British author and speaker Sir Ken Robinson is known for several accomplishments, from his books to his professorships to his TED talks. But in 2006, he gained recognition for something that no other TED speaker in history has done. It was back then that he delivered a TED talk on the topic of whether schools kill students’ creativity—and today, that video has been viewed over 43 million times, currently holding the title of “most popular TED talk of all time.”
Well, it’s been over ten years, and with the recent proliferation of terms like “personalised,” “mastery-based,” and “blended” in the education world, some of Robinson’s viewers may wonder if or how his take on schools has changed.
At the “Power and Possibility of Individualized Learning” event held in Minneapolis on February 22, co-hosted by the Bush Foundation and the School Leadership Project, Robinson delivered a keynote address in which he spoke to the “learning revolution,” arguing that the shift to personalised learning is a non-negotiable if education is prepared students for the future, instead of simply the “now.”
So, why then is personalised learning a non-negotiable?
Why Problems Arise When Kids Go to School
For Robinson, his background in education extends all the way back to when he graduated from college. And over those thirty years, he has found that the solutions to education’s biggest issues are not a mystery.
“Honestly, we know what works in education, and what doesn’t,” he said.
A huge misconception amongst adults, according to Robinson, is that kids don’t like to learn. On the contrary, “my conviction is that kids love to learn. That’s not the problem,” he shared. Rather, “it’s the construct of school” that beats a love to learn out of students, he says.
And why? “The problems tends to arise when kids go to school because the deeper they get in, the more they start to lose interest,” Robinson said, pointing to the United States’ large student dropout percentage as evidence that school—as a system—is failing students.
If it’s the system that creates the very problems educators, policymakers and funders keep trying to solve, what is the answer? In Robinson’s mind, there are three themes to be aware of when considering how to change education as it looks today:
- It’s a time of revolution in many industries across the world. “I mean that literally. There are changes on the planet now that are without precedent,” he said. “We have an exponential rate of technological change, over the past 30 years in particular. We’re heading into a period of even more radical technological innovation, and with it will go entire industries.”
- If populations are to meet this revolution, we have to think differently, particularly about the individual self. “We have to reframe the abilities of our children. We have deep natural talents, but we have to discover them and cultivate them. If you have a narrow view of ability, you generate an enormous about of inability.”
- Thus, we have to rethink how we do school. “There are systems we’ve created for efficiency, not to get people to learn things,” Robinson started, later adding, “We organize our kids’ learning by their date of birth. We don’t do that anywhere else, except school.”
What We Could Do Better…
For Robinson, the very concept of “school” becomes problematic when considering all of the other “incidentals and fiction” that have become attached to it over the last 50 years. One key example: standardized testing.
Because the government has largely been driven by an economic imperative to be a force in the global market (oftentimes said to have been turbo-charged by Reagan’s A Nation at Risk report), this has resulted in fewer concerns over individualization of student learning. Rather, the government, according to Robinson, has essentially pushed for more and more nationwide testing in order to 1) standardize everything, and 2) try and improve education “through an intense process of competition.”
One of the major issues with this is the sheer amount of money that goes into this system every year. In 2013 alone, the U.S. education testing and support industry was a $16 billion business. Compare that to the NFL ($9 billion) and the U.S. domestic cinema box office ($11.2 billion.)
And the other problem with standardised testing? “This does not prepare kids to achieve,” Robinson says. “Kids need to be able to communicate, work in teams.”
Read the full interview here