A beginner’s guide to Sir Ken Robinson

Best known for:

Sir Ken has the distinction of being the most-watched speaker on TED.com. To date, his four TED talks have been viewed over 52 million times, with his 2006 talk being the most viewed in TED's history. He is one of the world's leading advocates for the development of creativity and innovation in education. He argues that education programmes pupils to be good workers, rather than creative thinkers.

Quick biography:

Sir Ken Robinson (Image source: The Creative Company Conference)

Born: 1950

Nationality: British

Where does he work:

Sir Ken is currently a Professor Emeritus at the University of Warwick. He was previously Director of the Arts in Schools Project between 1985–89, and Professor of Arts Education, also at University of Warwick. He was knighted for his services to the arts in 2003; was named as one of Time's 'Principal Voices' in 2005; and gained his PhD from the University of London in 1981.

What's it all about:

Though his ideas have developed over time, Sir Ken's main argument is that education should foster creativity in pupils by offering a broad curriculum and encouraging individualisation in the learning process. He believes that too much of the present education system in the UK and United States fosters conformity, compliance and standardisation rather than creative approaches to learning.

Creativity, he argues, comes from fostering curiosity through teaching that focuses on harnessing imagination rather than memorising facts. A creative education would place less emphasis on standardised tests, and instead gives teachers and schools more power to develop teaching that suits and excites their pupils.

What does he research:

In 1998, Sir Ken led a national commission on creativity, education and the economy for the New Labour government. The resulting 'Robinson Report' - All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education - called for a national strategy for creative and cultural education, and recommended new priorities in education, including a stronger emphasis on creative and cultural education; a new balance in teaching and in the curriculum between learning knowledge and skills; and giving educators the freedom to innovate and experiment. It was globally well received, and led to Sir Ken contributing to Singapore's education strategy. His later works have further developed his theories on the nature of creativity.

Sir Ken suggests there are many misconceptions about creativity and whether it can be taught. He argues that everyone has the potential to be creative and that creativity can be developed in a practical way, though critics have noted that he does not provide many concrete examples of how creativity can be taught. 

What he says:

"Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won't serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children."

What others say:

BBC Radio Four has said that Sir Ken's "vision and expertise is sought by public and commercial organisations throughout the world". However, not everyone is so convinced. Education and teaching bloggers such as Tom Bennett cite Robinson's lack of first-hand teaching experience and question whether someone who understands the theory but not the practice of education is really qualified to comment.

Why you should consider reading more:

Sir Ken is arguably the most influential voice in education alive today. His work helped inform the strategy for creative and economic development of Northern Ireland as part of the Peace Process, and he draws in global audiences for his TED talks. Robinson himself has admitted that these talks do not do justice to the complexities of his theories on education, and that anyone seeking to explore the issues he covers in more depth should also read his books, in which he lays out plans for accomplishing his vision.

Top reads:

Further information:

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