Education: The Workshop for Talent

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It was the Labour government of 1997 under the leadership of Tony Blair that focused on improving education for all. In the 2001 launch of the Labour education manifesto Blair outlined that “[o]ur top priority was, is and always will be education, education, education. To overcome decades of neglect and make Britain a learning society, developing the talents and raising the ambitions of all our young people.”[1] And it is indeed true that Blair did reform the education system, having shifted focus from results only from Math, English and Science to include a wide range of 5 good GCSE’s from across the board. However, the focus on cognitively demanding subjects still prevails over the arts. Teachers continue to point out that children are being grown out of creativity by the obsession with mechanized testing and league tables and so it is clear that reform is needed.[2]

 

Sir Kenneth Robinson, an international advisor on education in the arts, points out that as you grow up and pass through the different stages of school “education slowly focuses on the waist up, then the head and then slightly to one side.”[3] The big issue with this model of education in many countries in the developed world is that it stems from the needs of the 19th century industrialising world. In a similar manner to the production line of British factories, schools produce people exactly the same, with the same skills; whilst what the world really needs is a broad diverse range of talents.

 

It is clear that what the education system needs is a paradigm shift from the mechanical testing of purely academic subjects to include creative and art subjects. The world focuses on archaic testing in exam conditions. But education is an organic system not a mechanical system and therefore, as in nature, parts of that system thrive in different conditions. Some academics can thrive in harsh intellectually demanding environments, whereas they may struggle in a creative one. Whereas more creative people may struggle in the cognitively demanding environment. However, it is clear that the standardised tests that the education system uses are inadequate in measuring creative success. It would seem wiser than to implement a wide ranging evaluative approach to learning, allowing teachers and students to see the full range of their skills across all subjects throughout the year, rather than all their study culminating into a single high pressure test in which many people collapse under the pressure and fail to perform as well as they would otherwise.[4]

 

Alongside the reform of testing to produce much more rounded presentations of the skills that students have it is arguable that the role of teachers is just as important. The English education system maintains the 19th century view of absorption and regurgitation of information. Teachers hold a vital position in society where they are responsible for moulding the young into the civilisation of the future. The question remains however, that their position is so vital to the education of children and securing the intellect and creativity of the future working force yet why are they disregarded by society and marked in line with student performance? With Ofqual announcing that in 2013 more than 60% of students gaining A*-C grades in English, Math and Science[5] are those who do well in more creative subjects such as Art and Creative Media being forgotten by the statistics? By improving the status of the teachers it would give them more control in the classroom to develop their own teaching style in their specialist subject. This would arguably allow for teachers to nurture the innate talent of students without providing them with an environment in which they cannot explore their interests. Sir Kenneth Robinson, on the point of an increase in childhood diagnosis of ADHD, stated that “if you have them doing low clerical work of course they’re going to fidget.”[6] Thus by following the mechanised ritual of standardised testing in the current education system children are often funnelled into purely academic subjects in which they do not excel and are therefore deemed failures in those subject areas and by extension their school career.

 

By focusing on a more performance based evaluation throughout all subject areas and by improving the status of teachers in their profession it enables children to explore their creativity much more in a classroom environment and without the focus on standardised testing children aren’t funnelled into a final performance of their pure academic understanding. It is clear that the only way to encourage creativity is to update the education system and bring it into the 21st Century where the archaic production line of educating becomes the hand moulded craft of learning and exploring to produce children with academic ability and with the creative edge that the modern world appears to lack.

Written by Brandon Ashford, edited by Michael Higgs 


[1] Rt Hon Tony Blair, speech launching the Labour Education Manifesto given at the University of Southampton, May 2001

[2] Watkins, C. (2010). Learning, Performance and Improvement. Research Matters series No 34

[3] Sir Kenneth Robinson, Ted Talk 2006: Schools Kill Creativity

[4] Watkins, C. (2010). Learning, Performance and Improvement. Research Matters series No 34

[5] Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, Summer 2013 GCSE Results Statement: Joint Council for Qualifications, 2013 GCSE Results data

[6] Sir Kenneth Robinson, Ted Talk 2013: How to Escape Education’s Death Valley