Monday, 1 February 2021


I’ve been worrying about education, that we’ve become obsessed with grades rather than in helping inspire people, putting it simply, to find joy in life and their talent.

‘To educate’ comes from the Latin and means to draw out. Great education is about inspiring, nurturing the special talent people have, not ramming in facts.

Here’s what Mr Gradgrind said in Charles Dickens’ ‘Hard Times’:

“Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals like this.” 

Dickens was satirising a Victorian school of thought here. He, too, worried about education. He writes about the gloriously named Dotheboys Hall in ‘Nicholas Nickleby’. We’ve come a long way since then but there’s still an obsession about the loss of “learning time” amongst  5 year olds. In Finland they save “learning time” until children are 7 not 5 years old. 

Argo Gosh is a successful entrepreneur in Brighton whose achievements are immense. He told me his greatest period of learning ever was when he had a whole term off school so, from May to September he, his siblings and friends spent their time building an absolutely enormous tree house and being outside in the fresh air learning about life, teamwork and carpentry.

My greatest period of learning was at University not in libraries nor at lectures but talking about all sorts of things to clever, open minded and entertaining friends who made me think. What I acquired was an appetite for life, an appetite that I’ve never lost.

Recently I said that being proved wrong is exciting; discovering my preconceptions or prejudices are simply misplaced; that’s called discovery.

The essence of education is discovery. It’s about opening a book and finding a new world. It’s about going to a theatre (well it used to be) and losing yourself in a story like ‘Hamlet’ you’ve seen and heard countless times before.

What teachers can’t teach - but they can inspire it in you (if you are lucky enough to find a good one) is to be an enthusiastic and energetic champion of an idea, painting, piece of music or piece of science. Brian Cox makes science hum with excitement in a way an average physics teacher won’t do.

They say ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’; well, I’m a rather old dog and I’m daily learning new stuff often from the infectious optimism of young people.

John Sculley, ex Apple said over 30 years ago “In today’s world we need impresarios and wizards.” In today’s Covid world, John, even more so.

We need to design a new future and we can’t do that by applying old tricks. We should be reconsidering our whole education system and rather than ramming maths into reluctant heads find what latent sparks of talent exist there and encourage them to burst into flames.

Einstein was, apparently, not especially talented at school. A more plausible explanation is that his teachers failed to spot that latent genius.

We are on the verge of a potentially exciting period of innovation and an energy boost – this typically happens after a catastrophe.

We need to ignite passion, discovery, excitement and stop being didactic.

On Saturday I heard a young, successful MD of a successful business (Paul Barratt) talk with passion about what he learnt from business books. Not facts. Not formulae. Not tool kits. No. Ideas. Visions. Dreams. Magic.

That’s just what we need. In schools. At Universities. In business. Everywhere. ‘A’ levels are not the answer to a better, happier world. 

But excitement is.

1 comment:

John Eustace said...

Required reading for the tosser in charge of our young's education. Sadly he simply would not understand or care for that matter