Rethinking education and creativity

There is irrefutable evidence about creativity being a trait in people of all races and all age groups, including children. However, throughout intellectual history, instances of creative feat have not largely been a product of formal education.

Would it be right to conclude that our education system works against human creativity? My answer is “ Yes! it does”. But how? Simply because the fundamental principles underlying our education system are at odds with the culture in which human creativity flourishes.


Take any two children in the world. They are completely different from each other. Aren’t they? One of the fundamental truths about human beings is diversity. Human beings are inherently different from one another in their aptitude, talent and intelligence. Diversity is the common currency of being human. Every child is born with a natural talent that is unique to him but we squander it ruthlessly.

The purpose of education system should be to create conditions wherein these talents show up themselves. Paradoxically our system has been designed not on the principle of diversity but conformity. Every education system on earth is based on a hierarchy of subjects depending on their relative significance in an industrial society.

At the top is the mathematics and at the bottom is the arts. This hierarchy is based on the principle that most useful subjects for work are given a higher status. This is because our education system actually came into being to meet the demands of industrialism.

So most often than not, the first blow to a child’s original self is delivered when a child on the very first day of formal schooling is forced away from his innately unique talent into choosing between what he could do across this formally available narrow spectrum of achievement.

In this way our present system dislocates people from their innate tendencies or aptitudes. That is why most formally educated people simply go through their entire lives without ever knowing what their talents might be or make poor use of them.

The system allowing to chose between a narrow range of subjects grows our children out of their creative capacities.

The second is that our education system is predicated on the idea of academic ability and this notion of academic ability has come to dominate our idea of intelligence.

What a child was good at wasn’t valued at school. Those who do not get better scores in a narrow range of subjects offered at schools are not valued and sometimes stigmatised.

That is precisely the reason many of our extraordinarily talented children dropout of the system thinking they aren’t good at anything.

Every child who drops out of the school has a reason for it. The curriculum offered may not resonate with his spirit. It doesn’t speak of his most authentic self. He might find it at odds with the life he spends outside. One of real challenges is to innovate fundamentally in education.

At the heart of this challenge is to reconstitute our conception of ability and of human intelligence. We know many things about intelligence. One is it is diverse. We think of world in every way we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically, we think in abstract, we think in movement.

Second is that intelligence is wonderfully interactive & it is distinct. Today we talk about multiple intelligence. Our education system needs to be revolutionised to acknowledge, accommodate and celebrate this diversity of human intelligence.

Picasso once said “ All children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as one grows up”. A common trait between a child and a creative scientist is curiosity. Thankfully the default mode of a child is curiosity and exploration. Children are naturally curious.

They aren’t afraid of making a mistake which is indispensable for coming up with anything creative. By the time children get to be adults, most of them have lost that capacity. Curiosity is the engine of human creativity. It is a real achievement in education to put that particular ability out or to stifle it.

If teachers ignite this spark of curiosity in students, they will learn & innovate without any further assistance. In place of curiosity our system puts emphasis on the culture of compliance. When we rebuke a child who bangs on our household pans we are squashing an experiment in acoustics.

One of the dominant narratives in education system is the idea of Linearity. This system offers a linear path. If someone follows the path of mechanical memorisation of facts, getting good grades in annual examinations and job entrance, he appears settled for his post-educational life.

What entire education system is all about seems to be a protracted process of job entrance. This linear narrative rewards a robotic rote-learner and not a creative wanderer. Human flourishing is not a mechanical process. It is an organic process. Life isn’t linear.

It is organic. We create and recreate our lives symbiotically as we explore our talents in relation to circumstances that help us to create. We must acknowledge that human life depends on a diversity of talents and not a single conception of ability.

Another principle in present education system is the culture of standardisation. The whole point of education should be to get children to learn. Instead of focusing more on learning, the focus is on testing. Standardised tests do have a role.

But They should merely be diagnostic and not the dominant culture to determine winners and losers. Our education system has adopted the fast food model of restaurants where everything is standardised and not customized to personalised needs.

This is killing our talents in he same way as fast food depletes our physical bodies. Education doesn’t happen in legislative buildings, executive chambers or committee rooms of policy planners. It occurs in classrooms. Its actual participants are the teachers and the students.

The movement we take away autonomy and discretion from teachers and and students, it stops working. Unless teachers are given autonomy, support, respect and high status we can’t expect to bring highly competent and professionally committed people into the system. High status and professional development of teachers is not a cost. It is an investment.

We can’t overcome crisis of human resources without harnessing full potential of human faculties.

For that we have to reconstitute idea of education and rethink fundamental principles on which we are educating our children.

Author is a school teacher.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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