is his ability to look at the big picture, as regards education, and make sense of it. The other is his ability to communicate. By his own admission talking about education is not going to endear you to many people and yet, 6 years after the talk was posted, over 4.5 million people have watched him stand still for 20 minutes and make a compelling series of arguments.

However, this talk was not the reason I linked marginalized students with Sir Kenneth Robinson. He touched on factors that cause student disengagement here but there’s another talk of his that I think really deals with the problem I highlighted above. If you’re ready for another cup of tea I strongly recommend this.

I particularly like the way this talk has been animated to (literally) illustrate his point.

So, having introduced you to Sir Ken, I should really clarify why I think he is relevant to the problem of so many marginalized students. He very astutely identifies that the world demands modern education systems to prepare students for the future. The world doesn’t know what the future will look like but it does know that it wants everyone to be prepared for it. With that in mind education policy makers everywhere are working feverishly to achieve genuine equity in education opportunity (which is good) but are probably sacrificing real learning in the process (which is disastrous). In short, I fear the ‘marginalised’ students of the world wont drop out in great numbers in the future, but they will still be poorly served by education and still be marginalised.

I completely agree with Sir Ken that whatever world our kids are facing, a capacity for creative or divergent thinking will be vitally important. I’m not completely convinced on how to achieve this but I suspect that the more people who hear his message, the easier it will be for a change in the education paradigm.

So basically, I hope you enjoyed his stuff as much as I do and recommend him to your friends…perhaps not at diner parties though.