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Creativity In Education; What’s The Point?

6 January 2016 planneruk2016 News and Views

There are a growing number of people advocating a creative approach to our curriculum in the UK. Ken Robinson is undoubtedly the most high-profile advocate, but with 45,000,000 views (YouTube and TED.com combined) for his TED talk on creativity, he clearly isn’t alone. But why are so many of us starting to think this way; why do so many teachers and people involved in education claim to have an answer that Education Minister after Education Minister fails to agree with?

What is the point of a creative curriculum?

There is a short answer to this – creative thinkers are more likely to understand and think about the needs of our world as well as their communities. Creativity is about questioning and challenging, researching and considering things in depth. A curriculum that doesn’t embrace creativity simply learns facts, accepts them, and regurgitates them in exams. The main purpose of education is to enable students to understand the world around them and develop their talents; to help them become fulfilled individuals and active, compassionate citizens.

If entrepreneurial celebrities like Richard Branson and Lord Alan Sugar can fail in our education system but go on to achieve an incredible level of success, the curriculum as it has been taught is clearly failing.

Preparing For The Future

A curriculum which is based around studying for and passing exams teaches valuable life skills. No, really: it does. The dedication and organisation required to effectively revise a subject are important – and the subject matter learnt isn’t likely to be detrimental to students either. However, what life skills are there to be gained from revision?

Ken Robinson argues that the current curriculum is designed to prepare students for further education and, ultimately, to become university lecturers. This is ideal for the comparatively small number of people for whom that is their life goal. However, there are many more students who need to develop a wider range of skills to be prepared for life.

A creative curriculum is an approach to learning that opens up genuine creative thinking processes in all subject areas, rather than simply seeing creativity as using the arts to illuminate or enliven a curriculum area. A creative curriculum encourages children to use their imagination and curiosity.

We must encourage creative skills in the children, not just by making the learning more memorable, but by getting children to observe, classify, hypothesize, experiment, interpret, draw conclusions from evidence and recognise patterns in events and learning. If we nurture these skills, our students are bound to benefit from them in later life.

Learning, much like life, must have investigation, discovery, invention and co-operation at the heart of it. Teaching has to be about ‘uncovering the subject’, rather than ‘covering the subject.‘ We should aim to teach our students all seven of Tony Wagner’s survival skills, not just one or two. 

Recognising children’s abilities – all of them!

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” – Unknown

Currently, our education system only tests for a few types of intelligence. We measure pupils’ academic ability to memorise and regurgitate information. We have spent decades convincing ourselves, and each other, that this is the single most important and vital skill one can possess, and, therefore, our education system should be designed to test for this.

I’ve never been lucky enough to ask him in person, but I am fairly confident that if I did get the chance to ask David Beckham whether his academic intelligence or footballing intelligence have served him best in life, he would quickly arrive at the obvious conclusion.

Not every student who wishes to is going to make it as a sportsperson, just as not every student who wants to be an actor, a musician, or a novelist will achieve those goals. It is an outdated and outmoded practice to convince our children to give up on their pursuits of a creative career and focus on academia. There are hundreds of creative careers in music, in sport, and in theatre. Whilst your students may not form the next One Direction, they might just put together the backing track to a future number one. They may not appear onstage at a West End show, but they might orchestrate the logistics making it happen.

We must recognise all of our students’ abilities – including their creative mindset – and encourage them to work on and pursue what they are good at. To quote Mark Twain, “…find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life”.

Did you know that Paul McCartney and George Harrison attended the same school, and none of their teachers ever recognised, let alone encouraged their musical potential? Could that happen in a school today? Probably. That is exactly why we need to re-evaluate the way we recognise and value different types of intelligence.

Britain is creative, and it always has been

The UK has a long and rich heritage of creativity and the arts. From Jane Austen to Freddie Mercury, we have produced and celebrated some of the most incredible creative minds in history.

We have had a thriving music industry, produced some of the most renowned films ever made, and been home to literary works exalted the world over. That’s before we even mention the talented artists and poets who have called our island home.

We mustn’t allow our heritage of being at the forefront of art and creative development to end just because we don’t value it in our schools.

There is a great story of Churchill being asked whether the country was going to cut the arts budget in favour of the war fund.

Then what are we fighting for?

In terms of historical accuracy, I think this has been almost totally debunked, but its sentiment is spot on. We are a creative country, and always have been; we mustn’t let that end.

Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination

It is vital that we encourage and develop our students’ imagination. From the seed of imagination grows creation and innovation.

There is little to no imagination involved in learning endless dates and historical facts, or memorising the times tables – other than daydreaming, perhaps.

We should strive to create an education system in which imagination is cherished and encouraged; otherwise, we are depriving the world of possible future inventors, entrepreneurs, and writers.

“A lot of people never use their initiative, because no one told them to.”

It is of course vital that, as human beings, we are comfortable with using our initiative to make our own decisions and direct our own learning or work. The above quote is credited to Banksy, although I am not sure whether this has been confirmed, and whilst it sounds pithy and succinct, I don’t actually agree with it.

When I was at school, I was told to use my initiative quite frequently. Whether that was by teachers who were trying to encourage independent thinking and learning, or just by those who were fed up of answering my questions. I don’t think the issue is that we are not asking our students to use their initiative; it is that we are asking them to, and then they leave school and suddenly no one is telling them to use their initiative anymore.

Rather than telling students that they can or should use their initiative on a task, we should be creating learning environments in which our students know that they can and should be using their initiative at all times. Such an environment will encourage creativity, and prepare students for a life outside of school where no one will be telling them to use their initiative any more.

I believe that creativity is as important to education as literacy. Imagination and curiosity are at the heart of all human achievements, so we must give children the opportunity to express themselves creatively through a wide range of subject areas. We need to teach a curriculum that encourages children to think and learn creatively.

A creative person:

  • Questions and challenges
  • Makes connections and sees relationships
  • Envisages what might be
  • Explores ideas, keeping options open

The Fulbridge Academy chose a creative curriculum, and it has certainly worked for them. Find out why they chose a creative approach.