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New ideas needed for a new world

A growing population and changing technology mean a curriculum based on the assumptions of the Industrial Revolution is out of date, argues Ken Robinson

Throughout the world, systems of education are being reformed to meet the challenges of the 21st century. These challenges are economic - they are about changes in the nature of work; and they are cultural - they are about changing values and ways of life.

National reform programmes in education typically focus on raising standards of literacy and numeracy and on certain sorts of academic ability, the so-called "basics" of education. These approaches are inadequate to the challenges that education now faces. As global population grows and the impact of technology accelerates, the old foundations of education are shifting beneath our feet.

One example is the falling value of conventional academic qualifications, including university degrees. All around the world, education is caught up in a revolution. A core problem is that our present systems of education are rooted in the economic and cultural assumptions of the Industrial Revolution, and some of them just don't apply to the world that young people are living in now, nor to the futures they face. Children starting school in 2006 will be retiring around 2065. The lives they live will be fundamentally different from those of their parents and grandparents.

Consequently, reforming education is not simply a matter of doing better what we did in the past. We have to do something different, something more.

Raising standards of literacy and numeracy is essential. I don't know anyone who thinks it's not. But there are other "basics" now, and developing the creative abilities of all young people is one of them. The reasons are individual, cultural and economic. The trouble is that public debate on education has been hamstrung by two weary ideas. First, that this is all a contest between so-called traditional and progressive education; second, that promoting creativity is a distraction from, if not an actual impediment to, raising standards in schools. Chris Woodhead has been widely - let's hope wrongly - associated with both ideas. It really is time to reframe the conversation. These are issues that affect everyone in the country. The Great Debate is an opportunity for ideas that address the challenges of the 21st century, rather than for those that misconceive them in the language and rhetoric of the 19th.

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