Does current education suffer from the ‘tyranny of common sense’ ? Will the perspectives and templates that defined our generation sufficiently equip our children for their tomorrows ?
Let’s face it, things have changed. We’ve lived the trajectory – agriculture to industry to information – and have entered an age of ideas and abstractions distinguished by blips, beeps, tweets and twitters, digitization, instant information (and gratification), multi-function appliances, conceptual economies, virtual realities.
Former White House speechwriter Daniel H Pink defines the need of the hour : A Whole New Mind, a whole new approach, a whole new understanding, a whole new kind of thinking.
The systematic, sequential, often binary logic of the Information Age (to which we, adults and parents, belong) has given way to the experimental, insightful, big-picture capabilities of the Conceptual Age (with its inherent, multitudinous distractions) which our children inhabit. The future according to Mr. Pink, belongs to those who can create and innovate, empathize and intuit; to those who are able to enhance utility, purpose and analysis with narrative and context – such as artists, designers, inventors, storytellers, caregivers and big picture thinkers.
Sir Ken Robinson, globally acclaimed leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources (also one of the four international advisers to the Singapore Government on its strategy to make Singapore a creative hub of South East Asia) is of a similar mind. Identifying creativity, flexibility and innovation as the linchpins of this new world, he is a champion of educational models that nurture the unique talents of a child. He believes that the tyranny of common sense limits thinking and creativity and that the priorities of current teaching dislocate many people from their natural talents. Ergo, a deficit in creative thinking which originates in schools and universities, a very real lacuna that organizations everywhere are trying to address.
What we do should be who we are
Education today favours precise concepts of ability. It is linear, it is exacting, it demands compliance and focuses on how to follow instructions, conform to outside expectations, hone competitive skills, and not question the terms of the game.
But the game has changed and countries everywhere are remodeling systems to accommodate the new reality summarized by Thomas L Friedman : the world is flat. Our children are living and competing in a world and a space where geographical boundaries do not apply to information, ideas, money and people.
In a flat world, much is possible overseas, cheaper and faster. Manufacture, maintenance, testing and upgrading can be outsourced, notes Mr. Pink, but not novelty and nuance, not imagination, invention, explanation or personalization because these require aptitudes that can’t be reduced to a set of rules on a spec sheet – ingenuity, personal rapport and gut instinct.
The brave new world of the 21st century calls for agility, open-mindedness and newer abilities. It is a world where the logical, precise, procedural, textual and analytic individual (think computer programmer, think ‘knowledge worker’) is being replaced by a form of thinking and an attitude to life that is … simultaneous, metaphorical, aesthetic, contextual, and synthetic … (exemplified by creators and caregivers, shortchanged by organizations and neglected in schools)”.
Many of us have traveled the pre-ordained path of school-university-job without experiencing the effervescence of knowing that we are doing exactly what we are best equipped to do. How many of us can recognize or will admit that we belong to a regimen of thinking and training that equals a life of rote, of prescription, of points along a continuum ? Does what we do truly reflect who we are ?
So what more should education impart; what more than what it already does ?
Critical thinking. Mobility and speed in today’s world has created a new gestalt that requires much more from an individual in terms of ‘critical’ knowledge and ‘critical’ reasoning. It is not so much what we know, but how – and what – we learn. With technology having demolished time, space, process and boundaries, we need educational systems that embrace process and content, context and detail; that teach how to access, analyse and apply information as and when required. Only then will it fulfill its true purpose – a catalyst of possibilities and opportunities.
Today’s broad-spectrum education has achieved a homogeneity of aspiration and endeavor that is largely prescriptive – in the workplace, at home, in society. What should it offer instead? A process that stimulates, motivates and challenges thinking rather than one that standardizes, regulates and regiments learning, coupled with a personalized approach that mines the individuality, passion, spirit and energy of a child.
The Singapore Focus
In Singapore, the Ministry of Education is clear that “We want to nurture young Singaporeans who ask questions and look for answers, and who are willing to think in new ways, solve new problems and create new opportunities for the future”. To this end, the framework and systems are being restructured so that students have a wider choice in what and how they learn.
In my perfect world, every child should be able to benefit from experiential, value-based education that emphasizes reflection and reasoning, so that in addition to knowing his strengths, he will also know how, where and when to employ them most effectively.
Photographs from betakit.com, http://www.facebook.com/HeartMathMyKids and secrets-2-success.com.