Are we really serious when we say that schools should nurture creativity and other skills for innovation? An increasing number of countries see fostering of creativity and critical thinking as the next educational challenge: traditional good grades may no longer suffice to equip the workforce with the skills needed to fuel innovation-driven economic growth.
The recent international OECD-CCE-Singapore workshop gave 30 education decision-makers from 12 countries the opportunity to share the lessons from Asian educational initiatives aiming to foster pupils’ creativity and critical thinking. While most of these initiatives build on project-based, research-based, and other active pedagogies, some start to use design thinking methods to scaffold the learning of innovation skills.
Singapore and Korea are two good examples of countries emphasising creativity, critical thinking, and character building in their curricula. Since 2009, Korea expects its schools to foster creativity as part of quality subject-based learning—but also to devote almost 10% of overall school time to projects and other transversal activities that foster creativity. As for Singapore, their “Desired Outcomes of Education” include critical and inventive thinking as well as social and emotional competences. At the end of secondary school, among other things students are expected to be “resilient in the face of adversity”, “innovative and enterprising” as well as “able to think critically and communicate persuasively”.
A visit at Haig Girls’ School in Singapore showed that this is more than just words. Creativity and innovation are at the heart of the project of this elementary school. Teachers have developed common criteria to monitor their students’ progress in “critical thinking” and in “creative and inventive thinking”. Students also assess themselves and their peers by answering questions such as “I am able to brainstorm multiple ways to reach a solution” (critical thinking) or “I am able to connect ideas in an interesting and creative manner to create a unique idea” (creative thinking).
Among its multiple projects, the school also asks pupils to engage in genuine innovation activities. After a long collective brainstorming, a small group of pupils has imagined and prototyped an inventive way of closing an umbrella—a useful invention in a country where it rains almost every other day. Why use two hands to fold your umbrella and risk one of them getting wet when you could do it with just the one hand holding the handle? To keep you dry and speed up the closing process, the girls have replaced the press-stud on the small band that is generally rolled around the fabric to fasten the umbrella tight with a magnet. The magnet is heavy enough to make the band twist around the pole before adhering to the magnetic frame and keeping the fabric tight. Ingenious, no?
Including creativity and other skills for innovation in national curricula is a helpful starting point for them to be taken seriously in school. The next step is to also formally assess these skills. Singapore and Korea have thus changed their national exams and assessments to incentivise teachers and students to pay due attention to them in their teaching and learning.
Could we develop simple formative assessment tools to help teachers and students to pay more attention to habits of minds conducive to creativity in the school context? A recent OECD working paper, “Progression in student creativity in school“, reveals how assessment helps specify and clarify what creativity really means, especially as there are many different views about what it is. A prototype tool for assessing pupils’ creativity in school maps the dispositions of creative habits of minds along 5 dimensions: inquisitive; persistent; imaginative; collaborative; disciplined (each dimension including 3 sub-dispositions). The findings of two field trials in English schools show that the assessment tool led teachers to be more precise and confident in developing their pupils’ creativity, and learners to be better able to understand what creativity entails and to record evidence of their progress. Such tools are an important step to raise daily awareness of skills in thinking and creativity and see them materialise in school learning.
While the journey ahead is still long, it is encouraging to see countries taking action and starting to share the tools and lessons that will eventually make all students and teachers reach the promised land.