The Reinvention of Education

Last June we reported on some radical thoughts on education that we’d come across in Forbes’ online magazine –

Our blog post can be read here:

We’re referring back to it today in the light of our recent posts on tablet computers and  information technology in the classroom, on the notion of “cultural capital”, on finding your element and your passion, and on the imposition of a knowledge-based national curriculum.

As we said last June, Forbes magazine is read by very wealthy individuals and by the leading lights of the business community. These are often people who have been successful in business because of their open-minded willingness to look at developing trends and to consider radical and innovative approaches to current problems, trends and issues.

In a similar vein, The Confederation of British Industry last year published some radical thoughts on our education system, and called for the abolition of 16+exams, a restoration of creative learning in the classroom, and a restoration to teachers of the responsibility for the curriculum, all of which would bring us into line with the top-performing education systems such as Finland’s.

So here’s another reminder of what Forbes published:

  Creating Innovators: Why America’s Education System Is Obsolete

America’s last competitive advantage — its ability to innovate — is at risk as a result of the country’s lackluster education system, according to research by Harvard Innovation Education Fellow Tony Wagner.

American schools educate to fill children with knowledge — instead they should be focusing on developing students’ innovation skills and motivation to succeed.

Today knowledge is ubiquitous, constantly changing, growing exponentially… Today knowledge is free. It’s like air, it’s like water. It’s become a commodity… There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you. The world doesn’t care what you know. What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know.

Knowledge that children are encouraged to soak up in American schools — the memorization of planets, state capitals, the Periodic Table of Elements — can only take students so far. But “skill and will” determine a child’s ability to think outside of the box.

The set of core competencies that every student must master before the end of high school is:

– Critical thinking and problem solving (the ability to ask the right questions)

–  Collaboration across networks and leading by influence

– Agility and adaptability

– Initiative and entrepreneurialism

– Accessing and analyzing information

– Effective written and oral communication

– Curiosity and imagination

The culture of schooling as we all know it is radically at odds with the culture of learning that produces innovators. There are five ways in which America’s [and England’s] education system is stunting innovation:

1. Individual achievement is the focus: school is a competition among peers. But innovation is a team sport. It requires some solitude and reflection, but fundamentally problems are too complex to innovate or solve by oneself.

2. Specialization is celebrated and rewarded: And if there’s one thing that educators need to understand, it’s that you can neither understand nor solve problems within the context and bright lines of subject content. Learning to be an innovator is about learning to cross disciplinary boundaries and exploring problems and their solutions from multiple perspectives.

3. Risk aversion is the norm: We penalize mistakes, and the whole challenge in schooling is to figure out what the teacher wants. And the teachers have to figure out what the superintendent wants or the state wants. It’s a compliance-driven, risk-averse culture. Innovation, on the other hand, is grounded in taking risks and learning via trial and error.

4. Learning is profoundly passive: For 12 to 16 years, we learn to consume information while in school. Innovative learning cultures teach about creating, not consuming.

5. Extrinsic incentives drive learning: “Carrots and sticks, As and Fs,” Young innovators are intrinsically motivated. They aren’t interested in grading scales and petty reward systems. Parents and teachers can encourage innovative thinking by nurturing the curiosity and inquisitiveness of young people. Children should grow up to find passions, not just academic achievement. And that passion matures to a profound sense of purpose.

“We as a country need the capacity to solve more different kinds of problems in more ways. It requires us to have a very different vision of education, of teaching and learning for the 21st century. It requires us to have a sense of urgency about the problem that needs to be solved.”

“Wagner is not suggesting we change a few processes and update a few manuals. He says, “The system has become obsolete. It needs reinventing, not reforming.” “

It is indeed time for reinvention, and not reform.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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