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Letting creativity trickle through the cracks

Ameneh's picture

There is an abundance of things that can be said about the current state of education in the world. One area, however, has gathered a significant amount of interest - the area of creativity. Both the U.S and the U.K are re-evaluating their current systems of education to inculcate this very important factor. It is widely accepted that creativity is imperative for change and for progression. Just identifying this, however, is not enough. It leads to a plethora of questions that must be answered to decide what exactly should be changed in the system of education and how it should be done. The first step, then, is to define education and creativity. I believe the goal of education should be two-fold: first is what it solely focuses on today - to prepare the students for the real world, to get a job, be financially stable, and be successful in general. Unfortunately, we can not and do not educate simply to educate. Second, (this I believe the major education systems do not address) is to teach students how to achieve their full potential and to be the best of themselves. This entails evaluating where the student stands before the process of his or her education begins, and then enhancing the skills or talents they already have while at the same also keeping in mind what they aren’t naturally good at and teaching them. This ties in to creativity. An article on the subject defined creativity as when students were, “…alternating between divergent and convergent thinking, they arrived at original and useful ideas” (Bronson and Merryman). The question that arises, then, is whether or not something needs to be done. At one end is the suggestion that the overarching culture of education needs to be fully and completely reinvented. Society should learn to value creativity and the education system should be centered around it. The other extreme says that creativity is not on the decline at all. Evidence for this is from statistics that show that the U.S is till doing well on the creativity based of on how many Nobel Prize winners it produces, for example (Duncan). So which one is it? The answer lies, I believe, is somewhere in the balance between the two.


Having studied in Pakistan my whole life, my experience with education in school was drastically different from my experience with education in college. The school I went to followed the British system of education. The system was focused around exams and was simply put, a regurgitation of a hoard of information. School was supposed to be for rigorous academic pursuit and that was all.  A recent article on the subject says, “Four out of five university admissions officers believe A-Levels no longer encourage creative thinking, a survey shows.” (The Independent) Moreover, the system was not one that was hard to crack at all. Sample exam papers, mark schemes, examiner reports for British Advanced Level Examinations (A-Levels) are readily available. My education till the age of eighteen was not education at all, it was simply learning how to work a system. Another article recently reported, “Pupils now have access to online model answers, marking schemes and other information that has taken the ‘mystique’ out of what markers are looking for, according to Cynthia Hall, the headmistress of Wycombe Abbey” (Paton). Recently, however there has been considerable debate about creativity and education in Britain. As part of the system, I, amongst others, held the notion that the academic arena is not for creativity at all. An opinions section on CNN goes so far as to say that, “…the dominant systems of education  are rooted in the values and demands of industrialism…reforming these systems in not enough…we need a revolution in the culture of education” (Robinson). Ideally, society should have known the importance of creativity to begin with, but a complete revolution of the education system may not be the best goal. Changes in society’s way of thinking can not be made overnight. Personally, having been used to a structured, standardized way of education, a sudden dramatic shift to a system based on creativity would leave me baffled. It would defeat the purpose if creativity, too, become something you had to tested on. A better idea would be to incorporate creativity into the existing system so that students get the best of both: “There’s nothing wrong with demonstrating that a student has studied and done a good job of work. The problem is that we need to have ways of demonstrating originality and creativity. I don’t think that’s available, it does not provide that” (London Evening Standard).


The debate in the United States is slightly different. CBS News reports that, “Americans are confident that the nation is enjoying as much creativity today, if not more, than it has in the past…of those surveyed, 43% think Americans are more creative today in the arts and technology than they were 40 years ago, and another 31% say Americans are just as creative today as they were back then. Only a quarter thinks people in the U.S. are less creative today.” (CBS) On the other hand, another article claims that, “According to co-writers Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, a still unpublished analysis of data from a widely used creativity assessment has concluded that American ingenuity has been slipping since the 1990s” (Duncan). There is also a recent trend for high schools to tie standardized test scores to teacher and administrator pay as well as federal aid. This is a great problem as it reduces education to a system that students need to learn how to work. When I came to college in America, it thought the system allowed a lot of creative freedom. The idea of writing papers was new to me and I felt like it was the perfect place for creative release. Soon enough, though, I figured that albeit it was a new system, it was a system that could be played. It is widely recognized that creativity is important and it is also clear that two of the major systems of education do not fully instill it. The Newsweek article reports that, “A recent IBM poll of 1500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 ‘leadership competency’ of the future” (Bronson and Merryman). So if we know what the problem is and we know how to fix it, one can argue that the needed changes should be applied. Much like the British system of education, it is assumed that creativity and academic pursuit are completely separate and to instill one of them into the current state of education means having to completely forgo the other. The Newsweek article reports, “The argument that we can’t teach creativity because kids already have too much to learn is a false trade-off. Creativity isn’t about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, fact-finding and deep research are vital stages in the creative process. Scholars argue that current curriculum standards can still be met, if taught in a different way” (Bronson and Merryman). Therefore, the major improvement that needs to be made is not regarding the outcome of education, but making the process more enriched by actively adding creativity to the school curriculum. Instead of leaving creativity development to chance, it should be nurtured in all the students from the very start. 
Psychology tells us how important the early stages of development are as that is when the brain is still plastic and malleable. Recent findings show that creativity isn’t necessarily something you either have or you don’t, creativity can be taught. The Newsweek article put it very well, “Well, think of it like basketball. Being tall does help to be a pro basketball player, but the rest of us can get quite good at the sport through practice. In the same way, there are certain innate features of the brain that make some people naturally prone to divergent thinking. But convergent thinking and focused attention are necessary, too, and those require different neural gifts…University of New Mexico neuroscientist Rex Jung has concluded that those who diligently practice creative activities learn to recruit their brains’ creative networks quicker and better. A lifetime of consistent habits gradually change the neurological pattern” (Bronson and Merryman). Of course, different individuals have different aptitudes and someone might have more of a knack for it than other. However, the same also applies to many academic subjects such as math or science, for example, but they continue to be taught as schools so there is no reason why the same principle can not be applied to creativity. By making minor changes in the systems of education both in Britain and the U.S and letting creativity trickle in through the cracks, society will, without a doubt, change in the long run. 
1. Bronson, Po and Merryman, Ashley. “The Creativity Crisis.” Newsweek. July 10, 2010. <>
2. Duncan, David E,. “New Study Says America is Losing its Innovative Edge.” The Fiscal Times. August 25, 2010. <>
3. “Universities say A-Levels lack creativity.” The Independent - Education. July 9, 2009. <>
4. Paton, Graeme. “A-Levels crush creativity, says top headmistress.” Telegraph. August 28, 2010. <>
5. Robinson, Sir Ken., “How schools stifle creativity.” CNN Creativity. November 3, 2009. <>
6. “Americans Say No Shortage in Creativity.” CBS News. January 10, 2010. <>


Paul Grobstein's picture

creativity in problem-solving and education

For more on "creativity" and its definition, see Creativity, the mind, and the brain.  Among the issues raised there, and here, is whether "creativity" is something distinct from other ways of problem solving or, instead, a feature of variable significance in all problem-solving activities. Can one let creativity "trickle in through the cracks" or is it instead something already there but inhibited?