Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Element by Sir Ken Robinson

I have just finished reading The Element by Sir Ken Robinson and I have been totally taken in by it. The premise of the book is simple, how finding the Element, that thing you love to do, can change everything. The book gives examples from a range of people, from the famous to the unknown, showing how they found that special activity and how it changed their lives and made them who they are.

Much of the book has a focus on education. It talks about how schools kill off creativity through a combination of standardised teaching methods, archaic practices and because of a lack of change in how schools are not changing to meet the varying needs of an ever changing society.

Why is there a hierarchy of subjects in schools? Why do Literacy and Maths form the core of almost every education system in the world with the Humanities coming next and the Arts slumped at the bottom? Why are the arts based subjects the first to be ejected from the curriculum when standards start to drop? Why do we still believe that learning is a linear activity?

From my personal experience in schools this is true. We still teach using an out of date model for teaching in today's climate. Children who do not sit still and listen attentively, who do not finish their work quickly and quietly and who do not excel at Literacy and Numeracy are seen as not performing well in the classroom. Almost eleven hours every school week children learn Maths and Literacy, in lessons specifically labelled Maths and Literacy. These subjects appear everyday in the curriculum. Subjects like Art and Music are taught once a week. In particularly bad examples Art is relegated to colouring in or drawing pictures to go with a story or a piece of written work. If Drama appears on the timetable then you are lucky.

Many important skills are not nurtured in schools and one of the most important of these is creativity. In a normal school week there is little time for the children to do what they love doing. Whether that be painting, doing drama, making things or just exploring and trying out different activities. It can be said that if children are given free time in schools to do what they want then they are not learning. I believe this to be fundamentally wrong. Children who are given the right resources and the right guidance will be so imaginative and come up with ideas that you may never thought of. They have an innate sense of imagination and are not overly concerned with boundaries. As they get older and have spent more time in the education system these skills dwindle, self confidence drains out of them and they lose that spark, that innate ability.

There is no sure-fire easy solution to this problem, but schools need to have the courage to admit these failings and work out a way to transform they way they work. Allowing teachers to teach the subjects they love. Allowing children to personalise their education. Give the children the time and resources to grow into their learning. Teach children and teachers that in order to succeed you must first learn how to fail. All these are ideas are step in the right direction and if education does not start changing its archaic practices then we will have a very large crisis in our classrooms.

If you want a taster of this book I very much recommend Ken Robinson's talk at the TED Conference (Technology, Entertainment and Design) "Do schools kill creativity?"

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