Breaking the Cycle of Distrust: developing creativity and empathy in a challenging world.

This is a summary of my longer article, first published by Friends of the Earth, and available here

It’s very clear that the next generation will need to do better than us if they’re to resolve the huge environmental and economic challenges ahead of us, build a better society and provide wellbeing for 8-10 billion people while using less resources than at present. They will need innovators, but educational systems in many countries – not least the UK – are killing rather than fostering creativity.

The UK faces particular challenges because our public institutions seem to be inflicted with a vicious cycle of distrust in which blame, fear and pervasive micromanagement is rife.  In our educational system we have developed a dysfunctional obsession with testing, assessment and accountability, despite the widespread agreement from teachers and educational experts that it is restricting children’s learning.

I believe that anyone who cares about poverty and the environment should join with teachers and parents to transform the educational system and help our young people to develop creativity, empathy and a sense of joy in the world that they’ll need if they’re to build a good world for all.

Specifically, I propose three areas for interventions:

  • Schools to be encouraged to test children only where it helps them learn or provides useful qualifications. This should include legal right for parents and schools to opt out of SATs, and for schools to be allowed to develop more meaningful ways show their effectiveness, select which body inspects them and opt out of league tables.
  • To put much greater focus on learning through play.
  • For us all to personally take more responsibility for helping others learn, and to be more forgiving of the mistakes of others.

Creativity and empathy are universal human attributes, and many of the problems I discuss are experienced in worldwide. However, when it comes to discussing the changes to the educational system, I am focusing particularly on the UK. This is partly because it’s the area I know best, and partly because I think we have a real opportunity to avoid following some chilling trends that are already evident in the USA. Other nations may well face similar threats.

Full text available here.