Keynote Yong Zhao


Develop the unique talent of every Child

“Schools are not good places. I wish all schools were museums.”


Professor Yong Zhao

Director of Institute for Global and Online Education at University of Oregon (USA)



Stop getting children ‘ready’

Professor Yong Zhao works with schools. He starts his lecture by saying: “Schools are not good places. I wish all schools were museums.” He explains that nowadays, more and more young graduates are unemployed or underemployed. This is the product of our society’s approach to getting children ‘ready’: ready for ready for school, ready for college, ready for their career. He advocates that we should change this paradigm, as it is not fit to our fast changing and open society.


This generation is not poorly educated; it’s miss-educated.

He describes that the purpose of education is to deliver independent and self-supporting individuals. This generation has had more education than any generation before, yet it can’t find independence. Current education systems curricula are developed by governments, which in general consists of old people. We need to move on from those readiness models. Education has failed when children of the ‘boomerang generation’ are boomeranged back into their parent’s basement. This generation is not poorly educated; it’s miss-educated. We in need of a different kind of education.


How come?

Firstly, we’re all getting older; old people do not move over for young people when it comes to jobs. Secondly, we’re in the second machine age. In the first machine age, people were trained as employees handling machines and systems. We’re now in the second machine age where digital technology plays a key factor and machines are smart enough to take over our jobs. The Google car for example eradicate the need taxi drivers, bus drivers, traffic light manufacturers and driving instructors. This does provide a lot of opportunities, however. How cool would it be if you had a Jacuzzi in your Google car?


What now?

People need to be able to tap into their creativity. We therefore need to address our children’s innate intelligences. Professor Zhao relates to (an improved and revised version of) Gardner’s model of Multiple Intelligences. Up to now, we have focused on math and language. Moreover, we have been teaching children ‘the right answers’; this kills creativity. It becomes more and more important to focus on children’s the potential to learn, their personal aptitude and talents in different domains. We need to tap into their talents and passion; we need to tickle their instinctual human motivators (Reiss). In doing so, we need to change our judgment of the value of talents. We have to shift from prescribing what’s useful and valuable. We need to follow the child, provide opportunties and embrace entrepreneurial thinking.


Museums are not a supplement to education; they ARE education Schools and museums should put effort into allowing children to take on responsibility for their abilities. Moreover they need to provide opportunities. (A talent for playing the piano can’t be developed if kids do not get in touch with piano’s.) Museums can play a very large role here, especially for poor children. Furthermore, deficits can become opportunities (e.g. a dyslectic turns out to great with graphs and becomes an extraordinary artist or astrophysicist). Teachers then become curators of the curriculum and learning opportunities. In this way we shift from creating job seekers to job creators.



Q: What is your number one advice for museums; what can museums do to fix where schools fail?

A: Create more opportunities for poor children. Participate in changing the policy. Participate in creating education. Stop being a supplement, be a part of it; be a learning opportunity. Provide broader perspectives; allow children to discover what they find interesting.