Finding Your Element – Ken Robinson

This is a book everyone involved in education and every parent should read page to page. The late Sir Ken Robinson refers to the experience of personal talent meeting personal passion. He says the Element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. It is here, we feel most ourselves, most inspired, and reach our highest level. Robinson argues for the need to find the Element which is essential for all of us and explores the conditions that lead us to live lives that are filled with passion, confidence and personal achievement. He makes the case for personalised education. There is the argument that standardisation broke education.

Education has to play two roles: one, to help people develop their natural talents and abilities, and the other, to help them make their way through the world around them. Unfortunately, education very often does not achieve either of these goals. In an uncertain world, he argues that we need to do better on both these counts. Education has to be transformed. While we have the resources and expertise, he says that we need the vision, strong commitment and political resolve.

Robinson makes a distinction between learning, education and schools: “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.” The problem lies not with the learners, but with the bias of education and the enforced culture of schools. The emphasis on looking at a narrow form of academic ability – the IQ has resulted in us ignoring the diversity of talents. Standardisation has harmed schools and marginalised those capabilities of our children which

are needed to create a more equitable and sustainable world. Creativity, compassion, citizenship and collaboration are lost virtues. He adds that our cultures and societies are connected, yet there is so much contradiction, factionalism and dissent.

Education is not the cause of these problems, nor is it a panacea for them. But it must be part of the solution. To be so, schools must teach and practice the benefits of citizenship, cultural literacy and compassion. He makes the case for children understanding and learning the importance of collaboration for the human adventure to be carried forward. One can realise the importance for an education to be collaborative rather than competitive. The fact is technology can expand our collaboration and help us teach better and far more effectively. For instance, Wikipedia is the largest compilation of human knowledge ever attempted, and it’s entirely collaborative and self-correcting.

The need for a rethink on the whole ecosystem of education and school reform is critical with the growing movement in alternative education. As artificial intelligence evolves and its impact grows, we will have to ask ourselves what it is that makes us distinctly human.

We need to build schools that value the social dimension of learning and making learning relevant to practical work. Schools need to give equal emphasis to arts and sciences. They must encourage learning and make it personalised. We need to stir the motivation, vision, optimism, and political commitment.