Expert calls for creativity in education

Last week, Dr Yong Zhao from Oregon University gave an inspiring speech at Parliament about education, entrepreneurship, creativity and the need to prepare students for this century.

His address reminded me of how this country has a tendency to imitate some bad ideas which are going out of fashion elsewhere, instead of trusting ourselves. Dr Zhau pointed out that standardised testing and narrow curriculum’s do not produce the kind of minds we need for this century.

He described how China and Singapore were not happy with their top PISA scores (global literacy, numeracy and science results) because the critical thinking and creativity needed for a vibrant modern economy was being lost in their authoritarian and rigid education systems.

He talked about social entrepreneurship and interdependency as crucial to successful modern communities and the need for creativity, confidence and empathy rather than just the ability to google knowledge.

Dr Zhau said the American education system is a terrible model and that American energy and inventions comes from drop outs in garages with the confidence and creativity to try something new. He showed us a graph of how schools start suppressing creativity in five year olds so that by the time we are adults 2% of our creativity remains. Interestingly, it can return in retirement and he used the example of George Bush Junior who has now taken up painting pictures.

Born in a remote Chinese village where he failed at herding water buffalo but succeeded at radical thinking, Dr Zhau urged us to foster the creative passions in our students and not try and force them into rigid assessment models. He urged us to value our creative traditions and cultural models which support the gifts in children not conformity. He said that technology had replaced many workers but fostering creativity was the best response the education system could make.

I asked him about the role of low paid but highly skilled workers who look after people and who can never be replaced by machines and he said that was why empathy and an understanding of interdependency must be fostered in education. I am glad he met the Minister of Education and the Treasury but the question is whether they listened to him?

Many thanks to the NZEI for hosting the visit of this articulate and inspiring educator.

16 thoughts on “Expert calls for creativity in education

  1. Oh, how I agree with him. When nurses trained on the job they learned to emphasise with patients, how can that happen in a college environment?
    Parkinson interviewed some top actors and comedians once and each one said he dropped out of school and taught himself by reading and watching. TV programmes for infants take away their imagination, all now see Pooh Bear as Disney designed him, instead of imagining him themselves, the same goes for witches et al, kids no longer create an image in their own minds but think of what they have been shown. Some of the greatest innovations have been made by self taught men and women. I am all for what was said. Learning facts does not create a mentally alert and creative population and succeeding in school tests blunts the mind.

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  2. If school tests “blunts the mind” and creative people are all dropouts, then we could save ourselves a fortune and just get rid of all education from high school and above.

    Then we would have an amazingly creative world. Perhaps we could have a world where 99% of the population are artists.

    Of course a major problem is that there are many more people in creative fields than there is work.

    And in the meantime the people we’re really short of are engineers, auto electricians, radiologists, doctors, diesel mechanics, electricians etc.

    In the real world we need people with a vast range of skills. Creativity is just one – it’s not the be-all and end-all.

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  3. As usual I worded it badly and deserved that diatribe. Surely surgeons, radiologists are creative people, my own husband an engineer motor mechanic invented all sorts of gadgets. We need all the people you mention, but their minds have to be open to innovation. I was sniping at the continual idea of testing in schools rather than letting the students get on with learning, enquiring, inventing. If we get so every child can pass a test of achievement set by the Ministry, it does not mean we have an intelligent and creative population. By all means teach the basics, but do not slot everyone into set. Those who come high in the primary school tests, as proposed by this government, are not necessarily the leaders and innovators of the future. If teaching is only to ensure high tests results for a school, then the concept is a failure.

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  4. If the current school system of tests blunts the minds and does not create creative and mentally alert people then partnership schools are an ideal solution as these can then provide alternative and more creative schools to encourage, embrace and expand creativity in our students, and therefore creating more mentally alert people.

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  5. Yes we need engineers and doctors and diesel mechanics and electricians – and as much as these roles require high levels of scientific, mathematical, statistical and physical knowledge, these professionals also need to think outside the square, problem solve, take calculated risks and be creative. It’s a fine balance that obsessive testing tips the wrong way.

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  6. Hi Missy,

    If state schools end up being ranked on test scores, how do you see partnership schools as being protected from needing to teach to the test?

    Hi t’old lass and photonz,

    Yes, we need a range; could you-all imagine a system where it’s possible to drop half-way out, do something useful, and then drop back in?

    Considering the whole issue, parents have a conflict between their short-term need for biddable children and their long-term need for children who will be independent enough to make their own way. Are there any parents on here who want to talk about how you navigate that?

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  7. t\\\\\\\’old lass says “Those who come high in the primary school tests, as proposed by this government, are not necessarily the leaders and innovators of the future. ”

    99% of the population are not going to be the leaders and innovators of the future. They will have a far better chance in getting ahead in life, if they have a basic standard ability to read, write and add.

    We now have a system where for the first time –
    – ALL parents are told of their children’s progress.
    – ALL children are assessed.
    – Children, classes, and schools who are having difficulty can be identified.

    Previously, there were many schools who were not doing any testing at all, and were failing to identifying children who were having problems.

    That’s why we had 20% of children reaching high school without a basic ability in reading, writing and maths.

    And not surprisingly one of the highest school dropout rates in the developed world.

    Which has led to high youth unemployment, and one of the worlds highest teenage pregnancy rates.

    But HASN’T led to all these dropouts having high creativity as someone tried to suggest above.

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  8. there were many schools who were…. and were failing to identifying children who were having problems

    An assertion I seriously doubt Photonz. An individual teacher might fail their responsibilities to this degree, a whole school? Really?

    The schools and teachers knew which children were having problems. What might have failed was the communications with parents, but that will be a problem with or without testing.

    Getting parents to value education for their children when they don’t, when they are alcohol addicted or in jail or divorced/absent, and a solo-mom is trying to work for a living but not getting a living wage, those things affect the children’s outlook at school a lot. Fixing them would help a lot. Testing that tells teachers things they already know is unlikely to do anywhere near as much.

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  9. Considering the whole issue, parents have a conflict between their short-term need for biddable children and their long-term need for children who will be independent enough to make their own way.

    “It takes a village to raise a child”

    The issues here I think, are the degree to which we can no longer trust others with our children and the amount we have invested in individual children.

    Used to be pretty straightforward, but we got more anonymous and it got a lot easier to travel about. Pictures and problems travel electronically.

    We learned to fear sending a child to the corner store.

    We might have but one, not half a dozen, so we feel a greater risk and we know what can happen, and we know that the perps don’t get locked away permanently.

    Do we want to solve this we need to find the village in the city. We need to take away the anonymity that the city provides without removing the privacy that our freedom requires.

    We can stop locking up folks who smoke the dreaded weed, and put the lower limit on drink driving and a higher social stigma on drinking and being drunk and make sure that we reckon more accurately the risks of releasing child porn/abuse offenders back to the streets once they are identified.

    I don’t know the rest of the answer. I provide the beginnings only.

    ciao
    BJ

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  10. I get the number of comments here that come from people/parents educated for 20th century survival and understand your attachment to testing, reading, writing and counting. I need to say that I too went through the primary school standards of standard 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 which are now what are labelled the national standards. The problem as I see it is our education system is still educating our children to be ready and capable for the 20th century like we were. Unfortunately they need to be ready for the 21st century. As a parent I too want my child to succeed at school (and this is usually measured by achievement with excellence/merit) but more so I want her to have the creative skills to invent employment for herself and others, and have a connection to her community. I want her to know how to collaborate sincerely and support others around her. My fear is that our education system will not give her these skills. What are other parents thoughts?

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  11. sharon,

    ……………but more so I want her to have the creative skills to invent employment for herself and others, and have a connection to her community. I want her to know how to collaborate sincerely and support others around her. My fear is that our education system will not give her these skills.

    Those interpersonal skills and creative minds are fostered at home, in the wider family and social community.

    In my view, schoools provide the tools to enable the child to explore and operate in the social framework outlined by their parents, whanue, community, etc.

    Parents, family and to a large extend the community have abadoned their responsibilities for social intergrating children into the community.

    Schools can’t install creativity only parents can by exposing the children to the potential available in the community.

    Please dont leave it up to the schools to fully train your child to be the best for the community, you need to do it yourself.

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  12. Gerrit, I guess I wonder what ‘community’ means when all parents are told that the only respectable activity is work for money. Do you have any thoughts about this?

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  13. jc2,

    …..when all parents are told that the only respectable activity is work for money.

    Who says that? Any links?

    Gross generalization I would say.

    Community is the people one interacts with. Nothing, absolutely nothing to do with money.

    Strange comment by you, has me puzzled regarding motivation.

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  14. BJ says “An individual teacher might fail their responsibilities to this degree, a whole school? Really? ”

    A recent ERO report had just a quarter of NZ schools being fully effective at identifying and helping students who needed extra help.

    These schools were analysing testing data to pinpoint the exact problem areas of children, and tailoring individual strategies to individual children’s problems

    Another half of schools were partially effective at this. And the other quarter of schools had limited or no effectiveness at identifying and helping those children who were falling behind.

    Previously many schools did no testing or analysis at all, and kept no records on children’s progress.

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  15. Jc2 not sure that they should be completely protected from core tests for reading, writing and maths, but they will still have the freedom to offer more creativity in the school.

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  16. Gerritt, yes, I’ll put my hand up for gross generalisation. I guess I’ve been listening to a mixture of my fears and Paula Bennett benne-bashing. I’ll push back on one thing: community has something to do with how people access transport and spend their time, which definitely has something to do with whether they have enough money.

    Missy, I guess I’m thinking of Gilling’s Law (the way the game is scored affects the way the game is played; http://www.eastonbh.ac.nz/2013/09/university-rankings-by-pbrf-score-1/). I don’t see how creativity in schools will be measured in a way that competes well with rankings of core test passes. Do you?

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