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Do schools kill creativity?

What does Sir Ken’s TED talk state?

Sir Ken highlights that education is seen as having value for two main purposes – preparation for economic participation and the building of national cultural narratives. He also expresses doubts held by a majority of students who believe the necessity of conventional education is not as advertised – conventional educational success is not always a guarantee of personal of professional success. He identifies the origins of the modern school system, with its enlightenment roots and focus on deductive reasoning and knowledge of core content. I find his analogy of schooling being like the factory floor rings true – with batches of students moving along a conveyor belt of individual subjects that work in isolation. This paradigm brings with it a set of specific pedagogical practices suited this mindset.

Sir Ken highlights a study that appears to show ‘divergent thinking’ as a victim of the conventional school system. He argues the traditional view of there being different types of learning (academic, vocational, abstract etc) is a myth and that collaboration is ‘the stuff of growth’ whereas atomising students for standardised testing removes them from their natural learning environment.

What are the implications for 21st century education?

Huge. If correct Sir Kim has shown that the current system simply is not fit for purpose. It forces students to conform to conventions from a different era which discourage collaboration between learners but also across disciplines – two skills which are highly vital in the ever changing 21st work place. The famous saying that X many of the future’s top jobs have yet to be invented yet appears to be true when we look at recent history and those trends seem to only be accelerating (with the Covid catalyst helping here!). Therefore we need a new paradigm that reflects this and places greater emphasis on inter-disciplinary learning and collaboration. The IB Learner Profile, with its inclusion of a range of attributes not normally included in traditional syllabuses – caring, risk-taking and communication – seems much better suited.

Could there be any cultural problems with such a move? Yes. Lots.

Firstly, the profession itself may prove resistant – teachers are professionals who have built up years of experience, resources and ‘exam knowledge’ which they do not wish to see displaced (or modified). The groans in the staffroom whenever a new government comes in and introduces a new curriculum are evidence of this.

Secondly, education's vital role in creating national narratives is put at risk by some elements of the IB Mission statement and Learner Profile. Open-Mindedness and Inquiry does not sit well with all governments who wish to install a strict and limited sense of national identity. UK Schools have lent more towards ‘British values’ in recent years and many states across the Middle East have a heavily proscribed set of knowledge that must be imparted to all students on that nation’s values and history.


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