Our conveyor-belt education system is geared towards the production
of clones and parrots, not imaginative, creative and curious human
beings. Is it any wonder our children are stressed and unhappy?
According to lobby group Leave Them Kids Alone, upwards of 3,500 UK
schools are fingerprinting their students, with biometric equipment
bought from two Department for Children, Schools and Families-approved
Could there be a more frightening motif for our brave new world of order and control?
It's true that this equipment is, ostensibly, being used for
computerised class registers and libraries, in order to ease the
bureaucratic headache of many schools. True, too, that the Information
Commissioner has issued guidelines that parental consent should be
obtained, and records removed by a data-cleansing service When a child
leaves the school. But that really is not the point.
The trend speaks volumes about our mechanised approach to Our
children in an education system created in the image of the Industrial
Revolution and still maintained today, in service of keeping the cogs in
the global economy turning. Perhaps it is time to update the old adage
that a child is not a vessel waiting to be filled, but a lamp to be lit.
In today's educational climate, perhaps we need to see children not
simply as units to be processed and counted, but instead as future
citizens to be empowered to address boldly the legacy of problems --
environmental, social and economic -- they will inevitably face as
Although businesses today urgently need people who can cope with and
contribute to the breathless rate of economic, technological and
ecological change, Sir Ken Robinson, author of Out Of Our Minds:
Learning to be Creative, thinks that schools are failing adequately to
equip children with the qualities they need to do so.
'There is another crisis today in addition to the climate crisis,' he
says. 'It's a crisis of human resources, and in particular a failure to
tap the full potential of human creativity and imagination. There are
major problems facing all organisations in recruiting and retaining
people with creative abilities, powers of communication and
adaptability. Although young people have these qualities in abundance,
by the time they emerge from formal education many of them do not.'
Revealing research shows that young people lose their ability to
think in 'divergent or non-linear ways' as they get older. Divergent
thinking is defined by the ability to generate many, or more complex or
complicated, ideas from an original idea, and then to elaborate upon
those ideas. It is a key component of creativity.
More than a decade ago, in their book Breakpoint and Beyond:
Mastering the Future Today, George Land, a world-renowned general
systems scientist, and Beth Jarman recorded research on divergent
thinking that they had carried out over a series of years.
Of 1,600 children, aged three to five, who were tested, 98 per cent
showed they could think in divergent ways. By the time they were aged
eight to 10, 32 per cent could think divergently. When the same test was
applied to children aged 13 to 15 years old, only 10 per cent could
think in this way. And when the test was used on 200,000 25-year-olds,
only 2 per cent could think divergently.
The reason for this, according to Guy Claxton, professor of Learning
Science at Bristol University and author of What's the Point of School?
(published this month by Oneworld), is that school is -- at worst -- a
protracted apprenticeship in passivity, uncritical thought and
'You can get good results by spoon-feeding, but you don't get
creative, independent minds,' he says. 'There's no evidence that
learning to solve simultaneous equations prepares you for the
uncertainty and difficulty of real life. But we blunder on in the vain
hope that somehow it will.'
Indeed, if we are to believe the media reports of teenage gangs,
binge-drinking, drug-taking and pregnancy, children have enough problems
dealing with the present, let alone the harsh reality they may face in
'Many young people today are exhibiting the signs of stress, which
they act out in destructive and/or self-destructive ways,' says Claxton.
'People "do" stress when they don't feel they have the resources to
meet the demands of an uncertain world; but instead of school helping
youngsters to develop those resources, like a vicious circle they
increasingly see education as yet another set of demands they have to
Clearly; to create leaders and managers to steer the business
community in the right direction is not the only purpose of schools, but
as Maurice Holt, emeritus professor of Education at the University of
Colorado at Denver, says in his 2002 article, 'It's time to start the
Slow School Movement', the purpose of education should essentially be
about equipping children with the ability to act responsibly in a
Richard Gerver, an award-winning primary school headmaster at Grange
Primary School, Derbyshire, agrees. 'We have to re-engage with the
essential purpose of education and question its underlying moral
imperative,' she says. 'We have to move beyond framing the discussion as
a matter of how many exams a child has, and ask the question, "what
will our children be like as people, as human beings, when they leave
school?" -- and having established that, what to do in the process of
education to achieve that:
Obviously, it is important not dismiss the value of the verbal and
mathematical reasoning central to academic life today. As key drivers of
the Industrial Revolution, one can argue that their benefits to society
to date have been immeasurable. By the same token, it is arguable that
we won't work out how to solve the environmental costs of the Industrial
Revolution if we continue to equate these faculties with the totality
of human intelligence.
As an index of human potential, current leading-edge research into
the brain points towards a far more diverse, human intelligence than
previously suggested by the notion of the intelligence quotient (IQ).
American psychologist Howard Gardner's multiple-intelligence theory, for
example, broadens the concept of intelligence to acknowledge behaviours
and skills that would otherwise be called 'abilities', as reflective of
the different ways people think and learn. His schematic of eight
different types of intelligence includes naturalistic intelligence
(nurturing and relating to information in one's natural surroundings)
and bodily-kinesthetic (the intelligence deployed in activities that
utilise movement: sport, dance, acting, building and making things).
Hardly the stuff that will get you into Mensa.
If we want to create an education system that creates citizens whose
curiosity extends beyond the next episode of their favourite TV soap,
however, and who aspire instead to be creative, intelligent guardians of
the Earth, then it's arguable that a more diverse, child-centred
education, including a central role for subjects that nurture nonlinear,
creative thinking, is essential.…