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Education systems can kill creativity

By James Gitau | November 22nd 2015

When I was growing, I had a classmate who had an incredible sense of rhythm. He would use his hands, pencils, sticks to drum out the most amazing beats.

He was not very good at class work. He did not perform very well in the final examinations and I do not know what became of him.

However, 40 plus years later, I remember his beats and I know he would have made a great drummer.

Creativity is that ability to view something in a new way, to see and solve problems others may not know exist and to engage in physical and mental experiences that are new, different and unique.

Research has found environment to be more important than heredity in influencing creativity. A child's creativity could either be nurtured or discouraged by early experiences at home or school.

The standard intelligence tests always measure convergent thinking which is the ability to come up with a single correct answer.

However, creativity on the other hand involves divergent thinking, which is the ability to come up with original and unusual answers.

Current education system mainly prescribes convergent thinking.

Creative individuals tend to exhibit certain characteristics, including a tendency to be more spontaneous or impulsive than others. Most creative individuals are  never afraid of experimenting with new things.

They are not worried about being wrong. If one is not prepared to be wrong, then they will never come up with anything original.

Children who stun their teachers with unusual responses to questions, who display an acute sense of humour, who perhaps are unpredictable and nonconforming, are thinking creatively.

Because creative thought often tends to go against the set rules of a classroom, teachers may be irritated by the behaviour of a creative child.

Adults frequently do not recognise the value these creative children bring to society. Eventually, given a chance, these children become the adults who make a difference in the world with their creative approach to challenges.

Our society has a huge interest vested in education, partly because education is meant to take us into the future.

The children starting school this year will be joining employment around 2035. None of us has a clue what the world will look like in 20 years and yet we are meant to be educating our children for it.

My contention is that creativity is as important to education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same weight. We are now running an education system where mistakes are the worst thing you can make and the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.

Picasso once said that every child is born an artist. The dilemma is to remain an artist as we grow up. We do not grow into creativity, we grow out of it; or rather, we get educated out of it.

Our education system is skewed towards academic ability. The system of education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance and the consequence is that many brilliant, highly-talented and creative people think they are not, because the things they were good at in school were not valued and in some cases, actually stigmatised.

Now unfortunately degrees are not worth much. When I was a student, if you had a degree, you had a job. Nowadays, young people with degrees are jobless, because you need an MBA where previously the job required a Bachelors degree, and a PhD for a formerly Masters position. This is a case of academic inflation.

The only way we will do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the wealth they are, and seeing our children for the hope that they present.

Our task should be to educate their whole being, so they can face the uncertain future. Incidentally we may not see this future, but they will. Our job is to allow them to exploit all their faculties.

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