Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognised leader in the development of creativity, education and innovation, once said: “Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Creativity can mean different things to different people, and though there are a number of definitions which encompass the term, Robert E. Franklin’s definition best relates to this article. In his book, Human Motivation, he defines creativity as “the tendency to generate or recognise ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.”
When analysing creativity in the context of education, it is vital that we ask ourselves whether our educational system is proficient in promoting creativity. Is our educational system churning out candidates who are equipped with the skills, imagination and intellectual capacity to solve the complex challenges that the information age presents? I don’t think so, and many experts on education and creativity agree.
Having lived in three countries, I’ve had the privilege to experience three different educational systems: the British, Canadian and Pakistani. Though all educational systems could add a dose of creativity into their teaching regiments, the Pakistani educational system is lagging behind when it comes to promoting creativity in the classroom.
My memories of being a student in Karachi involved attentively listening to the teacher while she conducted her daily activities — which mostly involved writing problems on the blackboard. There was less emphasis on group activities, collaborative problem solving and listening to students’ point of view and more importance on rote memorisation. The teacher was always the party in power, a critic in most instances, rather than a friendly coach who facilitated the students in the learning process.
But why is creativity so crucial in teaching? Alane Jordan Starko in her book Creativity in the Classroom writes that real world problem solving and for children to understand what they learn requires, “engaging students with content in flexible and innovative ways.” According to her, students who use content in creative ways, not only learn the content well, but also learn the tactics to identify problems, make decisions and find solutions both in and out of school.
Though there are a number of ways creativity can be enhanced in a school’s curriculum, I believe two-way communication between a child and a teacher is a must. The child should be allowed to be an active participant in the learning process.
Some teachers believe that learning should take place under extreme discipline — in a situation whereby the teacher is the captain of the ship and the students are captured assailants who must adhere to all rule-ridden guidelines. In such a case, a child may be made to feel that whatever the teacher says is the only right way of thinking, without questioning the status quo and exploring alternative possibilities.
It is imperative that we develop a culture of learning whereby students are allowed to question the status quo. It is only then that students’ thought process will be developed and they will reason inductively. I believe one of the many reasons why Pakistan is in turmoil is because some people make irrational decisions based on what others tell them to do or what is expected out of them. They don’t individually reason nor do they question the implications of their actions on themselves and on society at large. A learning environment which allows students to be active participants, will help Pakistan prosper as a nation — considering more children start attending school.
Dr Keith Sawyer, a professor at Washington University in St Louis, a leading expert of creativity, collaboration and learning, and author of books including Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration, also thinks collaboration is the way forward.
He believes the most fundamental change required is that teachers get involved with pupils in a collaborative process — whereby students build their own knowledge and understanding of the curriculum.
“Learning process is fundamentally a creative process,” he says. “Kind of knowledge that they [students] acquire is the kind of knowledge that will prepare them to be creative and go beyond that knowledge.”
Sawyer compares improvisational theater to effective classroom discourse. “In improvisational theater, a group of actors creates a performance without using a script ... These performances emerge from unpredictable and unscripted dialogue, on stage and in front of an audience,” writes Sawyer in an article titled, “Creative teaching: collaborative discussion as disciplined improvisation.” Similarly, effective classroom discussion starts from classroom dialogue and is not “scripted by the lesson plan or by the teacher’s predetermined agenda,” he writes. He argues that teaching is in essence improvisational performance, and perceiving teaching as improvisation emphasises “the collaborative and emergent nature of effective classroom practice.”
Ismet Mamnoon, a US-based facilitator for creative problem solving, suggests that the first step towards instilling creativity in the classroom is to allow children to take risks, believing that the current educational system instills the fear of taking risks in children. “If we’re always being taught there is only one right answer, we will always be trying to seek just that single right answer and we won’t look for alternatives.”
Mamnoon says this hinders risk-taking. According to her, children are born with the ability to take risks, but they are educated out of it. She says there is no way children would learn to walk if they didn’t take risks. “They [children] fall a hundred times a day, yet they keep getting up and taking that chance.”
Mamnoon believes a conducive learning environment is critical for creativity to flourish. According to her, this type of environment involves many different aspects — including honesty, respect, humour and an environment which sustains idea support so children feel confident to present their ideas without fear of ridicule. More so, she suggests it’s vital to create a classroom environment where it’s all right to make mistakes — an environment where mistakes are viewed as learning experiences through which children grow.
Sawyer suggests some techniques which may be useful to enhance creativity in the classroom. The first is project-based learning: In this type of learning, students are given a problem and asked to go through a process of coming up with a solution, he says. “A project that has a meaningful challenge or question and has some connection to the real world,” Sawyer says. “The key is to engage pupils in creating problem solving.”
The second, problem-based learning, involves the teacher coming up with a problem that has many potential solutions. “The reason why it’s so effective for creative learning is different student groups may come up with different solutions,” he says.
Sawyer, however, emphasises that it is vital that children obtain the disciplinary knowledge of the subject, in addition to being creative problem solvers. According to Sawyer, the real challenge therefore lies on the part of the teacher, who must ensure that children are not only engaging in creative problem solving, but also learning the hard core facts essential to understand a subject well.
The lack of creativity in the classroom cannot only be attributed to how teachers orchestrate their classes, says Sawyer. Though part of the solution is in teaching training, Sawyer says, there lies a deeper force which can also affect how teachers conduct their teaching practices. He believes that even if teachers are trained well, when they’re hired into schools, they adapt according to the needs of the schools and their system of teaching — so it’s an institutional and democratic responsibility as well.
Whatever the reasons, educational bodies throughout the world must align their teaching methods so they meet the needs of the information age.
Ample evidence suggests that creativity in the educational sector can impact how children fare in the real world — in an era where communication and critical thinking skills are crucial to have.
Education should provide children with the tools to shape the world they live in, enabling them to critically access issues which not only affect them, but also those which impact the people around them.
The writer is a member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada