Education, Creativity, and Programming

I recently saw a TED talk entitled “Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity”. It is one of the most widely viewed TED talks and proposes a challenging idea. Sir Ken Robinson argues that schools are educating people out of their creative capacities. He states that “education is meant to take us into a future we cannot grasp” and that only by allowing creativity to flourish in our students will they be truly prepared. While listening to his talk I kept thinking that we have an opportunity right now to inject more creativity into our kids education with computer programming.

Education is meant to take us into a future we cannot grasp.

According to Mr. Robinson, our education system was originally founded to serve the industrial revolution and that systems around the world have a similar hierarchy of subjects. Math, Languages, and the Humanities in order are at the top with Arts is at the bottom. This structure was created to prepare students for the future job force (that we cannot grasp or anticipate, remember?) and that students will inevitably be steered away from certain subjects because “you will never get a job doing that”. His concern is that students will never discover what they are truly good at because we push them often in directions that are not right for them. He says we should make education more dynamic and personalized so that students have a greater chance to discover their talents and flourish.

I would propose that programming offers a unique opportunity to rekindle creativity for many students. “What does computer programming have to do with creativity?” you may ask. Programming involves taking ideas, breaking them down, and putting them down with whatever tool you are using. It’s about taking an idea out of thin air and making it tangible (or as tangible as anything digital is). How is this creatively any different than writing a book or creating a movie for example? This is why the Scratch and Alice software teams so often refer to “creative computing”. Programming is not simply somebody sitting in front of a computer screen writing incomprehensible computer code. It instead allows creative ideas to flourish and come to life in the mind of the programmer. Plus software spans math, languages, humanities and the arts so crosses all boundaries of any education hierarchy.

At Start Code we see kids coming up with creative ideas and then taking them in many directions. They are gaining the ability to see new possibilities and new paths for their future based on their unique interests and talents. They have spent time creatively to see what software tools can do and they may see new ways of putting them together. The time spent learning was also fun and social which made it even better. This is the very dynamic and personalized learning that Sir Ken Robinson wants us to create.