Creative minds

Classrooms need to be places for teaching creativity, as well as basic competence. Can it be done? 

Gabriel Saada is a typical high school student in many ways, except that he happens to attend one of Paris’s best and most prestigious lycées. The halls of his school were once walked by the likes of Honoré de Balzac and Lionel Jospin, the former French prime minister.

When I ask him about school, he tells me his teachers and his guidance counsellor all stress the importance of getting into one of France’s elite grandes écoles by mastering the classwork. Listening to him describe his high school education, it strikes me that the overarching emphasis is on what is referred to as cognitive intelligence, or the ability to reason and analyse–what renowned American psychologist and academic Robert Sternberg has called “memorisationbased”, or “analytical”, intelligence.

With the results of the OECD’s latest worldwide PISA testing of 15-year-olds just in, it is worth asking whether education in the 21st century needs to complement the primacy given to cognitive skills with a greater focus on creativity. To be sure, the skills and knowledge PISA tests among 15-year-olds across the globe form a solid base on which youngsters can build in order to thrive and flourish in their lives and careers.

If the coming generations are to overcome the grave economic, social and environmental problems that are certain to be our legacy, there is a general consensus that they will need to possess one thing above all: the ability to innovate and create.

The word “innovation” is bandied about widely today. But what does it really mean in its simplest form? Combining existing elements of knowledge or understanding in brand new ways is one definition. It rests on an individual’s capability to come up with original and valuable ideas to solve problems. For the influential British educationalist Ken Robinson, this is the very essence of creativity.

Classrooms are places for building knowledge, memorising and interacting, but do they generate the kind of creativity that will be needed? How can creativity be fostered in the classroom at all levels? Clearly, creativity is a prime concern. According to a global study carried out by Adobe in 2012, 80% of working adults in France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US agreed that creativity is the key to driving economic growth. Yet more than half felt their education systems stifle creativity.

In the 1980s, Sternberg established a ground-breaking theory that identifies three areas of intelligence that creativity draws on: the synthetic (creative), the analytical and the practical. The first involves coping with new and unusual situations and coming up with original ideas. Having students write a short story or create an advertisement, for example, would test this. Analytical intelligence refers to the ability to solve academic problems which often have only one right answer. Lastly, practical intelligence is what it implies: the ability to apply existing knowledge and skills to common, everyday problems.

Two concrete ways these ideas can be–and indeed are–put into practice in the classroom are problem-based learning (PBL) and group work.

In PBL teams of students are given ill-defined problems to resolve with incomplete information. Originally developed for medical students at Canada’s McMaster University in the 1960s, it has been used successfully at all levels of education around the world.

Its main feature lies in the way it mimics real life and leads students to work together and motivate each other. As Sternberg points out, intelligence that succeeds in the real world has to resolve poorly-formed problems, whereas education tends to favour well-structured problems with, in most cases, well-defined solutions.

Professors Linda Darling-Hammond and Brigid Barron of Stanford University in the US point out in their book, Powerful Learning, that a growing body of research demonstrates that children learn better when applying classroom knowledge to real-world problems.

They cite a 1995 study from the University of Wisconsin that showed that over 2 000 students in 23 schools did better on challenging tasks when the teaching was based on inquiry.

Sammamish High School in the US state of Washington is an example of a school that uses PBL. It is in the midst of transforming its curriculum to one that relies exclusively on PBL. Its principal explains that it is moving from teachercentred classrooms to a process where teachers serve as facilitators, engaging students in solving authentic problems.

Not surprisingly, PBL has had a significant amount of success in Southeast Asia. Singapore and Hong Kong-China, for example, began to put it into practice in higher education at the beginning of the 2000s. In 2010, Singapore’s National Institute of Education oversaw the use of PBL in eight secondary schools. Students from the schools worked collaboratively on different projects using a web-based platform.

As a teacher myself, I have often witnessed my students go from being passive, even bored, when I’m lecturing, to being animated and enthusiastic when they have to work together with their classmates on an assignment.

When getting my Francophone students to speak English, the hardest obstacle to overcome is often not their limited knowledge of the language, but rather their fear of making a mistake when speaking. This is largely because the French education system, with its heavy focus on memorising and analytical knowledge, teaches children that incorrect answers are unacceptable. Yet, as any innovator will tell you, making mistakes is a crucial aspect of the creative process. It is also central to PBL.

The point is not to eliminate memorisation and academic problem-solving. On the contrary, they are an important part of the learning experience. But, if they are to foster creativity, they must be complemented by a focus on the other types of intelligence.

References

Sternberg, Robert J. (2010). “Teach Creativity, Not Memorization,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 10 October, 2010. http://chronicle.com/article/Teach- Creativity-Not/124879/

Darling-Hammond, Linda, Barron, Brigid, et al (2008). Powerful Learning: What We Know About Teaching for Understanding. Jossey-Bass and the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

See also www.oecd.org/education 

© OECD Observer No 297, Q4 2013




Economic data

GDP : +0.5%, Q4 2014
Employment rate: 65.9%, Q4 2014
Annual inflation : 0.57% Feb 2015
Trade : -3.0% exp, -3.7 imp, Q4 2014
Unemployment : 7.022% Feb 2015
More moderate expansion ahead? Composite leading indicators
Updated: 23 Apr 2015

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Rana Plaza
  • Wal-Mart, Other Retailers Sued over Bangladesh Factory Collapse Two years after the April 24, 2013, Bangladeshi factory collapse in the capital of Dhaka, the victims' families filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court in Washington against Wal-Mart Stores Inc and other U.S.-based companies that sourced out their products from the Rana factory. Read more on Telesur's website.
  • Today, after three years of drought, California is in the midst of a full-blown political and environmental crisis, with restrictions imposed across the state, reports the Financial Times.
  • Lack of water holding back Asian growth In Asia, the world’s most dynamic region with the fastest economic growth, 75% of countries face serious water shortages.
  • Why is the gap between rich and poor growing despite rises in GDP? Do benefits help? Does aid work? (The Guardian)
  • ADB water
  • Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis expressed its scepticism towards the Eurozone’s institutions and gave ideas for ways forward. "Greece must become reformable again", Yanis Varoufakis said.
  • Business brief: Israel's water
  • #OECD360: Your country in figures.
  • How to ensure transparency in public procurement? Read Cobus de Swardt's article on OECD Insights.
  • Asia to maintain a strong 6.3% growth rate in 2015 and 2016, according to the Asian Development Bank
  • After three decades of extraordinary economic development, China is shifting to a slower and more sustainable growth path, according to the OECD's latest Economic Survey of China.
  • In pursuit of the American Dream
  • Iceland's strong recovery stems from the good use of its natural resources, the energy sector and tourism according to Peter Dohlman, IMF Mission Chief for Iceland.
  • cyclone
  • Government representatives and experts from around the world are gathering in Japan this week to develop a post-2015 framework for global disaster risk reduction. The World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) will share expertise at the conference.
  • Switzerland’s recent moves towards greater tax transparency were welcomed by the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes, based at the OECD, as a boost to international efforts to end tax evasion. Work will continue with Switzerland, notably on implementation, in 2015.
  • Help bridge the gap between business integrity policies & practices:participate in this new OECD survey by clicking on the image.
  • What can we do to promote better literacy skills for all? Read Andreas Schleicher's latest blog on oecdeducationtoday.
  • pisa
  • Secretary General Angel Gurría describes the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) as a useful tool to enhance educational systems but states that improving a country's ranking should not be a goal per se. Article in Spanish by El País.
  • [VIDEO] Although many countries have made great progress in narrowing gender gaps in education, new challenges are looming.
  • 5 things you might not know about the state of Amazonas. The World Bank identifies the main colossal challenges Brazil's biggest state is facing.
  • Gender mainstreaming: young French lady working in an engine assembly plant. Women and men in the same boat when it comes to job insecurity. © Raphaël Helle / Signatures / La France VUE D'ICI
  • The Asian Development Bank together with the International Labour Organization challenge the concept of women's work in Asia and the Pacific.
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.
  • The 5th Anti-corruption conference for G20 governments and business in Istanbul on 6 March will address how all businesses can play their part in contributing to growth and investment, and can operate with clean hands in a safe environment.
  • Success story. Discover the story of this young Ethiopian woman who launched a successful business in the footwear industry and became a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Entrepreneurship.
  • Transports in Asia. The Asian Development Bank advocates sustainable transport in a continent where vehicle ownership is perceived as a sign of social success.
  • Vote for your favourite photograph! This World Bank #EachDayISee photo contest aims to display visual stories from all over the world through which people express what they would like to see changed and improved.
  • Why is investment so low in the euro area? This short IMF blog post gives you an insight into the causes of the euro-zone's drastic decline in investment.
  • Have your say! The UN wants to know what matters most to you: pick six global issues in the list and send it to the United Nations.
  • Tim Harcourt Video
  • G20 and Australia: Bestselling economist Tim Harcourt speaks to the BBC about how Australia has gone from "Down Under to Down Wonder".
  • Clear air and healthy lungs: how to better tackle air pollution. From New Delhi to Accra, millions of people breathe polluted air. A new report examines the World Bank’s experience working to improve air quality.

Most Popular Articles

Poll

What issue are you most concerned about in 2015?

Euro crisis
Unemployment
Global warming
International conflict
Other

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2015