Is the internet killing the education system?

Three theses : Why our education system blocks creativity

Try the following experiment: For the next two minutes, write down all the things you can do with a paper clip.

How many things did you think of? Don't take it personally: If you are creative below average, then the piece of paper will probably say something like “hold sheets together”, “remove the SIM card from your mobile phone”, “pick a lock” or, for long-haired people, maybe also the "pinning away of hair". Most people come up with 10 to 15 ideas in the allotted two minutes. But there are also people who - of course with more time - have up to 200 ideas.

Interestingly, almost all kindergarten children come up with over 100 ideas if you give them enough time. You can do something that we obviously lose over time: thinking divergent, also “thinking outside the box”. After all, the paper clip could be made of foam and you could swim on it. Or it is made of chocolate and can be eaten or used to decorate cakes. Incidentally, this test is known as the “paper clip test” or “Guilford’s Alternative Uses Task”.

  • Thesis 1: School neglects creativity, although creativity is one of the few characteristics that could distinguish humans from future AI.

In his well-known “TED Talk” on creativity in schools, Sir Ken Robinson proposed the thesis that it is our industrial school system that not only blocks the creativity of the pupils, but actually “kills” them. We simply continue to live the assembly line mentality of industrialization: the school bell sets the pace, we optimize the division of labor in departments, and the production date of the person is our criterion for classification in a group (cf. Sir Ken Robinson, “Changing Education Paradigms ").

If you are really interested in up-to-date education, then you shouldn't start with the familiar notions of school. Everyone knows that, depending on the time of day, group size, etc., we learn better or are better at different things at different times.

  • Proposition 2: We have to move away from the assembly line metaphor of school.

Are you ready for another experiment? Imagine you have the following items:

  • a pack of matches
  • a candle
  • a box with tacks in it

Your job is to fix a burning candle to the wall in such a way that the wax cannot drip onto the floor.

This task has become known as the "candle problem" (attention: the link is directly behind the solution!), Most recently made popular by the writer and motivation expert Dan Pink. The original study (published in 1945) asked comparison groups to solve the problem. One of the groups should simply solve the puzzle as quickly as possible, the other was offered a sum of money as an incentive (converted into today's monetary value: approx. 170 euros), should it become the fastest. Interestingly, those who were not promised any money fared significantly better on average and solved the puzzle faster.

This can only be explained by the fact that the external incentive system replaced the strong intrinsic motivation and narrowed the focus on problem solving. If we now look at the school system, it is noticeable that we have a similar incentive system in use with grades. And we actually want to enable schoolchildren to find creative solutions.

  • Thesis 3: Complex (world) problems require people who can solve them. School often sets the wrong incentives for this.

So we need meaningful, self-chosen learning, in which students devote themselves to complex, overarching issues, such as project learning. And we also need longer, ungraded phases for this. We actually know all that, and yet it is so difficult for us to think “out of the box” and to change our schools. But at least we now know why that is ...