Is education the secret to high productivity?
From the moment you step into the walls of the Milwaukee Public Museum, the thought is that you are leaving the ordinary and entering the extraordinary. Through an array of enlightening exhibits, and perhaps most importantly, learning stations designed for quick, deep immersion, one learns from expert, in person guidance about subjects from robotics to wine tasting.
The educational theme is twofold: the Museum encourages individuals to research, write about, discuss, and interrogate their own history. In essence, learning is a key to defining your own identity and making better decisions than you might have made without learning.
This is the third installment of our series, In Their Own Words, where we seek to peel back the layers of an enterprise and understand a person’s path to success.
We asked Sir Ken Robinson, the world-renowned education pioneer and author of many books on human potential and creativity, to give us his insights on why education matters for productivity and creativity.
Why do you think education matters for productivity and creativity?
Education matters for two reasons: not only does it enable us to achieve ourselves, but it also gives us skills that are really crucial to being productive–skills like leadership, conflict resolution, and the capacity to work on their own. Those same skills, in many cases, can also be used to create problems, so it is important to equip students with those skills.
How do you ensure the skills students learn do not become things they lose focus on later in life?
[In] education, it’s really important to make sure the individual is there at the beginning of the school year to work with teachers on building the skill set they need for the skills they actually need at the end of the school year.
How does design help the lesson take hold?
Design is incredibly important because it gets people to focus on why they care. I think most people look for meaning in their life, and design gets that meaning across. We teach K to 8, and schools are right where young people should be in the development of their thinking.
Can you share an example from your childhood of learning and inspiration?
I grew up in the school system, went to private school, and then did postgraduate work in education. I’ve now put my training in economics and design to good use, most notably at Toronto’s Centre for Science Teaching and Learning. I’ve seen the philosophy develop and evolve, and now work at my institute, not to mention helping on the economic side as well. But back in the day, back in my teaching days, I did what most teachers do, which is focus on motivation.
The absolute best way to ensure people actually want to learn is to design the things they want to learn.
What key “recipe” did you need in your educational toolkit that has not really been necessary to me as a teacher and that your institutes have found attractive?
The most useful recipe I had when I was teaching was a staff approach, in which teachers are collaborative, but still hold students accountable. That can come across in terms of video projects or projects around math and statistics. My other favorite was also really local: putting in a gym in my first year of teaching, because I saw kids jump rope, play basketball, and do other physical activities.
What advice would you give to a high school or college professor looking to stimulate student productivity, inquiry, and creativity?
I’d first say to look at your curriculum from a researcher’s perspective. Education should not be a mystery to students. What do they actually care about? What do they understand? One of the best ways to stimulate that is to question what the curriculum is. I think this is the best educational approach to modernizing learning.
In the 1950s, most schools were redesigned as train stations. There were a lot of interconnections, and in some ways, there were information points. Over the last 40 years or so, a lot of schools have started moving back to the old model. I think it’s time to question what are we doing in terms of education and how can we reimagine it?
In your most recent book you discuss how society is missing out on a great opportunity to train the next generation for the world of jobs of the future. How do you think we will approach it?
[The first thing] to acknowledge is that technology is having an enormous impact on what we are all doing in our workplaces. Once it became clear that children could do the kinds of things today that 10, 20, or 30 years ago were not possible, teachers had to up their game to get kids engaged in learning to do it.