Opening up thinking about education today for tomorrow - Imagining possibilities and solutions

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Conversation from Penn State with Sir Ken Robinson: Education Innovation - Learning the true meaning of creativity

I woke up this morning to find I'd received the following email from Stephanie Williams from WPSU/Penn State Public Broadcasting:

As I'm sure you're aware, many experts believe the education system in the U.S. needs significant restructuring. WPSU-TV recently interviewed Sir Ken Robinson on a series called “Conversations From Penn State” where he discussed the problems facing the education system and suggests ways to improve it by promoting creativity. After reading through your blog, I think you and your readers may be interested in the interview. It can be found at and I have provided the embed code at the bottom of this message if you wish to share the video. Please let me know if you have any question or if you decide to post the video.
Stephanie Williams

As regular readers would know, I resonate strongly with Sir Ken Robinson and what he has to say about education.

Often times teachers and leaders in schools are hamstrung by an education system that is focused on reforming and teacher-proofing, resulting in standardising students and de-professionalising teachers.

However, There are many people in education for whom teaching and education is their passion. It is where they are in their element.

Video: Conversation from Penn State with Sir Ken Robinson
This conversation draws on Ken Robinson's work, The Element. During the conversation he makes the following points:
  • People underestimate themselves
  • The problem is the education system, not teachers and principals
  • Transformation is what's required, not reform
  • There's an obsession with Standardised Testing
  • Schooling is resulting in "standardising" kids
  • Reforms are focused on teacher-proofing.
After viewing the video I'm left with the opening question that was put to Ken Robinson:

What sparked your interest in education?
I'd be interested in what your thoughts on the conversation are. I have placed my own summary, comments and thoughts after the video.

My summary, comments and thoughts on the conversation
I have been working on my PhD studies which has involved me interviewing many primary and secondary teachers. As part of the interviews teachers commented on their view of schooling and themselves as a teacher. Several of these teachers, primary and secondary, commented that teaching is more than content and subject areas. Teaching is about students realising their full potential.

These teachers seem to believe this, yet an outcome of the education system, according to Robinson, is people underestimating themselves. Robinson highlights this when he comments that there is a view that only special people are creative or are good at Maths. For me it raises questions as to what we might mean be "full potential".

Robinson indicates that systems of mass education are the result of mass industrialism. The education system has been crafted in the image of industrialism. The education system is linear and based around supply and demand. It's a system that is about conformity, standardising and a presumed workforce and less about diversity. The system is founded on the IDEA of UTILITY: that is what will be useful in gaining employment and making a living.

For Robinson, education systems are obsessed with standardised testing. This culture of testing can result in narrowing the curriculum and teaching to the test. This comes at a price for students and teachers. Robinson believes that in attempting to deal with a culture of standardised tests the education system is standardising students. It also results in a stripping away of teacher professionalism.

Many Government policy makers invest huge amounts of time, money and energy in attempts to
teacher-proof the system through public accountability resulting in standardisation: teacher standards, leadership standards, standardised testing, public reporting of results comparing schools, common curriculum.

Teacher-proofing won't work. Why? Because teaching is more complex than standardised solutions. Scotland discovered this. Improvement processes can result in isomorphism - where it all starts to look the same, no matter the context. Robinson states that students don't comment on the curriculum or the testing regimes as making a difference to them at school.

Students regularly comment that it is the teachers who were significant to them at school. It's teachers (or other mentors) who can result in students realising their passion, and perhaps their full potential.

Many leaders and teachers are grappling with the issues of transformation. Just the other day I was having a conversation with a secondary teacher around the need for things to be different in schools. The teacher, a very competent and successful teacher teaching in a highly complex secondary school, commented on the challenges she was faced with on a daily basis. The world isn't changing - it has changed.


Mick Prest said...

Thanks for the connection! I am sitting watching it on our new TV that connects to the internet by itself! Very cool and yet another example of the change that has taken place. I really enjoy Ken (sorry Sir Ken!) it was good to find this and to hear hime saying some oth the things he has said before but in a more measured manner. I'll pass it around. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Awesome site, I had not noticed earlier during my searches!
Continue the great work!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the link, but unfortunately it seems to be down... Does anybody have a mirror or another source? Please answer to my post if you do!

I would appreciate if a staff member here at could post it.


Andrew said...

Thanks for your comment Peter,

All the links within the post are active.

Failing that try:


Anonymous said...


This is a question for the webmaster/admin here at

May I use some of the information from this blog post right above if I provide a backlink back to this website?


Andrew said...

Hi Thomas

You are more than welcome to use information from the blog. The backlink is appreciated.


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