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We are all born with fathomless capacities, but what we make of them has everything to do with education. One role of education is to help people develop their natural talents and abilities; the other is to help them make their way in the world around them. Too often, education falls short on both counts. As we face an increasingly febrile future, it’s vital to do better. For that to happen, education has to be urgently transformed. We have the resources and the expertise, but now we need the vision and commitment.
In my book, You, Your Child and School, I make a distinction between learning, education and school. Learning is acquiring new skills and understanding; education is an organised system of learning; a school is a community of learners. All children love to learn, but many have a hard time with education and some have big problems with school.
Usually, the problem is not the learners – it’s the inherent bias of education and the enforced culture of schools. For generations, formal education has been systematically biased towards narrow forms of academic ability. The result is that it largely disregards the marvellous diversity of human talents and interests.
For the past generation especially, politicians have been smothering schools in a depressing culture of standardisation. As a result, they have been marginalising the very capabilities our children need to create a more equitable and sustainable world – by which I mean creativity, compassion citizenship and collaboration.
As far as we know, human beings are the most creative creatures ever to walk the Earth. We are endowed with deep powers of imagination and the physical capacities to realise our imaginings in complex languages, theories and beliefs, as well as in the tangible forms of technology, architecture, agriculture, the arts and the sciences and so on.
The trouble is that, in the past 300 years, we have created civilisations that have dislocated our relationships with the natural environment and that now imperil our survival as a species. We face existential challenges. We have immense capabilities to innovate, but the clock is ticking and education is the only key to unlocking these capacities – not the torpid system of testing we have now, but forms of education that celebrate and cultivate these unique powers deliberately.