Sir Ken Robinson, educator, author and speaker on the most watched Ted Talk in history, talks to Education Matters.
When you have the opportunity to ask questions of an educator who advises departments of education around the world and has the most viewed Ted Talk ever, the smartest thing you can do is simply listen.
This was the case when Education Matters sat with Sir Ken Robinson, whose Ted Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity? is the most viewed on the platform and who was knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth for his services to the Arts.
Sir Ken was a keynote speaker at the National FutureSchools Expo 2018 in Melbourne, where he captured a packed auditorium with his view that the pattern of educational reform for more than 20 years has been a “catastrophic failure”.
Educational policies across the world, he says, are based on three precepts that are “misconceived and hostile to human development”.
Those are conformity, compliance and competition, Sir Ken says.
His keynote speech was, unsurprisingly to those who have viewed his talks, witty, insightful and name-droppingly funny, as he spoke of hanging out with Paul McCartney (also a “Sir”, but just “Paul” to Sir Ken) and “The” Dalai Lama.
But he was hailed more by the educators in the room for his mission to “speak truth to power” to policymakers who regulate education around the world.
Sir Ken describes politicians who want to ‘fix’ education, as if it’s an exotic virus we just don’t know what to do with.
“We already know what to do in education, and there are brilliant schools doing it everywhere,” he says.
In addition to his keynote speech, Sir Ken took part in a panel discussion, met with officials from the Victorian Department of Education, and signed his latest book in a session that went almost an hour overtime because of his popularity.
The book, You, Your Child and School, was written with author Lou Aronica to help parents learn about the type of education their children need, and how to ensure they get it.
Sir Ken says he was lucky enough to fit well with the education system of his time, but his daughter did not.
“I think that a lot of parents naturally work on the assumption that kids need the same kind of education that they had, or that the way the system in the country is set up is the right system – they have to get their kids to adapt to it,” he says.
To him it is clear that the current systems are not conducive to helping students, especially those that don’t fit in.
“For some people, it works, but it doesn’t work for a great many people,” he says. “There is no reason we shouldn’t have education systems that work for everybody.”
The book instructs parents on what their children really need, given the way the world is shifting.
“How the system works, and also to encourage them to know they have more power than they think in getting the education they do need.”
He doesn’t see what he says as complicated or deliberately provocative, but says he is merely trying to set out what seem to him some obvious truths about children, about how they learn and how society can create conditions where they will want to learn.
“Kids love to learn, they don’t always like education, some have a big problem with schools,” he says.
However, a school, properly conceived, is a community of learners rather than a place with bells and hierarchies and competitions, Sir Ken says.
We are born with an exuberant curiosity to learn, but have institutions and systems that are sometimes obstructive to the process of learning, he says.
He sees Australia as having a lot of ‘wriggle room’ for beneficial change in education, but says it takes a clear vision for how things can be.
“Here, as elsewhere, it’s in spite the political system, rather than because of it,” he says.
“There is a tendency for governments to stick with the old model because they understand it, and the model, on the whole, is command and control.”