The Role of Education Today.

Inspired by his TED Talks I decided to buy the new edition of Out of Our Minds by Sir Ken Robinson and have spent the odd spare hour here and there over the past couple of days browsing through its pages. I use the word pages loosely and unsure of whether that’s still correct because I actually bought the Kindle edition (a saving of about £8 compared to the hardcover version and accessible instantly) but being over 30-years-old and like most others of my age group I straddle the old analogue world I was born in to with the digital world I’m forced to be part of with only a venere of understanding that any 3-year-old can see straight through without even having to Google it first.

Anyway, I’m 22% of the way through (the Kindle giving me information I never knew I even needed) and I’ve just finished reading about the roles of education. Found interestingly under the heading The Roles of Education on page 66 of the e-edition.

Sir Ken says:

“Education has three main roles: personal, cultural and economic. A great deal could be said about each of these, but let me boil them down here into three basic statements of purpose, which I think are relatively uncontentious:

  • Individual: to develop individual talents and sensibilities
  • Cultural: to deepen understanding of the world
  • Economic: to provide the skills required to earn a living and be economically productive.”

Through my work as a circus skills instructor I’ve noticed that, even in younger children, the last of the three is deemed the most relevant. Now I think its very important, and I’m sure every parent everywhere can’t wait for their own children to become economically productive and self sufficient, but I don’t think its any more important than either of the other two.

Without individual or cultural development a child will not grow to become a well rounded adult capable of navigating through a world that will be vastly different from the one we currently live in.

In fact I’d go so far as to say that a person needs to know who they are and what they bring to the various communities they belong to in order to be economically productive. Its great if you are good with numbers or able to build kitchens or plaster walls, but if you’re unable to relate to the world around you or even recognise the fact that you are in fact the greatest kitchen installer ever to walk the Earth you will not make a penny, cent or ruble from the money-making skills you possess.

Quite often I’ve had kids ask me why they need to learn how to juggle. They don’t see the point because they don’t want to work in a circus.

I used to think this was an excuse they’d use because learning to juggle is a difficult thing to do and they didn’t want to do it for that reason. But I started hearing these same questions from children who had actually learnt how to juggle, they just couldn’t see the point of their newly found skill.

Having done the job for a while and having been a hobbyest for even longer I’ve got many reasons for learning how to juggle tucked up my sleeve, something I’m sure will appear on this blog at some point in the future. But why was this question being asked at all?

The reason, I think, is the fact that these children have learnt that the reason they have gone to school is to learn stuff that will help them get a job in the future. This is, or at least should, be true. But it shouldn’t be the only reason they’ve gone to school. The fact that this question is being asked by primary school aged children suggests that from a very young age they are being brainwashed in to thinking that what they learn in school has to directly link to the jobs market in the future. And that anything else, like learning how to juggle, dance or play piano, is pointless unless they want to become a juggler, dancer or pianist.

The fact is none of us know what jobs are going to be available in the future. Who would have thought we’d have mobile telephones that can connect to the Internet 30-years ago? Who would have thought we’d have the Internet anywhere for that matter?

Its impossible to know what skills kids today will need to be able to work in a world 30-years from now. I’m sure science, maths, languages and technology (all things that education systems around the world prioritise) will still be useful. But the creativity, personal understanding of our own skills and the understanding of the wider world that’s learnt through activities like dance, music and other artistic endeavours need to have as much emphasis placed on them as those traditional subjects.

Without these skills children today won’t be able to carve their own path in the future.

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