We have finally reached the end of The Element! In this final chapter - Making the Grade - Sir Ken Robinson looks at the role school plays in our lives (a topic we're certainly interested in!). Share your thoughts on the role school played in finding your Element!
Rhonda & the Bridgeway team
Many of the people you'll find in The Element didn't do well in school. Take Sir Richard Branson as a example. In school, he was good at athletics and showed a flair for business. Unfortunately, his grades were poor, which confused his teachers, who knew bright and industrious. Branson left school at sixteen, and one teacher predicted he would either be in jail or be a millionaire by the time he was 21.
As it turns out, Richard Branson followed his passion - his entrepreneurial spirit - and started a magazine. He followed with a mail order business selling records, which eventually evolved into the Virgin Megastores. he eventually launched Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Cola, Virgin Trains and Virgin Fuel. Now, he's starting Virgin Galactic, the first commercial endeavour to send people into space.
Why did school not work out for Richard Branson? He eventually learned he had dyslexia, which also impacted his ability to do math. He has created his empire through his passion and creativity, but surrounds himself with others who help with the areas where he struggles (accountants!). Would his teachers have predicted this as his future if they went strictly by his grades? Probably not.
Sir Ken believes that, "public education puts relentless pressure on its students to conform." He sees schools as a product of industrialism - they have been created like the factory culture they were designed to support. It does well for some, but dropout rates continue to climb. He believes that, "the structure and character of industrial education are creaking under the strain of the twenty-first century." He points to the declining value of a post-secondary degree as a symptom of the problem. Students are no longer guaranteed jobs in their field of study, mostly because so many people have degrees today. In the past, when most jobs were manual or blue-collar, only a few people went to college. That's changed, as has the job situation, where more jobs involve digital technology and information systems. More people need degrees, so more are getting them. The pressure to succeed at this level is increasing as well, with some countries putting pressure on their youngest members to start preparing at the earliest stages.
Most education systems in the world are going through reform, both for economic and cultural reasons. But Sir Ken believes that, "the mistake that many policymakers make is to believe that in education the best way to face the future is by improving what they did in the past." He breaks the education system into three main processes - the curriculum (what the school system expects the student to learn); pedagogy (the process by which the system helps students do it); and assessment (the process of judging how they're doing). Most reform focuses on curriculum and assessment, which reinforces the old hierarchy of subjects and puts even more emphasis on assessment. Overuse of standardized testing, Sir Ken argues, turns it from a tool to a focus of education.
Sir Ken argues for more focus on teaching, which is fundamentally important in raising standards in education. Great schools always have great teachers in them. But that's not enough. We'll give the last word today to Sir Ken:
"The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn't need to be reformed - it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions. The key is to embrace the core principles of the Element. Some of the most invigorating and successful innovations in education around the world illustrate the real power of this approach."
Tomorrow, in our final installment, we'll examine Sir Ken Robinson's call for the transformation of education, which is also the subject of his presentation this April at Emergent Learning: Turning Tides in 21st Century Education in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We hope you can join us!
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