November 10, 2015 by James

Last month I was lucky enough to attend one of the Virgin Disruptor events – ‘The Future of Education’, where influencers such as Richard Branson and Chase Jarvis were sharing their thoughts on what the direction of learning should be as we move along in the 21st century.

Like any good event the WeWork venue was very fitting, the food was really tasty, and the organisation of it all was spot on. What really stole the show though, as you’d probably expect, were some of the messages that came from the speakers – a few of which I’d like to share with you.

Branson led the way by getting straight into the ‘nitty gritty’, suggesting children can learn everything they need from school by the age of 15 or 16 – this opinion fuelled by the question ‘what do we actually remember and use that we’ve learnt from school’. Of course school provides invaluable lessons that teach us to read, write and do essential mathematics, but we do waste a lot of valuable time in school with un-optional and unnecessary learning.  A great example from Branson was the learning of French. We spend years and years learning it, barely anyone after school can speak it, and they speak English in France anyway. This may come across as arrogant or obnoxious, but it’s a bit like asking someone a question they probably (like you) don’t know rather than just ‘Googling’ it. And on a contextually relevant side note, I’m a bit surprised to see ‘Googling’ underlined in red.  Anyway, back to the point – when you look at Spanish, it’s spoken by almost half of the world and people can actually use it once they’ve invested years into learning it, yet there is still less emphasis on learning this language in British schools. Children of course should be able to learn French should they wish to, but Branson’s thoughts do highlight a very significant point – children really should be learning in the context of todays world.

Branson strongly advises getting classroom-based learning out of your life as quickly as possible. It makes sense; as pretty much everything we do is a learning experience, why corner our learning into the same environment for hours each day? Get out into the world, travel, and learn by getting your hands dirty on a job in an area that interests you. We should have the opportunity to explore and find out what we love, and then learn about it properly by actually doing it. As one of Branson’s fellow speakers, Chase Jarvis (American professional photographer, director, artist, and entrepreneur) said – ‘Inspiration is required for learning, you need to love to learn in order to want to learn’.

What’s more is that what’s happening in other parts of the world is having an increasing impact on our own lives, yet there is a very obvious lack in education on it. For example, schools teach a lot about conflicts of the past such as World War 1&2, the Vietnam War, British Civil war etc. However, there is no focus on the conflicts of today. Why? Surely this is hugely relevant to the world the youth are living in and the one in which they will live their whole lives. Instead of leaving these lessons in the hands of the often biased (and that’s being generous) media to shape young peoples minds, children should be given a chance to understand what is happening in the world and why, form their own opinions about it and maybe even find ways to help for the better.

So where does creativity fit into all of this?

Well, the world around us has been changing at an astronomical pace. The way we do almost everything has changed drastically over the years, especially the last decade or so with the evolution of the Internet, without which most of our lives would come to a complete stand still. The way we spend money, the way we communicate, the way we get from A to B. In an ever changing world that demands creativity, why do we still have an education system that has remained very much the same since the 19th century, stagnated in a way that gears future generations to be successful in yesterdays world? Sir Ken Robinson delivers an exceptional TED talk around how this education system is in fact killing creativity!

Now the education I’ve received has been extremely important in my own life, as I am sure it has contributed greatly to many of your own successes. There does however, seem to be an overwhelming need for change.

Chase Jarvis has labelled creativity as the new literacy. If we are to maintain the exponential rate at which we are creating amazing things, creativity shouldn’t be cornered through application to art form only, it needs to be in the approach we take to everything. Yet 25% of school time is still spent in standardised tests. We are able to find out almost any piece of information within seconds, so why are we spending endless hours cramming knowledge (most of which we will never use again) into our memories. Success is still largely measured by achievement in the same academic subjects that were at the top of the hierarchy 100’s of years ago – channelling the majority to be academically great and steering them away from un-structured curiosity and exploration.

What summed this up perfectly for me was a realisation from one of the speakers – an engineer from a company called Aldebaran, a French robotics company who build autonomous, programmable humanoid robots. When the robots were introduced, the first questions asked by the children were ‘Can I?’ and ‘Am I allowed to?’ Now these robots are able to play football and converse with humans in 27 different languages so of course there were many intrigued minds. The realisation though, was that children were asking permission to be creative. I’m a stickler for manners, but why aren’t we encouraging our future generations to jump in and learn by trying and doing, rather than being scared to do exactly that?

It seems there is a protective barrier around the way we allow children and young adults to learn. Why don’t we start removing some of these barriers and give them a say in what they learn and how they go about it. Let them learn from the mistakes they make whilst experiencing the things they have interest in, rather than asking them to constantly regurgitate information and showing them their mistakes in red pen. As we move into the future we are going to need more and more people who aren’t scared to turn things on their head in order to produce unimaginable results, so why don’t we encourage and harness this type of approach at our most bonkers and creative stage in life?

For me, the relationship between context and creativity are key to the future of education and learning in general. Give children a chance to learn about the world we are living in today, to be curious amongst it, explore within it, find things they love and care about and develop a mind-set that sets them no boundaries. Set them up to actually be able to be successful in whatever area it is they desire (not just falsely promise it), to be creative in approach, maybe even a little bit crazy. The world is going places we cannot even dream of, but that should not prevent us from allowing young minds to dream and do amazing things.

And I leave you with a thought provoking quote from the event:

“For the first time ever people are coming out of school less creative than when they went in.”

And that’s just not cool.