Last week, Dr Yong Zhao from Oregon University gave an inspiring speech at Parliament about education, entrepreneurship, creativity and the need to prepare students for this century.
His address reminded me of how this country has a tendency to imitate some bad ideas which are going out of fashion elsewhere, instead of trusting ourselves. Dr Zhau pointed out that standardised testing and narrow curriculum’s do not produce the kind of minds we need for this century.
He described how China and Singapore were not happy with their top PISA scores (global literacy, numeracy and science results) because the critical thinking and creativity needed for a vibrant modern economy was being lost in their authoritarian and rigid education systems.
He talked about social entrepreneurship and interdependency as crucial to successful modern communities and the need for creativity, confidence and empathy rather than just the ability to google knowledge.
Dr Zhau said the American education system is a terrible model and that American energy and inventions comes from drop outs in garages with the confidence and creativity to try something new. He showed us a graph of how schools start suppressing creativity in five year olds so that by the time we are adults 2% of our creativity remains. Interestingly, it can return in retirement and he used the example of George Bush Junior who has now taken up painting pictures.
Born in a remote Chinese village where he failed at herding water buffalo but succeeded at radical thinking, Dr Zhau urged us to foster the creative passions in our students and not try and force them into rigid assessment models. He urged us to value our creative traditions and cultural models which support the gifts in children not conformity. He said that technology had replaced many workers but fostering creativity was the best response the education system could make.
I asked him about the role of low paid but highly skilled workers who look after people and who can never be replaced by machines and he said that was why empathy and an understanding of interdependency must be fostered in education. I am glad he met the Minister of Education and the Treasury but the question is whether they listened to him?
Many thanks to the NZEI for hosting the visit of this articulate and inspiring educator.