(Image Credit: Penguin Random House)
Sir Ken Robinson has single handedly done for education what governments across the world collectively have failed to achieve. With a revolutionary approach that places practicality over the pedantic, dialogue over dissertation and multiculturalism over monoculture, Robinson made it an uncompromising mission in his life to overhaul a rigid and stereotyped educational system whose primary, and at times sole motive lay in churning out students in the same way Model Ts were churned out by the mass assembly plants conceptualised by by Henry Ford. Conveyor in-Conveyor Out. His irresistible TED talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity” is the most watched TED talk in history (over 400 million viewers across the globe have savoured the speech), and his books, The Element and Finding your Element, have been translated into twenty-three languages.
Robinson, who got his Knighthood 2003, was also the recipient of a plethora of awards including the Nelson Mandela Changemaker Award, the Benjamin Franklin Medal of the Royal Society of Arts and the LEGO Prize for international achievements in education, among others. Before his demise in 2020, he envisioned Imagine If as a synthesis and a concise distillation of all his previous works, that would serve as a handy manifesto for furthering the prospects of an educational system that would be fit for purpose, pragmatic and philosophical even. His daughter Kate Robinson completed this work whose publication Sir Robinson unfortunately did not live to see.
Just 113 pages long – or short – the book is deceptively marvelous. The wisdom packed between the covers of such a spright book can set off a revolutionary process in thinking lasting years or even decades. Shades of Sir James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis threads through the book as Sir Robinson and Kate Robinson make a case for a holistic and original thinking that has parallels to the working of Planet Earth towards sustaining its populace. At the heart of the book is a plea to introduce the attribute of ‘imagination’ in every curricula. Since we happen to be the creators of the worlds we inhabit outside, we can channel the world which lives within each one of us to recreate an external world that is as different from its current contemporary.
Robinson & Robinson propose that any education system worth its salt must embed within four uncompromising purposes and eight desirable core competencies. These must form the bedrock of an institution that proposes to nurture and groom future leaders. The four purposes being: personal, cultural, economic and social. The personal purpose has at its edifice, the engagement of young minds with the world within them. The cultural purpose strives to instill in children an awareness as well as respect not just for their individual cultures but also to the tenet of culture as a whole. This will promote a climate of cultural tolerance and co-existence. The economic purpose seeks to dissolve the divide between academic and vocational programmes which would enable students to experience the world of work in academia itself. Finally the social purpose should have as its quintessential objective the transformation of inquisitive children into responsible and compassionate citizens.
The eight core competencies that complement and supplement the four purposes are:
Curiosity: To spur the natural curiosity which children are awash with and encouraging them to ask questions that goes beyond the confines of the curricula;
Criticism: Ushering in a wave of critical thinking is vital in a click-bait era where fact blurs into fiction and disinformation reigns supreme. Children should be assisted to inculcate a habit of constructive criticism and balanced assessment.
Communication: This goes beyond the usual and accepted verbal medium of words. Communication also should encompass within its frame literary communication, the use of metaphors, allusions and poetry. Children must be allowed to express themselves freely and fairly.
Collaboration: Schools currently excel in imparting lessons on working in groups. However the modalities of teaching must transcend this model and enable children to work as groups. Such a practice will help children feed off each other’s strengths in a more systematic manner and develop unique problem solving skills.
Composure: Schools need to urgently introduce calming techniques such as mindfulness and meditation. This is highly relevant in an age where juvenile suicides and depression in young children is fast becoming more a frightening norm than a sporadic exception.
Citizenship: Children should be prepared to develop abilities to engage constructively with society and to actively participate in the processes that sustain society.
Compassion: A self-explanatory crying need of the hour
Creativity: To nurture the inclination to think out of the box and to apply imagination to the common good of society
According to the father daughter duo, our current schooling system is comparable to the process of industrial farming. Educational institutions of today are factory farms that specialise in “mass rearing of humans with good exam grades… a poor imitation of learning” oriented around the needs of the workplace and a legacy of the industrial revolution.’
Robinson & Robinson also appeal directly to the parents, the community, teachers and business to put their heads together and come up with a consensual and collaborative overhaul of an academic system that is not just unsustainable, but is creaking at the seams. Before it comes apart – it is still not too late – we as representatives of humanity can still salvage the situation. This fervent appeal and frenzied appeal of the authors is a jeremiad to the appalling intransigence displayed by all concerned stakeholders who are willfully oblivious to a dangerous malfunction.
We all owe our future generations a life well led, a life that is spent examined and a life that is subject to contemplation. Hence it is time for us to Imagine If…