“One size fits all education” is a remnant of the Industrial Age and doesn’t work. This system of education involves a teacher effectively telling 30 students: “I will teach one thing. I will teach it this way. I will teach it for this amount of time” and everyone must fit into this inflexible “education delivery system”. If we reduce class sizes, the situation improves but
it is still “a many sizes fit many solution”. We need a solution that is customizable to individuals – after all, that what a hu- man (young or old) is.
Sir Kenneth Robinson is an international advisor on edu- cation in the arts to government, non-profits, education. He says that, in some parts of the United States, 60 percent of students drop out of high school.5 In the Native American community it’s 80 percent. If we could halve those numbers, it is estimated that the economy would gain an additional trillion dollars over a 10 year period. In addition to the lost GDP, it also costs a lot of money to clean up the damage that results from such high dropout rates. In the meantime, the dropout rates obviously don’t account for kids that at- tend school but are disengaged from it, who don’t enjoy it, and who don’t get any real benefit from it. It’s not just money. The United States spends more money on education than most countries and the classes are smaller. Although Robin- son is referring to the United States school system, the same problems exist in many developed countries. Robinson says that there are three principles under which life flourishes, and that they are contradicted by the culture of education under which teachers have to labor and students have to endure.
The first principle is that humans are naturally different and diverse. Many education systems are structured in a way that is based on conformity and does not allow for diversity. This encourages schools to determine what students can do across a very narrow spectrum of achievement. Robinson says that ap- proximately 10 percent of students are estimated to have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder due to its broad defini- tion, but his view is that children are not, for the most part, suffer- ing from a psychological condition; rather they are “suffering” from childhood. Kids perform best with a curriculum that uti- lizes all of their talents rather than just a small number of them.
The second principle is that humans are naturally curious. If you can light a spark of curiosity in a child, they will learn with- out any further assistance. Children are natural learners. There’s no school in the world that is better than its teachers. Teaching is a creative profession. Teaching is not a delivery mechanism. Great teachers don’t just deliver education, they also mentor, stimulate, provoke and engage students. Education is about learning. If there’s no learning going on, there’s no education. Robinson says that you can be engaged in the activity of some- thing without actually achieving it. It’s like going on a diet but not losing weight. You can say that a teacher is teaching, but this doesn’t mean that anybody’s learning anything. Teachers are encouraged to follow routine algorithms as opposed to ignite the fire of curiosity. This ultimately creates a culture of compliance.
The third principle is that human life is inherently creative. Most education systems do very little to ignite and develop creativity. Academic skills that involve repetition, memory and computational skills are becoming less and less valuable, while innovation and problem solving, skills that are entirely predicated upon creativity, are becoming much more valuable.
Finland, for instance, regularly ranks at or near the top of the world in mathematics, science and reading. However, the schools do not focus solely on these disciplines. They have a broad cur- riculum that includes humanities, physical education and the arts.
Robinson says that many of the current education policies are based on mechanistic conceptions of education. It’s like treating education as an industrial process that can be improved after acquiring better data. Education is not a mechanical system. It’s system made up of people, and the end product is not a product – it’s people: people that either want to learn or don’t want to learn. Every student that drops out of school has a reason that could have been and should have been addressed. They may have found it boring, irrelevant, or somehow in conflict with the life they have away from school. Although these are trends, each individual story is unique.
Next article in this series: “Humans – Special vs Unique”