Creativity In Education

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“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”  (Sir Ken Robinson, TedTalk: Do schools kill creativity?)

It’s amazing how simply stated the truth can be.  The TedTalk is about how the educational systems that are in existence around the world and how they were created to serve the purpose of Industrialization.  But society has progressed beyond Industrialization, we’ve entered an Information Society.  If our societal structure has changed, why shouldn’t our educational system?  Why do we keep emphasizing the same courses, the same processes, the same “value system” if society has changed?

In his TedTalk Sir Ken also states that according to UNESCO, more people will be graduating in the next thirty years (ten year old video so we are already 1/3 the way into this) than have graduated in all of human history.

We are training people in areas that may not exist by the time they graduate.  We have no idea what the world is going to be like in five years, much less the ten to fifteen years it will take for someone to get through the educational system yet, somehow, we seem to think that what was valid back in the 1850’s is still going to be valid in the 2020’s.  Hubris, or a lack of understanding of the changes that are affecting society?

We emphasize “correctness” versus “effort” or “creativity”.  We’ve tried to “fake” creativity by teaching kids multiple ways to add or multiply numbers together but it’s not creativity.  The kids did not come up with the new method of adding numbers together, they were taught a process to use under the guise of creativity.

A number of years ago my family went on a spring vacation to Florida.  We spent a week in Florida and then a week on a cruise.  Because of the length of time we had to take our youngest, Beka, out of school for a week.  Like the doting parents we are we asked her about school and how things were going.  She complained, loudly, about how math was too complicated.  They were teaching kids a new way of adding numbers together claiming that it more closely resembled how kids thought.  Apparently not how my daughter thought.  After figuring out the issue we actually taught her the same way that we had been taught as kids.  Within minutes she had grasped the concept and knew exactly what to do.  When she went back to school and followed this new process on an exam she was accused of “cheating” by not following the process that everyone else had been taught.  Yes, she was criticized for being creative when the whole purpose of this new process was supposed to be creativity.

Do schools kill creativity?  I think so.  We are so obsessed with comparing ourselves to each other that we try and level out the playing field so that everyone can be evaluated the same.  But perhaps what we need is a new way to compare people keeping in mind the differences in how society has changed and will continue to change.  Sure, have standardized tests, but why constrain the children by their age?  For instance, if Child A can pass a grade 12 exam when they are twelve or fourteen years old, why not let them?  Why restrict them based on how old they are?

I spent two years in the Honours Computing Science program at the University of Alberta.  Of the 20 courses I took I think I only used information from 2 or 3 of them in real life.  (Yes, figuring out the weight of an object travelling at 98% of the speed of light was actually useful … in writing a science fiction story.)  Surely there is a better way of teaching, a better way of understanding the capabilities of those going through the education system.  Are we saying that a system devised not last century, but the century before that, is still valid?  Human society revolves around the need for a variety of different types of people.  How do we do a better job of understanding peoples skills and talents?

We “batch” kids up so that they are with others their own age – supposedly for socializing purposes – but don’t teach them according to their own abilities, we teach them according to preset guidance from someone who has never seen the group of kids.  As society evolves, as technology evolves, we have the opportunity to fine tune education to an individuals needs.  Instead of mass produced graduates we have people whose skills are fine tuned to what they want.

It’s time for an educational revolution.

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