A general education

Writing back in 2000, this is Edward de Bono‘s assessment of the education system:

In most countries there are examinations of some sort in place and teachers have to prepare students to get through those exams.  This is what parents expect; this is what students need in order to pass through the gateways into a successfully and financially rewarding life.  Yet the examinations are set in traditional subjects.  Where is the examination in ‘practical thinking’? Where is the examination in ‘value creation’?  So schools and teachers are locked in by existing exams and by the needs of universities.  The people who run the system have grown up with the existing system and have become experts at running it, so they see no need for change.

How much has changed in eleven years?  To change one element of schooling requires changing the whole system and who is prepared for that kind of radical transformation?

Our school systems are adept at teaching students what to think rather than how to think.  Students leave school in search of specialist degrees and ready-made careers, with mostly a narrowing of their learning experience the further they go.

I’m not suggesting that law, medicine aren’t noble and necessary professions but many like deBono argue that what our rapidly changing world needs are thinkers – generalists who can adapt to new situations, contexts and environments.  John Connell also asks ‘how can teachers produce independent thinkers when they themselves are simply not allowed to think independently?’

Eleven years into the new millennium and we still seem to be increasingly preoccupied with courses, content and accountability.   Just read the British government’s schools white paper on the Importance of Teaching.

There are many talented educators and system leaders out there chipping away at the industrial model.  If nothing else, we need a schooling experience that doesn’t ‘teach subjects’ but develops individual thinking and imagination and encourages the pursuit of wisdom.  These are outcomes that are not easily measured by high-stakes testing.

As John Dewey wrote more than a century ago, when will education cease to be dominated by ‘ a medieval conception of learning’? Are our teachers and leaders really prepared for this new way of thinking? Can we let go of what is needed to let go and find new ways of doing the business of learning and teaching


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