Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Seeds of Growth

This is an article that I recently contributed to our school newsletter:

The Seeds of Growth: Why creativity is essential in education.
We live in a world that is changing faster than ever before and facing challenges that are unprecedented. These sorts of challenges require innovative ideas and approaches. As such, many governments, companies and people are interested in innovation. The difficulty with innovation is that it cannot be just turned on like a switch. Innovation is a process that involves three parts:
  • Imagination - The power to bring to mind the things that aren’t here in the present.
  • Creativity - Applied imagination. The process of putting your imagination to work and having original ideas that have value.
  • Innovation - Putting original ideas into practice. [1] [8] 

Education, in a nutshell, has three main roles: 
Economic: To provide the skills required to earn a living and be economically productive; 
Cultural: To deepen understanding of the world; 
Individual: To develop individual talents and sensibilities. [8] 

If these roles are examined through the lens of creativity then it becomes difficult to separate them.
Economic - Business leaders constantly promote the desire to hire creative, innovate employees who can work in teams and communicate well. In 2008, and again in 2012, IBM conducted a survey of over 1000 CEOs around the world, asking them what were the keys to their future and prolonged success.  A summary of their answers shows that top performers: 
  1. Hunger for and embrace change, rather than react to it.
  2. Innovate beyond customer imagination to reach the technologically sophisticated.
  3. Seek new ways to organise globally to tap worldwide talent. [5] [6] [10]
The economy is asking for graduates of education who are competent in these things. In a world where over-qualification is becoming more of an issue, businesses aim to recruit the best staff possible and they look closely for these attributes. Educating the population through an out-dated, industrialised model will not achieve the economic goals it sets out to. So, instead of educating our students with the same model as the past 100 years, we must approach it in new ways. This means that some of the things you see happening at school will look different to what parents may remember them to be like when they were younger [1] [8].

Cultural - The world is becoming more connected, complicated and challenging.  Finding ways to live together is becoming more interdependent and dynamic. As the world becomes smaller, the ability to collaborate and understand how others feel becomes more and more important. A major part of innovation and creative thinking is the aspect of collaboration and working in teams. This is not to say that new ideas are thought of exclusively with other people, but generally ideas and innovations are created and improved on through the critical feedback of others. Focussing on creativity in education means that students have opportunities to develop the key skills of collaboration. Without these skills, cultural education becomes more difficult to achieve [1] [8].

Individual - Education is also about helping people find their own course in life. It is about helping them find what has value and meaning for them. It is of course important to have some commonalities across all schooling systems - everyone needs to be able to read, write and add. However, it is also important to encourage human capacity amongst all of the students we teach. This means we need to breakdown the traditional ‘academic’ and ‘non-academic’ dichotomy and value the passions and expertise of all. Everyone has talents, inspirations and skills and education should allow these to flourish [3] [4] [7] [8] [11]. 

It was stated earlier that education must be approached in new ways. In PYP schools (and other similar programs) we follow a curriculum framework and philosophy of learning that actively encourages the development of essential attitudes, one of which is creativity. We allow elements of choice for our students in their learning. We assess them individually and as teams. We give them opportunities to play, explore and pursue personal inquiries. Creativity is about making connections and developing relationships. In PYP schools we have a transdisciplinary curriculum where students are encouraged to seek connections between what they are learning and how it relates to the world, themselves and to others [2]. We utilise new technologies that present fresh possibilities for creative work. We strive to create environments that encourage risk-taking.

As human beings we have an extraordinary power - the ability to imagine things outside of our current experiences and to express them in forms that other people can engage with and grasp. No other species on Earth has this ability. If you’re pursuing original thinking then there are a lot of wrong turns. Failure is not the right way to describe this - it is experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. If you live in a culture where you’re frightened of failing then innovation and creativity starts to be inhibited. If fresh thinking and new ideas have less emphasis, and the focus shifts to ‘getting the right answer’, then people become frightened of making mistakes and being wrong. If you’re afraid to try something new then you’ll never come up with anything original. [1] [7] [8] [9]

As teachers, we endeavour to create conditions that provide our students with the freedom to be creative. Our aim is to give children the opportunity to allow their skills, knowledge and capabilities to shine.

[1] All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education (1999). National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education. 

[2] Boyer, EL. (1995). The Basic School: A Community of Learning. San Francisco, USA. The Carnegie Foundation for
the Advancement of Teaching.

[3] Edwards, C, Gandini, L and Forman, G. (1998). The Hundred Languages of Children. Greenwich, Connecticut,
USA. Ablex Publishing Corporation.

[4] Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York, USA. Basic Books.

[5] IBM CEO Case study compendium. Published by IBM Corporation. Available for download at:

[6] Leading Through Connections: Highlights of the Global Chief Executive Officer Study. (2012). Published by IBM Corporation. Available for download at:

[7] McGrath, J. & Davies, D. (2012) The Future Will Not Be Multiple Choice. Published by Mind Shift. Available for download at:

[8] Robinson, K. (2001) Out of Our Minds: Learning to be creative. Capstone Publishing, Chichester, West Sussex, UK.

[9] Stanford Breakfast Briefings - The Enterprise of the Future. Available for download at:

[10] The Enterprise of the Future: Life Sciences Industry Edition (2008). Published by IBM corporation. Available for download at:

[11] Vygotsky, L. (1999). Thought and Language. Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. The MIT Press.

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