For creativity over conformity in classrooms

Flexibility, adaptation, new thinking and innovation are 21st century skills

Published - February 16, 2016 12:23 am IST

Do schools kill creativity, asks Ken Robinson in the much-watched TED talk. I am inclined to say, they do. Of course, educational systems do notwork in a vacuum, but are a reflection of the society they function in.

India’s educational system is modelled on the mass education system that developed in the 19th century in Europe and later spread around the world. Tracing the roots of the movement, the goal is clear — to condition children as “good” citizens and productive workers. This suited the industrial age that needed the constant supply of a compliant workforce with a narrow set of capabilities. The educational environment even today resembles factories with bells, uniforms and batch-processing of learners. They are designed to get learners to conform.

From an economic standpoint, the environment today is very different. In a complex, volatile and globally interconnected world, new-age skill-sets are essential. Wired magazine estimated that 70 per cent of today’s occupations would become automated by the end of this century. What will be the role of humans in this new economy? Linear, routine thinking will have no advantage. It calls for flexibility, adaptation, new thinking, paradigm shifts, and innovation — and that is the language of creativity. Creativity is an essential 21st century skill.

So, how would an educational system built around creativity look like? I use the word creativity here in its broadest sense — the nurturing and igniting of a human being’s latent talent and abilities to the fullest potential. From a scientific perspective, creativity is an aptitude for new, original and imaginative thinking. Let us consider some key aspects of an educational system with creativity at its core.

Outcomes: In a creative educational system, the infinite range of human abilities and talents finds an equal place. Creative learning produces growth in both cognitive and affective dimensions and leads to the production of outcomes that are rich and complex, original and expressive. There is a harmonious development of body, mind and spirit. Outcomes include the development of higher-order thinking skills, creativity, problem-solving ability, self-awareness and aesthetic sensibilities.

Pedagogy: Several studies suggest that the innate creativity and curiosity of children are lost in the conventional schooling methods. In creative classrooms, the teacher and students are participants in the learning process. Pedagogies take into account the diversity of learning styles, involve all the senses and body, and are fundamentally experiential in nature. Learning about the environment challenges students to use complex thinking, provide time to think and play with new ideas and encounter knowledge in varied ways to lead to personal and meaningful insights. Classrooms are playgrounds for exploration, inquiry and reflection.

Assessments: Current assessment mechanisms largely rely on a one-time, high-stake standardised testing measuring a narrow range of abilities. Studies indicate that gifted students underachieve in these assessments, and up to 30 per cent of high school dropouts may be highly gifted. Assessments that nurture creativity are built for intrinsic motivation and enable growth on one’s unique path. They are flexible, cover diverse dimensions and rely extensively on self-assessment. They encourage students to raise questions, probe, create possibilities and give play to imagination.

Content: Today, there is an inbuilt hierarchy of content in education. For the 21st century economy, content knowledge has little meaning without the skills of creativity, problem-solving, and human connection. In a creative system, any kind of creative potential has an equal chance of blossoming, be it in languages, maths, art or any other. Creative thinking, imagination and expression are the core focus across all content. There is cross-pollination of subjects and an infusion of art, aesthetics and design into the mainstream.

Globally, there is a growing body of thinkers, parents and educators concerned with the system. Creativity, design thinking and metacognition are being recognised as 21st century skills. Finland went against the tide in its education policies and has generated interest for its high scores. It follows a highly decentralised and flexible structure with high-quality teachers who have autonomy over curriculum and student assessments. There is no standardised testing, and teaching is a coveted profession.

A nation’s educational system can unfold from its innate strengths, and uniqueness. India can take inspiration from its days of educational and intellectual excellence. Learning was infused with music, art and poetry. Higher-order thinking, self-awareness, deep inquiry, aesthetics, intuition, discussions and debates were integral to education. Creativity in many ways was pervasive in the goals, methods and content of education.

The draft of India’s new education policy is expected. What direction will India take in the journey? Will it conform to the familiar path, or create its unique path?

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