Meeting Sir Ken at the Future Schools Conference

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It is not often that Sir Ken Robinson comes to Australia, let alone to my home town of Melbourne. So when I heard that he was keynoting this year’s National Future Schools Conference, I jumped at the opportunity to hear the great man and had the pleasure to have a few words with him.

Sir Ken is the world authority on creativity in education. He has been named as one of Time/Fortune/CNN’s ‘Principal Voices’ and acclaimed as one of “the world’s elite thinkers on creativity and innovation”.  In 2003, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts and three years later he did his first TED Talk (Do Schools Kill Creativity) which has recently gained over 50 million hits on TED.com and over 14 million hits on YouTube. This is acclaimed to be the most watched TED talk in the history of TED talks.

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Sir Ken was in fine form with an engaging collection of humerous anecdotes and poignant statements about the state of education systems around the globe. I have seen him present live on two occasions and have watched a number of recordings over the years and I am constantly impressed with his oratory skills and the way he can hold an audience for an extended period of time without the use of many, if any, visual aids.

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Sir Ken’s main message was based around moving education beyond its current focus on standardised testing. His aim for education (as the above image shows) is to enable students to understand the world around them and the talents within them. It appears that the aims of education in many schools and education departments is to get good scores in standardised tests and Year 12 results.

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He said that depression is the world’s single largest health issues and that in many cases the systems we have in place in schools can encourage many students to be disengaged and not successful which can lead to depression and anxiety.

He also talked about the power of collaboration and how schools are not encouraging it. Most schools systems are based on individual competition and students are ranked according to how well they can do an examination. Sir Ken said collaboration is as equally a powerful motivation to succeed as competition.

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Sir Ken said that we have the resources we need to fix the system but we are not making the connections. There are wonderful teachers and school leaders in every education system who see the issues and are working hard to enhance creativity and provide their students with opportunities to collaborate with each other in different age groups, with students in other countries and with industry representatives. These teachers are making a positive difference by working around the system that is so focused on test results and tend to prioritise certain disciplines over others. Sir Ken says a lot of the things that happen in schools are done to aid efficiency rather than education and learning. We need to revolutionise education from the ground up.

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Sir Ken also made the point that it is not just about STEM. He said it is also about the Arts and Humanities. He emphasised that subjects like Mathematics and Science should never be given priority of other curriculum such as the Arts. If our aim is to produce fulfilled individuals and active and compassionate citizens, then teaching Arts and Humanities is as important as teaching Mathematics, Science & Engineering.

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He used an interesting agricultural metaphor to describe the current state of education and how it can be improved. He said that traditional agricultural practices with pesticides and aggressive farming techniques ruin the soil and don’t encourage future yields. More modern and sustainable agricultural approaches place a priority on caring for the soil and yields are stronger and  longer lasting.

This is true of education. The traditional approach has been detrimental for many students who don’t fit the traditional model of what it is to be ‘intelligent’. They are left disengaged with the system and with life. A more sustainable approach that values students rather than the test result produces a much better learning culture for all students, a culture where the miracle of learning is common place.

Sir Ken said the teachers job is to encourage miracles and that teachers are in the miracle business, the best business you can be in.