The phrases ‘blue-sky thinking’ and ‘thinking outside the box’ would probably be somewhere near the top of many people’s list of most annoying examples of management speak. Clichés are, by definition, tired and hackneyed, but they usually convey something important – in this case the need to think creatively and innovatively. A key criticism of the current education system made by the recent Times Education Commission is that it stifles creativity and critical thinking. Life-Based Learning is an approach to children’s education and development that is all about promoting creativity, helping children to learn effectively and think clearly, inspiring a love of learning, and developing enquiry skills and a learning mindset that will benefit young people throughout their lives.
The Times Education Commission spent a year collecting evidence and views from more than 600 experts across fields including business, the arts and education. One of its arguments is that – partly because of our obsession with exam results – we are treating children “as passive recipients of knowledge” and failing to teach them to be creative and critical thinkers, and active participants in their own learning.
Unsurprisingly, the inventor Sir James Dyson comes at it from the point of view of developing the inventors and entrepreneurs of the future:
Children are creative, they love building and making things … but as they get closer to GCSEs and A-levels all that is squashed out of them. It’s all about rote-learning, not about using your imagination. The system doesn’t measure creativity; it measures what you can remember of other people’s facts.Sir James Dyson, quoted in the Timed Education Commission report
The classicist Dame Mary Beard says that the assessment system “is putting a brake on kids’ explorations and achievements”.
In a section on “the big ideological split” in education the report even refers to a former schools minister – heavily involved in the introduction of the current curriculum in England – ‘sneering’ at generic skills such as creativity, team working and problem solving.
The commission’s final report makes a number of points that chime with LBL thinking on the need to promote creativity and critical thinking:
Life-Based Learning brings together progressive approaches to children’s learning.
A key premise of LBL is the need to free ourselves from an obsession with subject-based learning, which throws up barriers between one subject and the next, limiting our ability to think flexibly and our freedom to go wherever the learning takes us, exploring the world in creative and imaginative ways. Much of importance is inevitably lost in the interstices between one subject and the next: if it isn’t in a programme of study or an exam specification, it might not even get covered – and certainly not in any detail.
Life-Based Learning promotes a more integrated approach to learning that moves away from the rigid compartmentalisation of learning into individual subjects. Our blog A focus on teaching enquiry skills will help with lifelong learning, for example, champions a spirit of curiosity and open-mindedness.
Meanwhile, in our blog Why teaching critical thinking is critically important we argued that an essential ingredient in the learning mix is critical thinking — the need for children and young people (and all the rest of us) to have the intellectual tools to think clearly, rigorously and rationally.
We have highlighted, for example, The Joy of Not Knowing (JONK), an approach to learning developed by Marcelo Staricoff. “Engaging children’s natural sense of curiosity and desire to find things out, allowing them to try out possible solutions and search for answers in classrooms that are ‘communities of enquiry’, offers an intriguing and exciting approach to accelerating children’s learning.”
And we have talked about the need to learn the way the brain learns. This involves teaching children about how the brain learns best, how to make effective use of the senses when learning, and how to improve short-term, routine, operational and long-term memory. It involves helping children to construct their learning from what they know. And it involves ensuring that children feel comfortable in their learning environment, whether in school or studying at home.
Image at the head of this article by Thorsten Frenzel from Pixabay.