How on earth will we create the next Steve Jobs?

Matching demand in the education system.

A child that begins primary school this year will not finish their working life until around 2075. It is hard to imagine what society will be like then: the only certainty during his or her life will be change.

Two skills that are essential to be able to succeed in an uncertain world are creativity and resilience. Labour introduced reforms to give more freedoms to schools, giving heads and teachers the space to foster creativity and resilience. While many schools have taken advantage of this, at a system-wide level schools, colleges and universities can be doing more to promote these skills, and the Government should be encouraging this, not stifling it.

One of the challenges is that our education system was founded on an Enlightenment belief that a core of so-called “academic” subjects are somehow superior to practical, vocational or creative skills.

This conceptual hierarchy has been codified in the Government’s “EBac” – the English baccalaureate. While literacy and numeracy are rightly critical bedrocks, it places no value on subjects such as music, religious education, engineering, design and technology, and art,  showing that the Government does not understand their social or economic value in today’s world. This may have dire consequences for Britain’s economic future if it is not addressed.

The technological advances of today’s digital and creative industries require Britain’s education system to be at the cutting edge. What is creativity? The educationalist Ken Robinson has argued that one element of creativity is “divergent thinking” – the ability to make the associations and lateral connections between ideas.

About ten years ago, George Land and Beth Jarman published their research on divergent thinking. They gave a series of tests to 1,600 three to five year-olds. If they achieved above a particular score they would be considered “geniuses” in divergent thinking. An amazing 98 per cent scored at the genius level or higher for divergent thinking. They gave the same tests to the same children five years later at the ages of eight to ten. Then only 32 per cent scored at the genius level. At the ages of 14 to 15 and the result was 10 per cent. They gave the same test to over 200,000 adults and the figure was 2 per cent.

It is extraordinary that, at the age of four, we have the ability to “think outside the box”, in a way that decreases as we go through the education system. Perhaps it’s not surprising. Too much of our education system teaches children not to take risks, and that there is only one answer (it’s at the back of the book – no peeking!).

Many schools and teachers already promote creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship. Take, for example, Paddington Academy in central London. Through its focus on the importance of developing speaking skills, to its excellent entrepreneurship programme, innovation and creativity are being harnessed. However, we need to understand how to encourage the entire system to follow the lead of Paddington and other schools that are leading on this agenda.

If we are to break down the barriers that stop some bright young people succeeding, then being articulate and confident is critical. Employers’ organisations such as  the CBI have long argued for speaking, communication and presentation skills to be given a higher priority. Labour is looking at how we could do things differently if we were in government.

As part of our policy review, we are looking at how we can promote a stronger focus on spoken skills and creativity in a revised national curriculum, as well as trying to ensure that we increasingly build the link between skills and industry so that our education system matches demand.

As any business leader will tell you, most great learning and most great ideas happen in groups. Collaboration is critical to a successful and confident education system. This involves the collaboration of pupils – and yet our assessment system is almost entirely predicated on testing individuals; it involves the collaboration of schools and teachers – and yet the Government is encouraging a greater fragmentation and atomisation of our school system; and it involves the collaboration of ideas – and yet our curriculum and pedagogy is too often based on a strict delineation of subjects and lessons.

Let’s take just one of these – the collaboration of ideas. Steve Jobs understood its importance and turned it into a multi-billion dollar business model. Instead of simply hiring the best coders and programmers for his IT business, he hired artists and designers to make his products appeal to the human instincts of consumers. His own background in calligraphy gave him an unusual perspective, which helped transform the world of technology.

Creativity isn’t about a certain type of subject such as art or music or design, it’s about a way of thinking. As Jobs put it, “Creativity is just connecting things”. It’s not just about improving thinking though, creativity can help by channelling energies into productive outcomes, improving attainment even in ‘non-creative’ subjects.

An Ofsted report from 2006 found that creativity could help improve how pupils behaved. Pupils who had worked with creative people, such as writers and fashion designers, were more punctual, better behaved and worked better.

It said pupils developed skills such as improvisation, risk-taking, resilience and collaboration.

Labour’s academies programme, which provided greater freedom for schools to innovate, and develop partnerships with businesses, including creative businesses, helped to raise standards in some of the toughest and disadvantaged neighbourhoods across the country.

Two examples embody Labour’s commitment to promoting creativity. In Harmony is a music scheme for disadvantaged youngsters, inspired by ‘El Sistema’ from Venezuela, and championed by the then education minister, Andrew Adonis. With projects in Liverpool, Lambeth and Norwich it provides a chance for children to take part in symphony orchestras.

The Henley Review of Music Education reported last year that “there is no doubt that they have delivered life-changing experiences”.

Creative Partnerships was a flagship programme developed by the Labour Government to bring creative workers such as artists, architects and scientists into schools to work with teachers to inspire young people and help them learn. The programme worked with over 1 million children and, apart from the cultural and creative benefits, it was expected to generate nearly £4bn for the UK economy – the equivalent of £15.30 for every £1 of investment. Bizarrely, funding for Creative Partnerships has been massively cut by the current Government.

Sadly, the Government’s approach is stuck in the 1950s. The O-level and CSE system was designed over half a century ago, when our economy needed far more unskilled jobs and where people were expected to “know their place” in a divided education system. We need to encourage entrepreneurship and creativity in our schools, to keep up with rapid changes in the labour market, not aspire to a rose-tinted view of history.

Celebrating and encouraging creativity is also a way to play to our strengths as a nation. In the last ten years, the creative economy was the second fastest-growing economy in the UK behind the financial sector, generating significant numbers of jobs and providing huge earnings to the economy through exports and revenue.

Yes, employers and parents want young people to have a firm grasp of the basics – this is crucial, but it’s not enough by itself. Young people also need to be encouraged to think critically, in a way that enables them to solve problems and develop rewarding lives and careers.

Collaboration is the key to creating the jobs of the future.

Stephen Twigg MP is Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary and Dan Jarvis MP is Labour’s Shadow Culture Minister

 

Classroom. Photograph: Getty Images

Stephen Twigg MP is Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary and Dan Jarvis MP is Labour’s Shadow Culture Minister.

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Just face it, being a parent will never be cool

Traditional parenting terms are being rejected in favour of trendier versions, but it doesn't change the grunt-like nature of the work.

My children call me various things. Mummy. Mum. Poo-Head. One thing they have never called me is mama. This is only to be expected, for I am not cool.

Last year Elisa Strauss reported on the rise of white, middle-class mothers in the US using the term “mama” as “an identity marker, a phrase of distinction, and a way to label the self and designate the group.” Mamas aren’t like mummies or mums (or indeed poo-heads). They’re hip. They’re modern. They’re out there “widen[ing] the horizons of ‘mother,’ without giving up on a mother identity altogether.” And now it’s the turn of the dads.

According to the Daily Beast, the hipster fathers of Brooklyn are asking their children to refer to them as papa. According to one of those interviewed, Justin Underwood, the word “dad” is simply too “bland and drab”:

“There’s no excitement to it, and I feel like the word papa nowadays has so many meanings. We live in an age when fathers are more in touch with their feminine sides and are all right with playing dress-up and putting on makeup with their daughters.”

Underwood describes “dad” as antiquated, whereas “papa” is an “open-minded, liberal term, like dad with a twist” (but evidently not a twist so far that one might consider putting on makeup with one’s sons).

Each to their own, I suppose. Personally I always associate the word “papa” with “Smurf” or “Lazarou.” It does not sound particularly hip to me. Similarly “mama” is a word I cannot hear without thinking of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, hence never without a follow-up “ooo-oo-oo-ooh!” Then again, as a mummy I probably have no idea what I am talking about. If other people think these words are trendy, no doubt they are.

Nonetheless, I am dubious about the potential of such words to transform parenting relationships and identities. In 1975’s Of Woman Born, Adrienne Rich describes how she used to look at her own mother and think “I too shall marry, have children – but not like her. I shall find a way of doing it all differently.” It is, I think, a common sentiment. Rejecting mummy or daddy as an identity, if not as an individual, can feel much the same as rejecting the politics that surrounds gender and parenting. The papas interviewed by The Daily Beast are self-styled feminists, whose hands-on parenting style they wish to differentiate from that of their own fathers. But does a change of title really do that? And even if it does, isn’t this a rather individualistic approach to social change?

There is a part of me that can’t help wondering whether the growing popularity of mama and papa amongst privileged social groups reflects a current preference for changing titles rather than social realities, especially as far as gendered labour is concerned. When I’m changing a nappy, it doesn’t matter at all whether I’m known as Mummy, Mama or God Almighty. I’m still up to my elbows in shit (yes, my baby son is that prolific).

The desire to be known as Papa or Mama lays bare the delusions of new parents. It doesn’t even matter if these titles are cool now. They won’t be soon enough because they’ll be associated with people who do parenting. Because like it or not, parenting is not an identity. It is not something you are, but a position you occupy and a job you do.

I once considered not being called mummy. My partner and I did, briefly, look at the “just get your children to call you by your actual name” approach. On paper it seemed to make sense. If to my sons I am Victoria rather than mummy, then surely they’ll see me as an individual, right? Ha. In practice it felt cold, as though I was trying to set some kind of arbitrary distance between us. And perhaps, as far as my sons are concerned, I shouldn’t be just another person. It is my fault they came into this vale of tears. I owe them, if not anyone else, some degree of non-personhood, a willingness to do things for them that I would not do for others. What I am to them – mummy, mum, mama, whatever one calls it – is not a thing that can be rebranded. It will never be cool because the grunt work of caring never is.

It is not that I do not think we need to change the way in which we parent, but this cannot be achieved by hipster trendsetting alone. Changing how we parent involves changing our most fundamental assumptions about what care work is and how we value the people who do it. And this is change that needs to include all people, even those who go by the old-fashioned titles of mum and dad.

Ultimately, any attempt to remarket parenting as a cool identity smacks of that desperate craving for reinvention that having children instils in a person. The moment you have children you have bumped yourself up the generational ladder. You are no longer the end of your family line. You are – god forbid – at risk of turning into your own parents, the ones who fuck you up, no matter what they do. But you, too, will fuck them up, regardless of whether you do it under the name of daddy, dad or papa. Accept it. Move on (also, you are mortal. Get over it).

Parenting will never be cool. Indeed, humanity will never be cool. We’re all going to get older, more decrepit, closer to death. This is true regardless of whether you do or don’t have kids – but if you do you will always have younger people on hand to remind you of this miserable fact.

Your children might, if you are lucky, grow to respect you, but as far as they are concerned you are the past.  No amount of rebranding is going to solve that. This doesn’t mean we can’t change the way we parent. But as with so much else where gender is concerned, it’s a matter for boring old deeds, not fashionable words.

 

 

 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.