Promoting Innovation and Creativity

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    "Promoting Innovation and Creativity: Schools' Response to the Challenges of Future
                            8-10 April 2008, Brdo pri Kranju


    Michael Young, Faculty of Policy and Society, Institute of Education, University
     of London and University of Bath

1. Introduction

The goal of promoting creativity and innovation poses particular challenges for schools. On
the one hand most teachers recognise that there is a sense in which children are innately
‘creative’ and that this innate creativity is an important resource for achieving any of the
more specific goals of schools. On the other hand teachers are also aware that society
expects school students to acquire the knowledge - literature, the sciences and mathematics
etc - developed by previous generations. Furthermore, this school knowledge is, for most
students, ‘un-common sense’ knowledge, at odds with the knowledge that they bring to
school and something which to some extent they experience as imposed on them.

Students develop their creativity in school though engaging with the uncommon sense
knowledge of school and reflecting on and extending the common sense knowledge that
they bring to school. There is always going to be a tension between the innate creativity of
children and the extent to which schools have to channel this creativity in particular ways.
Left on their own (or even at home) pupils would acquire little new knowledge and only
ever become creative in the most limited sense. On the other hand, a curriculum that
allowed no space for the individual student to try out his or her own ideas would be
denying the very resource that makes the acquisition and creation of new knowledge
This briefing paper does not claim to overcome these tensions. Rather it attempts to clarify
them and to offer a conceptual framework for exploring their implications in the new
context expressed by this conference in which policy makers are giving a far greater
emphasis to the role of schools in promoting creativity and innovation.

2. The two dimensions of creativity; individual and social

Creativity can and often is treated as primarily an individual phenomenon. As such, it is a
characteristic of individuals that can be identified and potentially measured (like
intelligence or ability). It follows that, like other human characteristics, creativity is likely to
be unevenly distributed across the population. Policies with a focus on creativity as an
individual phenomenon tend to emphasise the importance of identifying 'creative' students
from an early stage and providing them with appropriate pedagogic support.

    What are the most reliable methods for identifying 'creative' pupils? And what are
       the advantages of the different methods? For example, contrast tests and teacher
    How might students identified as ‘gifted’ or ‘creative’ be best supported?
    Is creativity a generic capability that is transferable between knowledge domains
    Does it tend to be associated with particular subject domains?
    Do the disadvantages that arise from making special provision for 'creative' pupils'
       outweigh the advantages (developing the potential of every student)?

In contrast creativity can be seen as a social or collective phenomenon. This means that the
focus is placed on the circumstances (for example the innovative curriculum or pedagogy),
not the individual pupil. Such an emphasis leads to exploring different models of curricula
and pedagogy and the extent to which they may or may not stimulate creativity in
    What features of (a) the school         ethos (b) the   curriculum, (c) the pedagogic
       relationships between teachers and pupils, are likely to stimulate (or inhibit)

3. Creativity and competences

The EU recognises eight key competences that schools should strive for. These are,
communication in mother tongue, communication in foreign languages, mathematical and
scientific competences, digital competences, learning to learn, social and civic competence,
initiative and entrepreneurship, cultural awareness.

    What might it mean for a school to base its curriculum on these key competences?
    How might key competences relate to the goals of promoting creativity and

4. Creativity in the curriculum subject fields

Traditionally creativity has been largely associated with the performing, literary and
visual arts. However, there is a growing awareness that ‘being creative’ in the broad
sense of ‘taking risks’ and ‘trying out new things’ is important aspect of all fields of
learning. On the other hand it is difficult to give a substantive meaning to creativity in
highly specialist subject areas such as mathematics, the natural sciences or foreign

There are a number possible ways for schools to overcome this dilemma.

One approach is to distinguish between personal and public criteria for creativity. An
example of personal criteria might be to emphasise how a student approaches a problem
without any expectation that he/she was creating ‘new’ knowledge.

Another possibility would involve developing cross-subject programmes in which students
have opportunities to bring together knowledge from different subject domains in what
may be genuinely new ways.

    Is genuinely deep (and creative) thinking possible for students who have had only
     limited access to the appropriate knowledge domains?
    Is there a danger that the blurring of subject boundaries in the interests of innovation
     and creativity may undermine the conditions for deep and creative thinking?

As third approach to encouraging creativity is through various forms of 'project' in which
the student (ort even an external agency) defines the problem. Such projects can be
developed from school/work links and community-related contexts in which the importance
of 'applying' knowledge in the new contexts is given priority.

    Are there general principles for integrating 'theoretical’ and 'practical’ learning?
    How can teachers judge whether knowledge has been applied adequately in a
       particular context?
    Does the requirement to 'apply' knowledge create more rather than less problems for
       the slower learner who has yet to acquire the knowledge?

5. Open education

Promoting creativity is increasingly associated with what is sometimes referred to as the
open education movement and the breaking down of institutional barriers, especially those
between school and everyday life. Taken to its logical conclusion, this leads to the gradual
disappearance of the features that we have historically associated with schools as they
become merged into a seamless social 'web'.

    Why are boundaries invariably seen as in need of ‘breaking down?
    Do the boundaries between school and community and between the different
       subjects of the curriculum have positive as well as negative functions for the
       intellectual development of pupils?
    Could weakening the boundaries between school and the community undermine the
       conditions that are necessary if students are to acquire the ‘powerful’ knowledge
       that they will need in the future 'knowledge society'’?

6. Schools and the ‘knowledge explosion’

A major challenge facing today's schools is how to respond to the exponential growth of
knowledge in recent decades. This is paralleled by the increasing speed with which
knowledge becomes out of date. It is also frequently noted that in our adult life, we
remember little of the knowledge we acquire at school and use even less of it .

    What are the implications of the combination of the 'knowledge explosion' (the
       expansion of knowledge) and 'knowledge redundancy’ (the increasing speed with
       which knowledge becomes out of date) for schools and the curriculum?

    Should schools ‘reduce’ the factual content of the curriculum and give more emphasis
       to such generic skills as 'thinking ' ,'risk taking' , 'problem-solving' , and 'learning to
    Can factual content and generic skills be seen as mutually supporting learning?
    Can students acquire a capability such as 'problem solving’ independently of the
      solving of specific problems in a variety of knowledge domains?
    Is there anything ‘generic’ about problem solving in, say, chemistry and history?

7. Schools, creativity and digital technologies

Digital technologies are increasingly involved in the transformation of many aspects of
modern life.

    Can this transformative role of digital technologies be extended directly to
    Is it possible and useful to distinguish an educational approach to digital technologies
      that might promote thinking and creativity
    How might such an approach differ from how students learn to use digital
      technologies outside school?

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