Monday, April 7, 2014

RSA/Edge Lecture: Changing Paradigms- How we implement sustainable change in education

RSA/Edge Lecture: Changing Paradigms - How we implement sustainable change in education
Speaker: Sir Ken Robinson
Creativity Expert
Chaired by: Matthew Taylor
Chief Executive, RSA
Date: 16th June 2008
Venue: RSA, 8 John Adam Street, London WC2N 6EZ
This is an unedited transcript of the event. Whilst every effort is made to ensure accuracy there may be phonetic or other errors depending on inevitable variations in recording quality. Please do contact us to point out any errors, which we will endeavour to correct.
To reproduce any part of this transcript in any form please contact RSA Lectures Office at or +44(0)20 7451 6868
The views expressed are not necessarily those of the RSA or its Trustees.
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Matthew Taylor: This is the final RSA Edge lecture in a series which has focussed in raising standards in education. Each of the debates has identified areas for change. The RSA itself has been at the forefront of innovation and change in the education sector for many years.
We are continuing with the success of ‘Opening Minds’, a three- year pilot in schools using a competence-based curriculum, based on individual’s needs. The project continues to change the way that learning is organised in schools in order to make it more relevant to the demands placed on it by life in the 21st century. As part of our commitment to changing education, we are sponsoring an academy in Tipton in the West Midlands.
I think ‘Opening Minds’ is now being taken up by around 200 schools across England and one of the greatest things about ‘Opening Minds’ is that if you go to a school that is using it, they will often, usually won’t describe it as RSA ‘Opening Minds’, they will give it their own name. It has been adapted by schools to their own purposes as a framework.
But the real point of tonight is to introduce you to our marvellous speaker, Sir Ken Robinson. Sir Ken is an internationally renowned expert in the field of creativity and innovation in business and education. He led the British Government’s 1998 Advisory Committee on Education and was knighted in 2003 for his achievements.
You may have seen, and if you have, you are amongst the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who have seen, his inspirational TED talk on ‘Creativity’. Sir Ken’s 2001 book, ‘Out of our Minds: Learning to be Creative’, explains why it is essential to promote creativity and copies are
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available to purchase outside the auditorium.
This evening Sir Ken will give the final RSA Edge lecture on ‘Changing Paradigms’, how we implement sustainable change in education.
But tonight’s event is also the RSA Benjamin Franklin Medal Lecture. The Benjamin Franklin Medal was first awarded in 1956 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Franklin’s birth and the 200th anniversary of his membership of the RSA. Today the medal is awarded to a global big thinker; someone who has shifted public debate in an innovative way and who has contributed to furthering public discourse about human progress.
I am delighted now to formally announce the award of the 2008 Benjamin Franklin Medal to Sir Ken Robinson and please join me in welcoming RSA Chairman, Gerry Acher, who will present the medal. Gerry.
Gerry Acher: One of the most pleasurable jobs of the RSA is presenting the Benjamin Franklin Medal and I am thrilled to be able to present it to you for everything you have done and everything that I know you are doing and will continue to do. You follow in the footsteps of David Puttnam, Marjorie Scardino, Jonathan Ive and you are a really worthwhile and exciting recipient of this award and to have the pleasure of listening to you shortly makes it absolutely thrilling. Thank you very much indeed.
Sir Ken Robinson: Thank you very much. Were you surprised when it was actually me that got the medal? Were you? You could feel the tension building, couldn’t you? Who will it be? Thank you. I am genuinely humbled to have this award.
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I was thinking earlier that being humbled isn’t a normal feeling, is it? I don’t often feel humbled. Disparaged, humiliated, you know, put down, but humbled is a rather old feeling, isn’t it? It is not a modern emotion and particularly to have this award in the name of Benjamin Franklin who was the most remarkable man.
He lived nearby in Craven Street. The house is a few minutes away and I really recommend that you go and take a look at it. It is has just been opened, just been renovated. It is a very powerful evocation of the life of this extraordinary figure. A man who was deeply involved in the growth of industrialism, at the heart of the Enlightenment, at the heart of the creation of the New World and with a passion for education.
A man who is also deeply interested in science, in the arts, in the humanities and in politics. A polymath, I think, a Renaissance figure in the heart of the Enlightenment and one of the first significant members of the Royal Society of Arts. If you don’t know this institution, I really encourage you to find out more about it.
It was founded, I think I am correct in saying, in 1753, by William Shipley and its full name is the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. It has had a long history in the promotion and advocacy of appropriate forms of public education.
I have had a long association myself with the RSA. I gave a lecture here, even Matthew may not know this, in July of 1990, in this very room and I propose to repeat it word for word if that is all right. I don’t see why I should waste time thinking up anything fresh for you frankly.
No, in 1990, I had been running a National Arts in Schools project and I
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had published a book on the Arts in Schools. I have a great passion for the arts and we were meeting here shortly after the introduction of the National Curriculum in England, which profoundly misunderstood the place of the arts in education. So I was talking about how the arts could be made part of the mainstream of education.
Here we are 17 years later when it is all so different I feel. So I want to say a few words about that and I want to show you a couple of short movie clips and then to have a conversation with you.
One of the things that has happened to me since 1990 is that I have moved to live in America and I moved there seven years ago at the invitation of the Getty Centre. I didn’t flee Great Britain but put yourself in my place. I had a phone call on the 3rd January 1990 when I was living near Coventry. This guy said, “Would you like to come and live in California?” We left immediately.
I didn’t ask what the job was, we just went. The phone is still swinging on the hook actually in the house and we hope one day the children will track us down but we don’t care.
But I now live in America and I love it. Who has been to Los Angeles here, anyone? It is an extraordinary place. We were in Las Vegas recently, my wife and I. We’ve been together for 30 years and we decided last year to get married again so we went to the Elvis Chapel. No, I recommend it. You should do it. We had the Blue Hawaii package but there are others. But with the Blue Hawaii package you get the Elvis impersonator, four songs, the chapel of course, a puff of smoke as you go in. You have to request that. And a hula girl, that was optional but I opted for it and, for reasons I
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was rather pleased about frankly. For another $100 we could have had a pink Cadillac, but we thought that was a bit tacky. We thought that was lowering the tone of the whole occasion frankly, but I mention it because Las Vegas is an iconic example of the thing I would like us to talk about, not Las Vegas itself, but the idea that gave rise to it.
If you think of it, every other city on earth has a reason to be where it is. Like London, it is in a natural basin, so it is good for trade, or it is in a harbour, or it is in a valley so it’s good for agriculture, you know, or it’s on a hillside so it is good for defence. None of this is true of Las Vegas. There is no physical reason for it to be there. The only reason it is there is the thing that gave rise to this organisation that affects very aspect of your life, which makes humanity what it is. The only thing, in my opinion, which is the extraordinary power which is bestowed on human beings that no other species has, as far as we can judge.
I mean the power of imagination. We take it totally for granted. This capacity to bring into mind things that aren’t present and, on that basis, to hypothesise about things that have never been, but could be.
Every feature of human culture, in my view, is the consequence of this unique capacity. Now other creatures may have something like it. Other creatures sing, but they don’t write operas. Other creatures are agile but they don’t form Olympic committees. They communicate but they don’t have festivals of theatre. They have structures but they don’t build buildings and furnish them. We are unique in this capacity, a capacity that has produced the most extraordinary diversity of human culture, of enterprise, of innovation. 6,000 languages currently spoken on earth and the great adventure which produced, among
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other things, the Royal Society of Arts and all of its works.
But I believe that we systematically destroy this capacity in our children and in ourselves. Now I pick my words carefully. I don’t say deliberately, I don’t think it is deliberate but it happens to be systematic. We do it routinely, unthinkingly, and that is the worst of it because we take for granted certain ideas about education, about children, about what it is to be educated; about social need and about social utility, about economic purpose. We take these ideas for granted and they turn out not to be true.
Many ideas which seem obvious turn out not to be true. That was really the great adventure of the Enlightenment; ideas that seemed obvious that turned out not to be true. Ironically though I believe the legacy of the Enlightenment is now hampering the reforms that are needed in education.
We have grown up in a system of public education which is dominated by two ideas. One of them is a conception of economic utility and you can illustrate that directly. It is implicit in the structure of the school curriculum. It is simply present. There is in every school system on earth a hierarchy of subjects. You know it, you went through it. If you are in education you probably subscribe to it or you contribute to it somehow.
When we moved to America we put our kids into high school and it was recognisable, the curriculum was totally recognisable. Maths, Science and English Language at the top; then the Humanities and the Arts way down the bottom and in the Arts there is always another hierarchy, Art and Music are always thought to be
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more important than Drama and Dance.
There isn’t a school in the country that I know of, sorry, a school system, let me be clear. There isn’t a school system actually anywhere that teaches Dance every day, systematically, to every child in the way that we require them to learn Mathematics. Now I am not against Mathematics. On the contrary, but why is Dance such a loser in the system?
Well I think one of the reasons is, people never saw any economic point in it. So there is an economic judgement that is made in the structure of the school curriculum. I am sure it was true of you, you probably found yourself benignly steered away from things you were good at at school, towards things that other people advised you would be more useful to you.
So effectively, our school curricula are based on the premise that there are two sorts of subject; useful ones and useless ones. The useless ones fall away eventually and they fall away especially when money starts to become tight, as it always is.
George Bush was in town today, wasn’t he? I just thought I would share the pain, that was all. I am feeling it. No, President Bush, as I call him, was responsible, with others, for a cross- party piece of legislation in America to reform public education. I have lots of conversations about it now I live in America, which I shall keep saying by the way, to make you feel bad. Okay, I live in California ... and you don’t, so there you go.
When I got to America I was told that the Americans don’t get irony. This is not true, this is a British conceit. I feel okay about it because there are other one, when we went to America we were given a guidebook about ‘How
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to Behave in America’, honestly, by our removals agent. ‘How to Behave in America’ I’m handing it out to all the Americans I meet now, you do it, you do it, let’s all behave properly shall we?
But one of the things it said in it was don’t hug people in America, they don’t like it. Honestly, it was explicit, they don’t like it. This turns out to be nonsense. They love it. People in my experience love getting hugged in America but we thought they didn’t so for the first year we kept our arms to our sides at social functions for fear of giving offence and this all added to the idea that we typified British reserve or that we were some refugees from ‘Riverdance’, you know.
But I was told the Americans don’t get irony and then I came across this piece of legislation in America called ‘No Child Left Behind’, and I thought, whoever came up with that title gets irony because this legislation is leaving millions of children behind. Of course, that is not a very attractive name for legislation, ‘Millions of Children Left Behind’ I can see that but give or take a twiddle, it’s the 1988 Education Act in this country.
It was the manifesto pretty much that inspired the work of Chris Woodhead, I believe, during his time at Ofsted. Now I think this is important because what it represents to me is the ideology of education writ large and that is the problem.
So I am going to be talking about changing paradigms. My firm conviction is that we have to do much, much more than is currently happening. Every country on earth at the moment is reforming public education. I don’t know of an exception. Mark you, what’s new? We have always been reforming public education but we are doing it now
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consistently and systematically all over the place.
There are two reasons for it. The first of them is economic. People are trying to work out, how do we educate our children to take their place in the economies of the 21st century given that we can’t anticipate what the economy will look like at the end of next week, as the recent turmoil is demonstrating. How do we do that?
The second though is cultural. Every country on earth is trying to figure out how do we educate our children so that they have a sense of cultural identity and so that we can pass on the cultural genes of our communities while being part of the process of globalisation. How do we square that circle?
Most countries, I believe, are doing what we were doing in 1988. Operating on the premise that the challenge is to reform education to make it a better version of what it was. In other words, the challenge is just to do better what we did before but to improve and we have to raise standards.
And people say that we have to raise standards as if it was a break- through. You know, like really, we should. Why would you lower them? I haven’t come across an argument that persuades me of lowering them but raise them? Of course we should raise them.
The problem is that the current system of education, in my view and experience, was designed and conceived and structured for a different age. It was conceived in the intellectual culture of the Enlightenment and in the economic circumstances of the Industrial Revolution. Before the middle of the 19th century, there were no systems of public education. Not really, you know, you could get educated by
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Jesuits if you had the money but public education, paid for by taxation, compulsory to everybody and free at the point of delivery, that was a revolutionary idea. Many people objected to it. They said, “It’s not possible for many street kids, working class children, to benefit from public education. They are incapable of learning to read and write and why are we spending time on this?”
So there is also built into it a whole series of assumptions about social structure and capacity. But it was designed for its purpose, which was why, as the public system evolved in the 19th and early 20th century, we ended up with a very broad base of elementary education, junior schools. Everybody went to that. My father’s father, my grandfather, he went to that. He left school by the time he was 12. Most people did then at the turn of the century. Then gradually we introduced a layer above it of secondary education and some people went into that but my father left school at 14 having gone into that.
Then a small university sector sat across the top of it and the assumption was that people would work and a few would get to the top and would go to university. It was modelled on the economic premises of industrialism. That is, that we needed a broad base of people to do manual blue-collar work; you know, roughly they could do language and arithmetic. A smaller group who could go to administrative work, that is what the grammar schools were for and an even smaller group who would go off and run the Empire for us and become the lawyers and the judges and the doctors and they went to the universities.
Now I simplify, but that is essentially how the thing came about and it was driven by an economic
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imperative of the time, but running right through it was an intellectual model of the mind, which was essentially the Enlightenment view of intelligence. That real intelligence consists in the capacity for a certain type of deductive reasoning and a knowledge of the Classics originally, what we come to think of as academic ability.
This is deep in the gene pool of public education that there are really two types of people, academic and non- academic. Smart people and non-smart people and the consequence of that is that many brilliant people think they are not because they have been judged against this particular view of the mind.
So we have twin pillars, economic and intellectual and my view is that this model has caused chaos in many people’s lives. It has been great for some. There have been people who have benefited wonderfully from it but most people have not and it has created a massive problem.
I spoke at a conference a couple, well the TED conference that Matthew referred to. One of the other speakers was Al Gore, or Al as I refer to him. Al Gore gave the talk at the TED conference; by the way if you don’t know the TED conference I do recommend you visit the website, It is fantastic. But Al Gore gave the talk that became the movie, ‘Inconvenient Truth’.
Al Gore’s view, which isn’t his, he would be the first to say it. It dates back to Rachael Carson and earlier. It actually dates back if you look, even to the work of Linnaeus in the 18th century. It dates back to Franklin. It dates back to the work of this Society. A concern with the ecology of the natural works and the sustainability of industrialism in the 17th and 18th century we were concerned about it.
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But his work is an attempt to put the case back into a modern context. I believe he is right and it is not just his view. A group of geologists have just published a paper in which they argue that the earth has entered a new geological period. Classically the view is that since the end of the last Ice Age, about 12,000 years ago, we were in a period called the Holocene period.
They believe we have entered a new period and they say if people were to, a future generation of geologists were to come to earth, they would see the evidence of it, of a change in the earth’s geological personality. They would see it in the evidence of carbon deposits in the earth’s crust, the acidification of oceans, the evidence of a mass extinction of species, the change in the earth’s atmosphere and a hundred other indicators. They say it is unmistakably, in their view, a new geological period. And a series of Nobel scientists have agreed to this view. They are provisionally calling this not the Holocene but the Anthropocene. What they mean by that is a geological age, created by the activities of people, as in Anthropoids. And they say there is no historical precedence for this and this is really what I want to get to.
Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, William Shipley, the great figures of the Enlightenment, both in politics and science and the Arts, were conceiving public education and civic structures and politics of duty at a time of revolutionary turmoil. It was the age of revolutions in France, in America, not long after our civil disturbance here, at a time of extraordinary intellectual adventures and new horizons; extraordinary innovation. For them there was nothing really that ever led to an age of such innovation and such
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extraordinary change, the rate of it and it was a fair characterisation of the times.
But there is every evidence to show now that what was happening then is as nothing to what is happening now. I believe the changes taking place on earth now are without precedent in terms of their character and their implications. And our best salvation is to develop this capacity for imagination and to do it systematically through public education and to connect people with their true talents. We simply can’t afford this devastation any more.
So when Al Gore talks about this, I believe him. And I think if you don’t believe there is a crisis in the world’s natural environment, then you are not paying attention and I would take the option to leave the planet soon.
You see, I believe that there is a parallel climate crisis. Now one of them is probably enough for you honestly. You might think, ‘No, I am fine, one is good.’ You know, ‘I don’t need a second one.’ But there is a second one and it is what my work is about and I guess what many of you will be concerned about and I know what Edge is concerned about and what Matthew and the RSA is currently concerned about, but let me put it in a particular way to you.
I believe there is a global crisis, not in natural resources, though I believe it, a global crisis in human resources. I believe that the parallel with the crisis in the natural world is exact and the cost of clearing this up are catastrophic.
I will give you a couple of quick examples: in California the State Government last year spent about $3 billion on the State University system, this is their published figures. They spent over $9 billion on the State
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Prison system. Now I cannot believe that more potential criminals are born every year in California than potential college graduates. What you have are people in bad conditions going bad.
I remember Bernard Levin once, he wrote in one of his articles in The Times, he said he had been at a dinner party and he was asked, the question round the dinner table was, “Are people mainly good or mainly bad?” He said, without hesitation, “They are mainly good.” He said, “I was astonished to find I was in a minority around the table, I was in a minority of one.”
But he believed with Victor Frankel, who survived the Holocaust, and saw his parents die, that for all of that people are fundamentally good. I believe they are fundamentally good but there are people living in very bad circumstances and conditions and if you put people in poor conditions they behave in particular ways.
So we spend a lot of our time remediating the damage and meanwhile I believe that the other exact parallel is that pharmaceutical companies are reaping a Gold Rush from this distress. If you look at the growth of antidepressants, prescription drugs to treat depression, to suppress people’s feelings, this is a Gold Rush. I mean pharmaceutical companies don’t want to cure depression, on the contrary.
I mean also, one of the figures I saw recently is that suicide rates among 15 – 30 year olds have increased over 60% globally since the 1960s. It is one of largest causes of death among young people. I mean, what is that? People born with hope and optimism who decide to check out because they can’t cope.
Now I don’t say education is a part of that, or responsible for it, but
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it contributes to it. That is really all I want to say. So this crisis of human resources is, I think, absolutely urgent and palpable.
So the challenge for me is not to reform education but to transform it into something else. I think we have to come to a different set of assumptions.
Now, I say this advisedly because I have been involved in all kinds of initiatives over my professional life. I started out in drama work, I moved, I ran a big Arts and schools project. Some of the people in the room I have known for years and I’ve worked with for years and I’ve had a long association here.
One of the great initiatives of the RSA in the 1980s was ‘Education for Capability’. You should look at ‘Education for Capability’, it said extraordinary useful and practical things and there were wonderful people around it. Charles Handy, who I have got to know recently, well not recently, but who I have got to know well in recent years, who was Chairman here of the RSA. Tyrell Burgess, Corelli Barnet, Patrick Lutchens, I shared an apartment when I was a student with Patrick’s son and a kind of, a galaxy of really powerful thinkers.
John Tomlinson, who are Chairman here for a while, who was with me at Warwick University. There has been a long tradition of arguing for the change, arguing for the alternative and yet successive Governments come in and do what they did before. And this really worries me, and I speak personally. After all the optimism I felt ten years ago, I feel that we’ve had, over the past ten years, a kind of myriad policies but too few principles.
I can’t see what they have added up to and I say that because I didn’t see it before and I don’t see it anywhere else. I mean, there are some countries
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which I feel are getting this right but was are not and the reason is because we are not fundamentally changing the underlying assumptions of the system which are to do with intelligence, ability, economic purpose and what people need.
We still educate people from the outside in. We figure out what the country needs and then we try and get them to conform with it rather than seeing what makes people drive forward and building education systems around a model of person- hood, which I think is what we should come to.
So let me just, I just want to show you a couple of quick slides to, ... I don’t have to, but as I’ve gone to the trouble of preparing them ... frankly, I just want to give you an example of a couple of things here. Oh, by the way, some of these things, as Matthew kindly said, are in this book.
This book, by the way, is terrific. You could not do better than buy this book. That is, unless you buy this book, which is the new book which is coming out in January from Penguin. I am very excited about this book. This book is about the nature of human talent and how people discover it. It is based on the premise that people do their best when they do the thing they love, when they are in their element.
So I was trying to get to grips with what that is. What is it to be in your element? I spoke to scientists and artists and business leaders and poets and parents and kids and it seems to me the evidence is absolutely persuasive. When people connect this powerful sense of talent within themselves, discover what it is they can do, they become somebody else and that to me is the premise of building a new education system. It is
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not about reinforcing the old model but reconstituting our sense of self and it happens to synergise, is that a verb, I’m not sure, with the new economic purposes.
There are two big drivers of change currently; one is technology, you know that. This is a brain cell; what I just want, I’m not going to dwell on it but what I just want to underline is that technology is moving faster than most people really truthfully understand.
Can I ask you, how many of you here consider yourself to be ‘baby boomers’ or older? I thought so. Who is not? Who considers yourself to be a generation X-er or a millennial? Okay. You boomer types and older ... no, actually, if you are over 30, would you put your hands up if you are wearing a wrist watch ... there we go, thank you, just curious. No, this is interesting. Ask a roomful of teenagers the same question, ask them if they wear wristwatches and they mainly don’t.
The reason is, I want to make two points, the reason they don’t wear wristwatches is because they don’t see the point because for them time is everywhere. It is on their i-phones, their i-pods, their mobile phones, it is everywhere. No, why would you wear this. My daughter can’t understand me; why I would put a special device on my wrist to tell the time. And she said, “Plus, this only does one thing.”
So then it’s like, how lame is that? A single-function device, so have you cracked up ... but we take it for granted don’t we? You have other options but this thing about taking it for granted is important. It is the things we take for granted that we need to identify and question. I mean did you think about putting your watch on this morning. Truthfully, was it like an agony? Shall I? You know, is it a watchy day? I’ll put it on to be safe. You don’t, do you? You just do it.
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Our kids don’t and it points to something important. A guy called Marc Prensky made this point that our children live in a different world. He talks about the difference between digital natives and digital immigrants. If you are born, if you are under 20, you are a native. You speak digital. You were born with this stuff and it is in your head like a first language. We are less so.
But the point is, this is getting faster and faster and faster. One of the new horizons is likely to be the merging of human intelligence with information systems. That is a brain cell and that is a brain cell growing on a silicone chip. Well, we’ll see.
But there are things that lie ahead for which there are no precedent and they impact on culture. It promises to be extraordinary.
This is the other thing I want to point to, which is the curve of the world’s population; you see, 1750, when the RSA was being established and William Shipley was wondering what to do in the evenings, there were about a billion people on the whole of the earth. Pretty evenly distributed; mostly in the far-flung parts of what became the Empire, but a lot of them in what were to become the industrialised economies. About a billion people; London was a tiny place by comparison.

Now, if you look at this curve, we are about six billion and the big jump happened in 1970, well from 1970 to the year 2000 where the population of the earth increased by 3 million. 1968 you will remember was the summer of love. It is probably a coincidence but we all did our bit. But the interesting thing, the dark line is the growth of population in the developed economies. The real growth is happening in the emergent economies; in Asia, Africa, parts of


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