Creativity is about empowering students with the ability to look at the world in new ways.
IN a bright and cheerful room, a small group of preschoolers quietly embark on the day’s art lesson.
Filled with colourful plastic furniture and small pamphlets proclaiming “crash courses” in creativity, the environment appears to provide a haven for young minds to nurture their imagination.
Future inventors: Creativity enables students to think in new ways and come up with unorthodox solutions.
Clutching a A4-sized piece of paper, four-year-old Mei Lin is eager to show off her latest artwork to her teacher.
“This is where I’m going to live when I grow up,” she says proudly.
It is a typical child’s drawing of sorts; smiling stick-people beside a structured square house, flanked by rows of purple trees.
The teacher, however, has some reservations.
“This is wrong,” she says. “Trees aren’t purple, they have to be green.”
Peering over the other drawings, the teacher proceeds to admonish her charges for committing other cardinal art sins, such as colouring outside lines and generating anatomically incorrect house pets.
As the children swiftly erase their mistakes, the teacher explains her creative centre’s philosophy.
“It is important for children to learn to express themselves, and our crash courses offer them a quick way to become more creative.”
A week later, Mei Lin’s father, Lim Chee Hong, pulls her out of the class.
“She loves to draw, so I thought the classes were a good way for her to meet other children her age while doing what she likes,” says Lim.
“After going there for two months, I noticed a change – she used to paint with abandon, now she obsesses over drawing a perfect circle.”
With all the buzz over the knowledge economy, even policy-makers are stressing that creativity is de rigueur for Malaysia to put itself on the map.
Just last month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak launched Malaysia Innovative 2010.
“Innovation creates jobs and boosts national competitiveness,” wrote Najib on his blog last year, when declaring 2010 to be the Year of Creativity and Innovation.
“This is why we, too, must make a creative impact in a competitive global economy.”
But what determines the makeup of a creative individual?
Defining the concept of creativity itself requires some imagination; some researchers speculate that there may be over 60 definitions of what creativity is.
Najib and his wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor singing along with schoolchildren and VIPs during the launch of Malaysia Innovative 2010. — File photo
At a more humble level, most of us will probably identify a creative person as someone who is able to think from different perspectives and come up with novel ideas.
An educationist with a local insitution says that while it is crucial to harness creativity for the economic marketplace, it is important to adopt a holistic approach to teaching it.
“We cannot purely focus on directing creativity in one particular area, such as information technology, if we want to engage students beyond a superficial level,” he says.
“Creativity should not be seen as an end-product or a commodity, but a lifelong process of trial and error.”
He adds that students should be exposed to a range of disciplines in order to develop their creative faculties.
“Co-curricular subjects such as music and sports give our students an edge just as other academic subjects will.
“As the world is becoming more and more visual each day, the education system has to move towards right brain activities so that students are able to see issues and problems from different points of view.
“Even with our academic subjects, mere rote-learning to memorise pages of factual information is not enough to equip students with the sort of analytical thinking skills needed for the current era,” adds the educationist.
In his talk titled “Why Schools Kill Creativity”, creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson argues that educational systems around the world rob children of their imagination.
“Children have an enormous propensity for creativity because they have a natural sense of curiosity.
Robinson says that current school systems around the world are killing creativity because of their rigidity.
“We lose that potential as adults, because schools are educating us out of creativity,” he laments in his presentation, filmed during the TED Conference 2006 in Los Angeles.
Still widely circulated on video-sharing website YouTube three years on, it is clear Robinson’s point of view resonates with a fair number of people.
It is fair to point out that no country serious about education wants to actively take away the innovation of its people.
Indeed, our own National Education Philosophy states the ministry’s desire to “develop the potential of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner” so as to produce individuals who are able to contribute to society.
From pre-school to secondary education, the curriculum stresses the need to foster creative thinking skills amongst students.
However, former teacher Ramlah Mahmood says that the entire framework of education in Malaysia needs to be overhauled if we are to develop a more innovative culture.
“Teachers are frequently called upon to be more creative with their teaching methods in order to engage with their students,” she says.
“But engaging students through interesting lessons doesn’t always mean that they’ll be able to score high marks in examinations.
“Unfortunately, the value of your teaching is ultimately measured by how many A scorers you produce. It’s how schools are judged and what many parents expect.”
Ramlah adds that when she was teaching, she had to choose between finishing the syllabus or planning lively lessons.
“Teachers are so swamped by other duties and unnecessary paperwork, making them hard-pressed for time,” she adds.
Teacher Marion Lee agrees, saying underlying factors within the system tend to get in the away of inculcating creativity and making students think out of the box.
“I think the main problem in our school culture is that students have this enormous pressure to be right all the time.
“But in order to be innovative, you have to be prepared to come up with ideas that initially may seem impractical and impossible to many”.
Echoing Mei Lin’s purple tree experience, Marion says that there have been numerous occasions where her colleagues had reprimanded or belittled students for giving unorthodox solutions.
Learning through the arts: Tan Hui Koon facilitating an arts workshop for children in Penang.
However, she admits that traits associated with creative students, such as challenging conventions and being expressive, tend to cause disruptions in the traditional Asian classroom.
“When you are dealing with 30-odd students and you need to complete the chapter of the day, it’s a constant effort to make sure that the entire class reach the minimum level of understanding
“In an ideal world, I will be able to cater to all the students according to their various learning styles; in reality, I do get impatient with those who insist on asking questions all the time.”
While the rest of the country debates on how best to harness the new generation’s creative potential, it appears that students have more pragmatic concerns on their minds.
From the many secondary students interviewed for this article, the prevailing view from most of them is whether their schooling experience would help them find suitable jobs.
Ahmad Tajuddin, 17, thinks that lessons in creativity are a must so that students are able secure employment in the future.
“The whole point of going to school is so that I may qualify for university and then get a decent job,” he says.
“Since employers expect potential employees to have good problem-solving skills, schools should focus on helping us develop that sort of creativity.
“If we’re only going to learn that in university, it may be too late.”
A significant number of students also had a very specific view of what being creative meant.
“Oh, I can never be creative – I can’t draw,” says Vanessa Nathan on why she chose to enter the science stream instead of the arts.
Unwittingly, the 16-year-old then reveals that her brain may be more innovative than she allows herself credit for.
Some teachers find it hard to pay attention to students who display creative traits because they have to cater to large classrooms and various other duties.
“I love Mathematics because it’s almost as if I think in numbers, and the world makes most sense to me when I break it down into statistics.”
“In my school, the ‘smart’ students are streamed into the sciences, while the less academically able do arts.
“Because of that, the science classes get the best teachers and are pushed more, while the only expectation of arts students is that they pass their exams.”
Vikram Chandra, 17, is noticably incensed by the marked division between the arts and sciences.
“It really annoys me when my friends say that only science subjects allow space for analytical thinking, and that I’m wasting my mind and time by choosing to do arts,” he says.
“These same people memorise entire Physics experiments from their textbooks and regurgitate the information during examinations – how does that promote critical thinking?”
He adds that for him, creativity is all about making unorthodox links to dsicover new solutions.
“There will be more room for creativity if students are exposed to fields in both the arts and sciences.
“For example, if someone is interested in both fashion and chemistry, he may be able to come up environmentally-friendly clothing designs.
Despite the increased appreciation of creative industries and their roles in national development, arts education is still lack lustre at best.
Creativity is about expression and does not necessarily require one to obsess over drawing or colouring within the lines.
One headmistress, who declined to be named, admits that arts lessons, along with physical education classes, are seen as low priority by both her staff and students.
“This is especially so for batches who are preparing for national level examinations, when students opt to use those class times to do revision instead.
“Since its not an examinable subject, no one is interested,” she says.
Visual artist and lecturer Tan Hui Koon says that the arts are useful in unlocking creativity and transferring knowledge.
“This involves a two-fold process; teaching creatively and teaching for creativity,” she says.
“Artistic disciplines such as theatre and literature in themselves help students think laterally and imaginatively, as well as make them more confident at expressing themselves.
“Meanwhile, using art forms during class will help students digest information more easily; an example would be using pop songs to teach a new language.”
From her own experience in conducting arts workshops with children, Tan says that her main goal is to get students to think for themselves.
“It’s not about producing future Picassos or visionaries, but empowering students with the ability to look at the world through exciting new ways. In that context, creativity is about allowing people to use their individual talents to engage with the world around them.”
by Priya Kulasagaran.
Read more @ http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2010/2/28/education/5740062&sec=education