Divergent Thinking: What is the purpose of education?

The development of 21st century skills has been stated for quite a while now ( a good thing given we are now 14 years into the 21st century, however it does make me wonder how long we are going to continue looking at skills for the now and when we actually start looking at 22nd century skills.   Remember that students are with us for 12 years so that means students starting school now will be coming out in 2026 with over a quarter of the century gone!).    These skills include communication, collaboration, critical thinking (or problem solving depending on where in the world you are) and creativity.   So how do we encourage students to problem solve, where due to the pace of technology we cannot predict the problems they are likely to face?    Also how do we encourage creativity?

De Bono suggests that lateral thinking was an important factor in addressing this issue while Ken Robinson agreed referring to the factor as divergent thinking.    So how do we encourage these approaches?

One method would be to introduce students to the concepts of lateral thinking or divergent thinking and to actively encourage students to make use of these approaches.   In terms of what this might look like in a classroom I saw an excellent video which was shared via twitter by  @thought_weavers which seemed very much in line with my thinking.   You can watch the video here.    Now this approach if successful would lead to students who are open to lateral thinking or thinking outside of the box.   As such this should help creativity and problem solving.    It would also result in students who may question the what and the why of their learning, which may initial be uncomfortable for some teachers due to the unpredictability of questioning however if teachers are facilitating learning as opposed to delivering learning, then this could open up new pathways in terms of learning.    As such any initial discomfort is well worth it.

Now a key issue in all of this is teachers;   If we want students to develop 21st century skills and to be divergent thinkers then teachers need to model this, showing students what divergent thinking looks like.    So to that end I would like to ask a question: What is the purpose of education?    And if you are a teacher or school leader, when was the last time you sat and thought about what the purpose of your role was, or do league tables, inspection results and standardised test results take up a significant part of your thinking?



Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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