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Is Our Education System Hurting Entrepreneurship?

February 10, 2014
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/231348

In a world beset by economic challenges, cultural discord and environmental deterioration, the English philosopher Sir Ken Robinson believes he has the solution to man’s most fundamental problems: Imagination.

An evolved notion of creativity is humanity’s defining trait, Robinson says, in that it allows us to examine the past as well as anticipate the future to constantly reinvent our lives. But many of us have lost touch with an imaginative outlook.

To more fully tap into this part of ourselves, Robinson takes issue with the state of our educational system -- which he asserts “employs 21st century technology, but with a 19th century mindset.” It hasn’t changed much since its inception, he argues, and tends to marginalize our best gifts.

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Robinson spoke at a panel on thought leadership held last month in New York that also featured former President Bill Clinton and was sponsored by The Fragrance Foundation.

According to Robinson, there are three ways in which the global education system needs to change in order to foster the kind of entrepreneurial thinking that is crucial to the success -- and survival -- of the world:

1. Its emphasis on conformity. While human life flourishes on the prospect of diversity, schools often box us into predetermined curricula that can feel both impractical and stale. By studying subjects that don’t help us in the grand scheme of what we’d ultimately like to accomplish, schools act like machines that prize standardization and efficiency when people are far more complicated than that, Robinson says.

2. Its emphasis on compliance. Whereas teachers follow regimens to curb disobedience, real energy comes from creativity and diversion, he asserts. An emphasis on discipline can yield harrowing statistics: one-third of high school students don’t even graduate and 50 percent of adults claim that they are depressed and unengaged at work, Robinson said.

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3. Its emphasis on a linear path. Our educational system operates under the assumption that everyone should follow the same path -- from elementary school through to university -- when, in fact, life is composed organically, moment by moment, according to Robinson. Some of the most celebrated business luminaries -- Richard Branson and Steve Jobs among them -- did not graduate from college.

And innovation is never linear. Kodak, for instance, was seen as the iPad of its day, Robinson said, but is now bankrupt -- its cameras more likely to be found in a museum than in common use. Eventually, the iPad will become a bygone relic, too.

If, as H.G. Wells put it, “civilization is a race between education and catastrophe,” every day is an opportunity to learn something new. But in order to triumph, it is crucial to tap into our innate powers. As Robinson ultimately sees it: “Creativity is putting imagination to work, and innovation is putting good ideas into practice.”

Related: How the Changing Education Landscape is Helping Entrepreneurs