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Putting creativity at the heart of schools

Last month Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), launched the latest publication by Prof Bill Lucas, Creative thinking in schools across the world: a snapshot of progress across the world, at the OECD in Paris. The event was the first World Creativity in Education Summit and was coordinated by the Global Institute of Creative Thinking (GLoCT).

Writing in the Foreword Andreas says:

Creative thinking is not a magic power, though, it can be learned and it can be taught. Every individual, to a greater or smaller degree, has the potential to think creatively. It is therefore unsurprising that school curricula around the world seek to give creativity greater emphasis, both within and across subject disciplines.

Over the last decade there have also been encouraging attempts to assess creativity in schools, looking to evidence progress in the development of creative skills.

Key messages for teachers when designing curriculum

Increasingly the teaching profession is realising that creativity can be learned and can be taught. But it is not a subject in the way that, say science or history are. It needs to be intentionally embedded in every aspect of the curriculum and calls for a different approach to curriculum design. Four key messages are emerging from schools across the world in this area.

1. Creative thinking starts from real problems and inevitably takes time

There is growing evidence that the fundamental curriculum model for effective teaching of creative thinking is problem not subject-based, enabling the development of divergent thinking across subject disciplines. One strategy used by some secondary schools is block scheduling with fewer, longer lessons during any week. The report notes that problem-based learning needs especially careful planning with time given to teachers to plan together.

2. Creativity is largely social

While it is possible for individuals to exercise their creative thinking alone, it is much more common that the creative act is a collaborative or group endeavour. It has been argued that, even, when we are alone, and especially in a world of the Internet, we are really exercising creative collaboration. In schools valuing collective acts by students has always been a challenge, except, perhaps, on the sports field or in artistic performances. For seen through the lens of public examinations which are based on individual performance, some will see only a thin line separating collaboration, sharing and cheating.

3. Creativity is interdisciplinary and is rarely contained within a single subject

Creative thinking can be cultivated in a specific subject, but it frequently invites teachers and their students to look across disciplines. Few would dispute that the most pressing problems of our age such as climate change will require imaginative contributions from many disciplines if we are to make progress.

4. Creative thinking activities work best when they are co-designed with students

Designing a curriculum to develop creative thinking is an opportunity, within appropriate bounds, to engage learners in planning and designing the curriculum. Co-design is increasingly seen as essential in both the business world and in healthcare but remains underused in schools.

It is worth noting that, for many teachers, these four principles represent a significant shift away from current practices; they challenge the status quo. The principles are exactly the kinds of issues that the eight Creativity Collaboratives are currently exploring in England.

Signs of progress

The report shows just how far education systems across the world have come over the last two decades. Using five indicators of progress - Status, Curricula, Culture, curriculum design and pedagogy, Assessment and Professional learning - the report offers dashboards coloured from green to red in traffic light style.

There are real signs of progress in two areas - Curricula, Culture, curriculum design and pedagogy – and some positive steps in the areas of assessment both from the PISA 2022 Creative Thinking Test and in our understanding of how teachers can use assessment formatively to improve teaching and learning. In the areas of professional learning, both pre-service and in-service there is much yet to be done.

But, as Barrack Obama said in a celebrated speech in Chicago on 5 February 2008: Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. Creative Thinking in schools across the world is not just a report but is a practical guide for teachers looking for inspiration from colleagues similarly trying to cultivate the creativity of their pupils.