Jeremy Suisted: Basic knowledge building blocks to better minds

Jeremy Suisted replies to Elizabeth Rata's criticism of the school curriculum

Steve Jobs' creations are a prime example of the combination of multiple fields of knowledge, says Suisted. Photo / Lynda Feringa
Steve Jobs' creations are a prime example of the combination of multiple fields of knowledge, says Suisted. Photo / Lynda Feringa

Elizabeth Rata has fired a timely shot across the bows of current Western teaching models.

Her article has ignited debate about her conclusions that New Zealand has "taken our eyes off what to teach".

Traditional academic knowledge is crucial to the ongoing development of business and society.

Harvard University's John Kao, an expert on innovation on a national scale, communicated a similar scathing review of the US public school system, lamenting the fact that half of its maths teachers have no formal training in mathematics.

This lack of knowledge in core subjects is severely crippling to individuals' ability to critically engage with ideas they interact with, as well as limiting their potential to grow and develop new ideas.

Knowledge - if we imagine it as the "bits" of education that we learn - is the building blocks from which we can create.

It is no coincidence that many entrepreneurs have an insatiable curiosity leading them to ask continuous questions and search for new ideas.

Although this desire to continuously know more is often innate, the wide body of content-knowledge that they acquire allows them to see possibilities that would otherwise not have been visible.

The late Steve Jobs is a good example of this, as he pursued a degree in physics, literature and poetry. Although he attended only one semester, he continued to audit a class in calligraphy while growing his knowledge of computer science, business and design.

His creations are a prime example of the combination of all of these fields of knowledge, revealing the importance of the academic content.

As some other contributors have noted, however, Rata's article suggests a false dichotomy between content and process, arguing that we need to go back to a content-based curriculum and retreat our focus on process. This either/or approach fails to see the broader role of education and does not complement contemporary research on innovation and creativity, which highlights the centrality of both the knowledge and the process.

Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School, has been studying innovation and work trends for the past 20 years. Her findings have revealed the centrality of education in forming individuals for the future workplace, with the most successful being those who embraced a content and process based methodology.

The future will be led by those who know the content, but also know how to apply their knowledge. For example, researchers have discovered the importance of play as a process of discovery within organisations. When employees learn to engage with concepts and processes in dynamic ways, new ideas are developed. Other processes such as appreciative inquiry, dynamic associations, critical engagement and co-creation have all played a role in the creation of new ideas and possibilities.

The relationship between process and knowledge is a dynamic and essential one. Rata's call for a re-focus on the knowledge-content of our education is timely, and can be likened to an artist calling for a greater range of high-quality paints for them to use. This is only half of the picture, however, as the artist must know how to combine and apply their material to create something new and beautiful.

Jeremy Suisted is the founder of Creativate, an innovation and creativity consultancy.

- NZ Herald

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