PART 2: Why the Current Structure Doesn't Work
"The inclusion of creativity into educational policy documents is evidence of the fact that the focus on creativity is not merely a matter of paying 'lip service' to the concept," says Robina Shaheen, part of the faculty at Open Universities Education and Language Studies Department (UK), "but rather that action is being taken."
In fact, action has been in progress as early as 1999, when O'Donnell and Micklethwaite reviewed the curriculum documents of 16 developed countries (American, European, and East Asian), identifying the place of arts and creativity in education. They found that creativity was included at various educational levels, at least from early years through primary education for most countries, and beyond, up to higher education, for some:
In Canada "creative thinking" is outlined as one of the common essential learning(s) (p.8). In Kentucky, USA, one of the learning goals is to enable students to "use creative thinking skills to develop or invent novel, constructive ideas or products" (p.57). In Korea, the National Curriculum defines an educated person as "healthy, independent, creative and moral" (p.33). In Sweden the Government's National Development Plan for Pre-School, School and Adult Education (1997) stated that education should provide "the conditions for developing creative skills" (p.52). In France schools in lower secondary are expected to develop in children the "taste for creation." (p.14). In Germany, the emphasis of primary education is placed on developing "children's creative abilities" (p.20). In Netherlands one of the principles on which primary education is based is "creative development" (O'Donnell & Micklethwaite 1999, p.38). In Florida (USA) one of the goals of restructuring the schools was to provide students opportunities "to learn and apply strategies for creative…thinking" (Treffinger, 1996). The second educational goal for young people in Australia is to "become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens" (ACARA, 2009). In Japan the school curriculum has included development of creativity since the Second World War, outlining the development of creativity as the most important objective of education for 21st century (O'Donnell, 1999). In Singapore the aim of new initiatives, launched by the Ministry of Education, was to foster "enquiring minds, the ability to think critically and creatively" (O'Donnell, 19990)—created in response to leading industrialists and entrepreneurs indicating that staff in Singapore were more "conforming" than "independent" and "not curious enough" (Tan, 2006).
But at the 2013 ADOBE Education Leadership Forum, the findings of a study entitled "State of Creativity in Education in Asia Pacific" reflected a widespread shortcoming in creativity education. The study surveyed 1,014 educators (teachers, administrators, heads of institutions) representing 13 Asia Pacific countries with an aim to gauge the state of creativity across the region's educational landscape. Even considering ADOBE's business interests, the results are striking:
43% of the surveyed educators feel the current education system is either outdated or restrictive.
The lack of resources, tools, and training are identified as the biggest barriers.
62% felt they should be creative regardless of the subjects they teach.
When asked about the efficacy of the current education system in developing a new generator of innovators, educators rated it a mere 5.0 on a scale of 1 to 10.
In India 69% said they are hampered by an education system that is not geared towards creativity; 45% cited a lack of resource to support their efforts.
The surveyed educators, on average, spent 45% of their time last year fostering creativity skills in the classrooms while they wanted to spend 58% of their time for it.
"Timetable structures such as seven 45-minute periods from 8:30am to 3:30pm and up to seven different areas of unrelated content per day as well as rules like no access to smartphones in class heighten the disconnect between students and teachers," says Tim Kitchen, director of learning technologies at Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar School in Australia.
Educators in the United States would likely agree that their own current model restricts their ability to address creativity in the classroom, especially since the Common Core Standards Initiative was passed in 2010. With so much standardization of assessment, mechanization of policy, and conformity of learning, it's no small wonder that education has been labeled a "crisis" in America. Math teacher and Stanford University fellow Dan Meyer describes today's curriculum as "paint-by-numbers classwork, robbing kids of a skill more important than solving problems: formulating them."
China's universities are highly ranked worldwide, but many Chinese students perceive their own schools and colleges to be focused on rote learning and not receptive to creativity and critical thinking. One international business student chose to attend an English language university, run by Britain's Nottingham University, specifically to acquire the "critical thinking" that her uncle says is lacking in Chinese graduates. A recent study of engineering students at three top Chinese institutes and Stanford University found that 22 percent of Stanford grads planned to start or join a startup, while 52 percent of top Chinese graduates plan to join the government.
But according to Shaheen, creativity has been an important component of Chinese education since 2001. Hong Kong's education policy includes creativity as a "higher order thinking skill," and there are educational reforms being carried out in preschool, primary, and secondary institutions throughout the country in which the development of creativity is being given "top priority."
So what is the problem? If we all have good intentions, why are we facing such great obstacles when it comes to creativity education?
One obstacle that has received considerable attention lately is teacher training. The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) came out with a report earlier in 2013 exposing the shameful state of teacher preparation programs in the United States. The report has been criticized by the education community for various research methodology flaws, but Stanford professor of education Linda Darling-Hammond said the NCTQ accurately focused on the most important aspects of teacher education — candidate selection, preparation for teaching reading and math, and student teaching. The report ranked only four out of 1,130 programs as being worthy of their highest rating, concluding that poor quality teacher education programs are to blame for new, underperforming teachers and students.
The report's flaws aside, educators and specialists tend to agree that most of these programs do not adequately prepare teachers to design and sustain a creative learning environment.
In a 2009 survey conducted by the European Commission, an average of 40% of teachers in Europe declared to have received training in creativity. But the figures varied widely between countries: Slovakia (66%), Estonia (65%), and Romania (62%) all reported to have received training, in contrast with France (14%), Lithuania (25%), Hungary (27%), the United Kingdom (28%), and Spain (33%), who received little.
Teaching may be a creative profession, but that doesn't mean that all teachers are creative.
Herein lies the trouble: in a world where opportunities for creativity are slipping between our fingers, we turn immediately to examining the classrooms when we should be examining something else—the teachers themselves.
Creativity specialist and professor Anne Bamford insists that insufficient emphasis is given to creativity in teacher education. "We must provide creative professional development and training for all teachers and school leaders," she says.
Still, even the best-prepared teachers face challenges when it comes to implementing creativity in the classroom.
"Too many teachers and administrators are weighed down by the yoke of political influence," says retired high school English teacher Dawn Hogue. "It takes educational anarchy to push out of the box these days, and it may simply be easier to do what one is told. I have known many teachers who are afraid to try something new. Some feel their jobs are at risk. Others just think trying something different will be too much work and they feel overworked as it is."
As Sir Ken Robinson said in a recent article for The Guardian, "For creativity to flourish, schools have to feel free to innovate without the constant fear of being penalised for not keeping with the programme."
Available resources can also dictate what an educator teaches and how. Not every school can afford the latest technology or an art kit for every student. But this is where creativity can come into play the most.
AP English instructor Shekema Silveri teaches at a Title I high school in Georgia called Mount Zion. Since Mount Zion can't afford the latest technology, Silveri is forced to find creative ways to keep her students engaged. While some classrooms don't allow cell phones, Silveri encourages her students to use them in order to look up definitions of words with apps like dictionary.com and conduct research for their assignments. She also believes her students write more when they're allowed to blog and use Twitter. In 2011, Silveri was one of 11 educators in the state to achieve a 100% student passing rate on all of her standardized tests despite Mount Zion's lack of resources.
Silveri is not alone in her efforts. Countless educators across the globe are implementing creativity into their classrooms and inspiring students every day despite various challenges. And now, due to society-wide awareness of creativity's growing importance, schools and governments are beginning to catch on as well.