How did it end up like this?

And how can we change it?

At Escape the City we are challenging the status quo, and questioning what it means to spend our entire lives doing something we don’t enjoy. As it turns out, there is an entire tribe of people — all over the world — who agree life is too short to do work that doesn’t matter to you.

This isn’t just an idea, this is a movement; a way forward, a complete shift in approach to work and life.

Every day people look to escape their boring corporate jobs to find something more meaningful. By facilitating workshops, courses, opportunities and Tribes we are trying to help. This problem is incredibly real and incredibly consequential, but our solution is not enough.

However, if we are really serious about shifting our attitudes towards more meaningful work, then we need to do more. We need to address the root causes of this problem and completely eradicate it from the ground, up.

And this takes us all the way back to our five-year-old selves…


You may or may not be familiar with the factory model of our education system. Before the 19th century there were no real systems of public education, thus the idea is that they came together to meet the needs of industrialism.

In other words, the back door of the school led to the front door of the factory”, and students were only taught the essential skills required to become a successful factory worker.

100 years later and our schools are still operating this way. Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of New Classrooms Innovation Partners, Joel Rose discusses how little this system has changed in over ten decades.

“Some predicted that the demand for better schools, coupled with the supply of computers and new software, would soon revolutionise our nation’s classrooms. It didn’t quite happen.”

Joel suggests that the reason schools have not seen the same positive impact of tech that the rest of society has seen, is due to the fact that all educational tools – technology related or not – are still being used within the same outdated structure of the 19th-century education model.

If we are to see real change, we have to change the entire system.

And trust me, we want change.

Research carried out by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, found that 178,100 British 16- to 18-year-olds failed to complete post 16 qualifications they had embarked upon in 2012–2013.

A report by Civic Enterprises in association with Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found that 47% of young dropouts reported being bored and disengaged from high school, and 69% of respondents said they were not motivated or inspired to work hard.

This is not just a case of blaming our high schools though, as 45% of young dropouts felt they were poorly prepared by their earlier schooling.

And it doesn’t stop with lower education either. In 2013, more than 26,000 British students dropped out of university because they felt disconnected and demotivated with the course they had chosen to study.

I’m going to be very blunt here; the way we are doing things is not working. Primary school isn’t working. High school isn’t working. University isn’t really working. It’s no wonder we’re all finding ourselves stuck in corporate jobs we don’t like — our entire education system sets us up for inevitable disappointment.

It’s sadly unsurprising.

So how do we change?

Author and educator, Sir Ken Robinson shares brilliant knowledge in his TED talk, ‘How schools kill creativity’ – I insist you watch it.

Three quarters of the way through, Robinson addresses the way industrialism shaped the hierarchal design of public education. He claims that there are two main ideas that determined the hierarchy of subjects that we still see in schools today; maths, science and languages at the top, humanities in the middle and arts at the bottom.

  • The first idea is that the most useful subjects for work, had to be at the top: you were probably steered away from the subjects you really liked doing as a child on the basis that they wouldn’t get you a job when you finished.
  • And the second idea is focused on academic ability: which is a complete domination of our understanding of intelligence.

Robinson argues that the ‘whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrants, and that the consequence is that many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not.’

So what should we do instead? We need to allow creativity not only to occur but to flourish.

A little six year old girl was in a drawing lesson. The teacher said this little girl hardly ever paid any attention — but in this drawing lesson, she was sitting at the back, drawing. The teacher was fascinated and went over to her and said, ‘what are you drawing?’ And the little girl responded, ‘I’m drawing a picture of God’. The teacher took a step back and said, ‘but nobody knows what God looks like.’ And the little girl said, ‘they will in a minute’.

Robinson shares this wonderfully childish story to show the way children take chances. If they don’t know something, they’ll have a go anyway — they are not afraid of being wrong.

“We are now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. The result is we are educating people out of their creative capacities.”

Robinson shares three things we know about intelligence,

  1. It’s diverse: we think about the world in all the ways that we experience it.
  2. It’s dynamic: The brain isn’t divided into compartments, in fact creativity more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.
  3. It’s distinct: it stands out and urges to express itself.

For us to get the most out of our children, it is crucial that we provide an environment where they can play and experiment, and create in all the ways that allow their intelligence to shine. Whether that’s dancing, or building or acting or singing — the sooner we see creativity as of the same importance that we see literacy, maths, science and language, we can start to build a better education system for our children.

But how?

Remember how I said there is an entire tribe of people in the world trying to do something different? Well it really is true – there are people all over the globe, from India, to Brazil to Australia, who truly believe in the same movement.

In India, a wonderful woman, designer, educationist, and social entrepreneur, Kiran Sethi challenges children every day to ‘take charge’. She too believed that the way we are trying to educate people isn’t working and decided to explore possible solutions. From her research she found that if learning is embedded in real world context — that is, if you blur the boundaries between school and life — children go through a remarkable journey of becoming…

1. Aware: they can see the change.

2. Enabled: they can be changed.

3. Empowered: they can lead the change.

This attitude of ‘I can’ directly correlates with increased levels of student wellbeing, and actually positively impacts all areas of their learning.

In 2009 Kiran Sethi challenged 100, 000 children of India to say, I can. She asked them to decide one idea (anything that bothers them), and in one week change one billion lives.

And what happened? “When you say ‘you can’, they will.”

All over India children were solving numerous issues, from loneliness, to filling pot holes in the streets, to alcoholism, to 32 children who put a stop to 16 child marriages. When children feel empowered, not only do they do well – they do absolutely remarkable things.

In Brazil, CEO and entrepreneur, Ricardo Semler designed and built his own public school, named Lumiar, which has since been chosen as one of the 12 most innovative schools in the world (a survey by Unesco, Stanford University and Microsoft). There are a number of reasons why Lumiar is a very special place to learn, but here are the top five that stood out to me.

  1. The educators are organised into two groups: the tutor, whose job it is to look after the wellbeing of the child, supporting them with issues inside of school, and issues outside of school. And the master, whose role it is to plan and coordinate learning projects.
  2. They have 10 great threads for areas of learning from ages 2–17, that cover things like: How do we measure ourselves? (A place for maths and physics etc). How do we express ourselves? (A place for music and literacy etc). And ‘we have things which everyone has forgotten — probably the most important things in life, the very important things in life we know nothing about. We know nothing about love, we know nothing about death, we know nothing about why we’re here. So we need a thread in school that talks about everything we don’t know.
  3. Students choose which thread they want to study based on their interests at that moment in time, alongside all others who share that interest, regardless of age.
  4. They focus on reconnecting children’s knowledge with real projects, such as ‘how to build a bicycle’. Ricardo says, ‘try to build a bicycle without knowing pie equals 3.1416? You can’t.’ Try to use 3.1416 on it’s own? You can’t really do this either.
  5. The children decide the repercussions for when they fail to do the work that they have said they would do.

Ricardo believes that we should not wait until we are old and retired, and have accumulated lots of money to start with ‘giving back’ to the world. “If you are giving back, you took too much. Share as you go.”

And lastly, in Australia, children’s author John Marsden also set up an alternative education system that is proving, year after year, just how effective a creative and autonomous education system is on children’s learning. You can listen to a radio interview with him below.

What I have found most remarkable is not how poorly the old system is working, nor how desperately we need change, but that there are examples upon examples of those who have actually made a difference.

Liz Coleman, president of Bennington College, acknowledges in her TED talk, A Call to Reinvent Liberal Arts Education, the courage it takes to challenge something we have always known and done. But she concludes that ‘being overwhelmed is the first step if you are serious about trying to get at things that really matter on a scale that makes a difference.’

I truly hope you feel overwhelmed. I hope you feel so overwhelmed that you ask but what can I do? How can I help?

Well you have two things; you have a mind and you have people. Start with those and change the world.

— Liz Coleman.


If you’re curious about our career-change programmes, you can learn more by clicking here.

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