It has been a great experience to be able to spend more time in a Primary school setting than I have for quite a while. While previous roles that I have held have had me working closely with the Primary school team, it tended to be in a more logistical, day-to-day, keep the school running kind of way. Since joining the community at NGS, I have been able to be in the classes with the students and teachers (more often than not, disrupting the planned lessons of my colleagues – they have been very gracious in having me)!
The most joyous aspect (and there have been many – including the Bluey brain-break dance in Miss Paton’s Kindy class…) has been to watch the creativity that the children display. All the time! The Year 1 Learning Festival held in the Sandi Warren Performance Centre earlier showed all aspects of the students’ creativity – but my personal favourite was the artwork they all created, representing themselves as animals in the world and explaining the choices that had been made. There were many and varied creatures – from frogs to possums, thylacines (aka Tasmanian tigers) to unicorns – and the most wonderful explanations as to why they were chosen. I was terribly late to a meeting at Hill Campus as I needed to hear why someone clearly needed to be a rainbow lorikeet!
Then I considered how this task might be approached if we were to ask our students across Australian secondary schools to do the same. Would there be the rich diversity of creatures? Would there be the same level of creativity amongst the explanations of the choices? While there is no doubt that there would be a percentage of older students who would approach the project with flair and imagination, I would think that we’d see far more bland offerings across the selection.
The late, great educational thinker, Sir Ken Robinson (https://www.sirkenrobinson.com/) was strident in his thoughts. He held that educational authorities and many schools went so far as to teach creativity out of the students. Watch any of his beautifully scripted and illustrated video productions or read any of his research and you’ll note the passion with which he rails against the western education trend of driving students into standardised testing and the creation of league tables to judge holistic performance of schools.
Across the history of modern schooling in the western world there has been an acceptance of systematically narrowing the curriculum to squeeze creative ways of looking at things out. A sense of this-is-how-we-teach-it and it-doesn’t-matter-where-you-are, it is done the same. Robinson contends that pressure is brought to bear to have school graduates ready to go into the economy and continue to be productive.
Yet … a survey of business leaders from earlier in the decade indicated that what these sectors crave is people who are inherently creative, who are innovative, who think differently. These kinds of people will allow organisations to evolve, change and adapt in what is a highly connected and complicated world. I am certainly not an economist but put in those simple terms, there is a clarity and consistency around what these leaders are saying is required.
So why is it that Robinson thought that education systems are not pursuing creative ways of doing things as enthusiastically as they should? His mantra, writ large on websites as well as in his hard copy publications is,
“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
Do the school rankings and pressures around exit credentials and results for graduates drive creativity and innovative ways of doing things into the shadows as we get on with systematic education? Do we go out of our way to make sure we have as many people as possible “getting it right” that we ignore change and other ways of thinking? They are certainly not simple questions to answer. We do need to recognise that grading and assessment has a meaningful place in the scheme of things and sometimes the job just needs to get done.
I will vigorously disagree with at least one statements that Sir Ken made. In one TED talk I recall him presenting, he stated that, “there is a generation of students leaving schools who have not been encouraged to develop these creative abilities at all …”
I know that this is simply not true. As I wander the halls of NGS (again disrupting what colleagues have going on…) I can see some truly wonderful innovation and encouragement. Not just with our youngest students, but with our most senior. An extension maths lesson that encouraged students to find the ‘right answer’ to be sure – but importantly where the question was asked, “is there another way?” Entire secondary year groups working away in groups on a STEM day to create Rube Goldberg/Marble run machines. (https://www.wonderopolis.org/wonder/what-is-a-rube-goldberg-machine). Students representing the school in demanding experiences such as the Future Problem Solving programme (https://fpsp.org.au/2023-National-Finals~18405).
There are so many examples. I think that the real point is that ALL schools must always continue to do more and always question if we are doing enough. It is after all, our mission to prepare our students for the world they will venture out into – and we really don’t know exactly what that will be!
And so, to receive the news that several of our Year 12 students have been nominated for excellence commendations across Senior creative subjects Music and Design and Technology in 2023 is wonderful news (Visual Art and Drama are yet to be announced). Not from the league table perspective – but because it affirms that the young people in our midst value this creative work, they are being guided by wonderful teachers who continue to encourage them to think in innovative ways and that this kind of work is viewed as inherently important.