In his last book, Creative Schools (Penguin Random House), Sir Ken Robinson – in 2003, Queen Elizabeth II named him knight for promoting the arts – proposes a school model that contemplates other degrees of intelligence beyond the academic one, because "not all children will go to the University and you have to help them discover their talent ".
Robinson lives in Los Angeles, where he leads the creation of two platforms on-line, one to connect teachers from all over the world and accelerate educational change, and another to help young people discover their vocation. This week he visited Madrid to participate in EnlightED, an event promoted by Fundación Telefónica, IE University and South Summit to address the challenges of technology and the transformation of the education system, where he answered EL PAÍS questions.
Question. How do you think the school should be today?
Answer. We see the school as a place of routines, demanding schedules and exams. It does not have to be this way. The schools divide the students by age groups, but in real life we do not relate to each other in this way. The school is a community of people who learn and the first thing that should be done is to mix them, not to make the school such a rigid place. At the end of the day, when the children finish classes, play together, they do not differentiate by age.
Second, a good school is the one with flexible schedules. If an adult in his day to day was forced to perform a different activity every 40 minutes, it would burn right away. The schools have to work with natural rhythms to allow the children to dedicate the necessary time to each task. Today there are sufficiently sophisticated programs for each student to work at their own pace, with their own schedules.
P. Innovative schools tend to be located in neighborhoods with higher incomes and private schools have, in many cases, the lead. What can be done so that educational innovation does not increase inequality?
R. It is not a question of choosing between innovation or inequality, but rather of connecting both points. Innovation is also a change in strategy when managing the education system. To be more inclusive is also to innovate. Children who live in complicated neighborhoods and who, in some cases, do not speak the language well, have to receive more support. They have a different starting point because of their family situation, and to offer them the same opportunities, they have to focus on responding to their needs.
P. Teachers complain that they do not have the time or tools to transform the school. What do you recommend?
R. Teaching is complicated, teachers are subject to great pressure. In my book Creative Schools I tell you that the revolution must be done from the bottom up. You have to understand how social changes work, always from the root. Persuading politicians to think differently is not the solution. The big issues that affect education have to go beyond an electoral cycle; they can not depend on the will of an agent. It's like the MeToo movement or actions to curb climate change; they are initiatives that arise outside of political life.
P. Do teachers have to make the revolution regardless of what the official programs show?
R. When a teacher closes the classroom door, confronts a group of students in their own way, very few systems prescribe how to teach, they do not tell you what to do minute by minute. The teacher decides what to do. Much of what happens in education has nothing to do with legislation, but with habits.
P. Another major task is the revision of evaluation methods. Do you think that PISA – the most recognized international test on education in the world developed by the OECD – is negatively affecting schools?
R. The idea of the PISA tests was to provide evidence on the operation of the centers to allow governments to make decisions about the relevance of their policies. The problem is the competition that occurs between countries. Their goal of positioning themselves well in the rankings leads them to renounce the use of innovative learning programs, for example in mathematics or language, in order to meet the demands of these tests. In the last 20 years, the United States has spent billions on standardized tests – students conduct about a hundred external evaluations during the school period.
Those tests have not helped anyone. The scores in mathematics or language are at the same point as 20 years ago and that demoralizes teachers and discourages young people. The graduation rates have not improved either; It has been a failed experiment. Another example is that of Hong Kong, where there are companies that offer training to prepare three-year-olds for the entrance exam to the nursery school. We have lost our minds
P. One of the great failures of the school is the school dropout. Is it due to lack of motivation?
R. I do not like the word abandonment because it hides a stigma, it suggests that the student has failed. It is the school that is failing the children. It is conceived with a very reduced vision of what success is, which is usually associated with the merely academic. Dance is as important as mathematics, but there is a very limited view of what intelligence is. We develop physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially, we have diverse talents. The school does not measure it and for that reason many people will continue thinking that it has failed.
There are alternative schools that focus not only on academics but on discovering talent. They work because they have an alternative vision of what success is. An example is the network of Big Picture Learning schools, about 100 centers with a very close connection with parents and individualized learning, with different paths for each student. On the Alternative Education Resource Organization website you can find examples of these centers.