According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a paradox is a situation that seems impossible or is difficult to understand because it contains two opposite facts or characteristics. I found this to be the perfect word to describe the current relationship between the demand and supply of creativity in our society: how come we expect people to be creative if nowhere are we nurturing it?
According to the World Economic Forum, creativity will be one of the most demanded skills by 2025. It is expected to be in 7th place, although one can say that even the 1st one, innovation, walks side by side with it.
Nevertheless, the current supply of creativity not only has been falling behind its demand, as it will continue to fall if our schools do not rethink the way they “teach” creativity. Where are students developing and stimulating this skill? The answer is simple: nowhere.
This was a matter addressed by Sir Ken Robinson, in 2006, on the most viewed Ted Talk of all times (“Do schools kill creativity?”), but, even after 380 million views, the panorama is still the same…
Little has changed since 2006, or since Sir Ken’s time as a student. In fact, here is a photo of when Sir Ken’s grandparents were students. Can you tell a difference?
But one more difference is important to highlight: back then, the skills required to have a job were… not even reading and writing and now extremely complex capacities like critical thinking and problem-solving are demanded.
So, how come the same methodology work for both needs?
Every educational system on earth has the same hierarchy of subjects: at the top sciences, followed by languages and humanities and, only at the bottom, arts. Although a lot of educators think of creativity as something only arts-related (a myth that unfortunately shapes the way we approach education), the truth is that the skills that come with creativity are also core competencies in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). In fact, you need them in all spheres of life.
“My contention is that creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.”
– Sir Ken Robinson, in “Do schools kill creativity?”
As children grow, we start to educate them progressively from the waist up, tending to their heads and particularly to their left side (the one responsible for the analytical thinking). The consequences? Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they are not because the thing they are good at at school is not valued or is even stigmatized. Making mistakes is, for instance, part of the creative process. If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original and if you cannot innovate, you will never fulfill the job market’s needs by 2025.
One of the main barriers to creativity in schools is the heavily charged curriculum. It is urgent that we rethink the traditional division of school subjects and design a more flexible and balanced one. Until then, we should focus on the fact that even the most detailed and traditional curricula do not tell teachers exactly how to teach. Therefore, from the creativity perspective, there is still considerable freedom for teachers to decide for themselves how they can teach creatively.
One of the main effects of our current educational culture has been the de-professionalization of teachers, although teachers are the lifeblood of the success of schools. We often forget how teaching is a creative profession and how teaching properly conceived is not a delivery system: you are not there just to pass on the received information. Great teachers also mentor, provoke, stimulate, and engage.
Most of the time, the heavy curricula force these professionals to be constantly running against the clock, such that, when it comes to evaluating students, standardize tests often arise as the preferred choice. This is a method invented more than 100 years ago, back when there was a shortage of teachers off fighting a World War and a rapid influx of students into the school systems. This is, indeed, an appropriate method… when educational systems’ goal is to pump students out as fast as the assembly lines in Industrial America used to push out products. (Is standardization the point of our educational system?).
Ironically, it did not take long for the creator of this method, Frederick J. Kelly, to admit how: “These tests are too crude to be used and should be abandoned”. Unfortunately, more than one century has passed and they still represent the maximum expression of a system little worried with teaching and learning, but testing. Testing overall is important, indeed, and standardized tests have a place, but they should not be the dominant culture of education. They should be diagnostic, not decisive.
Tomorrow’s schools need to reform these approaches and redefine priorities: critical thinking over memorization and uniqueness over standardization.
There’s an urgent need to start focusing on increasing the use of open-ended questions (a method that truly develops creative thinking by analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing information and knowledge); to start making efficient use of educational technologies (I wonder how come most teachers still look at mobile phones as a source of distraction, not a powerful source of information); to start allowing mistakes and sensible risk-taking (which creates a caring and encouraging learning environment where students feel free and safe to experiment new ideas) and even to start providing original explanations of facts and challenging comments on traditional knowledge (which can constitute creative ways of viewing otherwise non-creative subjects).
All things considered, only after we rethink the way we approach and nurture creativity in our educational systems can we expect our labor force to think outside the box, to envision without boundaries, and to see beyond the obvious.
Paradox. (n.d.). In Cambridge Dictionary. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/pt/dicionario/ingles/paradox
World Economic Forum. (2020). The Future of Jobs. https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs_2020.pdf
Escalante, A. (2020, November 30). Creativity Education Is Equally Important For Careers In STEM And The Arts. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisonescalante/2020/11/30/creativity-education-is-equally-important-for-careers-in-stem-and-the-arts/?sh=5f759bc4554f
Cash, G. (2016, November 17). Standardized tests should be put to rest. HHS Media. https://hhsmedia.com/17363/opinion/standardized-tests-should-be-put-to-rest/
Robinson, S. K. (2006, February). Do schools kill creativity? [Video]. TED. https://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_do_schools_kill_creativity