Sir Ken Robinson, the British educator and author renowned for his TED Talk “Do schools kill creativity?” died Aug. 21, 2020, after a short battle with cancer.
A leader in the development of creativity, innovation, and human resources, he spent his career leading projects and advising governments on creative and cultural education in Europe, Asia, and the United States.
Robinson’s February 2006 speech in Monterey, Calif., is one of the most-watched in TED’s history. It’s been viewed online over 60 million times and seen by an estimated 380 million people in 160 countries.
Creativity as important as literacy
Robinson stressed the importance of creativity in education. Creativity should be treated with the same status as literacy in education. He was a vocal critic of contemporary educational systems, believing that they educated students to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers.
He believed that children are born creative and have an extraordinary capacity for innovation. And more importantly, children have no fear of making mistakes.
“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong,” Robinson said.
“And we run our companies like this. We stigmatize mistakes. And we’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.”
Conditions for flourishing
Robinson was a champion of a personal approach to learning. Kids should be treated as individuals with a diversity of talents.
“We have to recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process. And you cannot predict the outcome of human development,” he said in the follow-up to his 2006 TED talk.
“All you can do, like a farmer, is create the conditions under which they will begin to flourish.”
On educational technology, Robinson said during an interview in 2017:
“Technology has always intimately engaged with human innovation and creativity. Tools have always done two things. They have extended our reach. But also it extends our minds. It makes us think of things differently.”
A native of Liverpool, Robinson was born in 1950 to a working-class family. In 2003, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts.
In April 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown, Robinson launched a “Learning from Home” podcast from his home in London. He wanted to support parents who were faced with helping their children learn at home during the pandemic.
“Millions of parents and carers have suddenly found themselves responsible for overseeing their children’s education from home due to COVID-19,” he wrote on his YouTube channel.
“If you’re one of them, you may be finding this a daunting challenge to be facing on top of all of the other stresses of our current global situation.”
Robinson’s goal was to bring resources and insight from around the world, using the platform as an opportunity for parents to share what is happening in order to connect others with their experiences.
“No matter how isolated you may be feeling, the support you need is out there and my hope is that this podcast will connect you to it,” he said.
With some podcast hosting duties performed by his daughter Kate Robinson, a consultant on innovation in education, three episodes were produced. The last episode was posted less than two months before his passing.