Robots cannot reason

In an article published by The Guardian this week, George Monbiot ponders why, “in an age of robots, schools are teaching our children to be redundant. The best teachers use their character, creativity and inspiration to trigger children’s instinct to learn. So why are character, creativity and inspiration suppressed by a stifling regime of micromanagement?”

Why indeed. Concurring with both Monbiot and Graham Brown-Martin cited by Monbiot in his article (author of the book “Learning Reimagined” and the founder of Learning Without Frontiers, a global think tank bringing together educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning), I believe there to be several reasons for such anomalies.

  • History – our schools, according to Brown-Martin, were designed to produce the workforce required by 19th century factories. The desired product was workers who would sit silently at their benches all day, behaving identically, to produce identical products, submitting to punishment if they failed to achieve the requisite standards.
  • Politics – Sir David Bell (a former chief of Ofsted) considers education to have fallen prey to electoral cycles. Education is now a topic used frequently during campaigns; a means of political firefighting and forms part of ‘ministerial whims’ which have a damaging impact on our children’s future. The government has also focused on “control”; ensuring nurseries and early years educators promote British values and are aligned with the need to protect children from views that are considered extreme.
  • Democracy – there may have been misguided interpretations of the views of educational theorists, such as John Dewey. Dewey regarded the mind and its formation as a communal process, with the individual being a meaningful concept only when regarded as an inextricable part of his or her society, and the society having no meaning apart from its realisation in the lives of its individual members. In certain circles, Dewey’s views have been interpreted as requiring children to be taught and instructed rather than guided, casting out ‘learning by doing’, with the ultimate aim of children representing society rather than themselves as unique individuals.
  • Social – becoming educated is regarded as being central to modern life and essential to understanding the world, providing the foundations for economic prosperity. According to the Royal Society (a Fellowship of many of the world’s most eminent scientists), “being educated in science and mathematics enables people to make informed choices about their life and work, empowers them to shape scientific and technological developments, and equips them to prosper in today’s rapidly-changing, knowledge-focused economies.” Undue pressure has therefore been placed upon teachers to ensure their students are prosperous in an economic sense rather than able to fulfil their creative potential.

Arguably, being creative in this modern age should not simply be recognised by the arts world, instead, our politicians and financiers might do well to acknowledge the pivotal role that creative thinking and accounting plays in shaping the perception of our nation on the world stage.


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