by Chris Olivier
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.” – Steve Jobs.
Creativity is difficult to quantify. We can identify it when we see it but somehow cannot critically categorize it. It often happens that a teacher or parent comes across a creative project and says something like, “That kind of creativity cannot be taught.” However, modern education theorists have found that to be false. Creativity can be taught, but it requires us to redefine the way we look at education.
If we look at the education system today we notice that it has remained pretty much unchanged since its design around the time of the industrial revolution. Every other industry has gone through revolution after revolution. In fact, the only aspect of the broader education system that has changed over the years is its administration which has come to undermine its original purpose.
Under the current dictatorship of continuous assessment and standardized test we have managed to educate people out of their creative capacities. When I stood in front of a class for the first time, the thing that was most apparent to me was how terrified students were of questions I asked in class. If I were to ask pose a question and point out a student to answer, they would instantly look back at me with a similar petrified expression to someone that had just seen a ghost. Kids are so frightened of being wrong and if you’re frightened of being wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.
The other aspect of our archaic system is the hierarchy of subjects. At the top we have the sciences and mathematics then humanities then sports and finally music and art. For children inclined in the latter, school becomes a very difficult place. They may be geniuses in their own right but end up judging themselves according to artificial social standards for “intelligence.”
Anybody with an intuitive sense of what real learning is will understand why this current system is so detrimental to our youth. Many schools around the world are starting to make more more progressive changes to their systems and in most of these cases the results have been impressive. These radical enclaves’ of global society put emphasis on actual learning processes and attribute great social significance to the role of education. Finland is a good example of this.
Finland is one of the world’s leaders in implementing progressive education systems and has the data to prove their success. 93 percent of Finnish students finish High School, the gap between the strongest students and the weakest is the smallest in the world and 66 percent of the student attend university. Finland has managed to get these statistics through simplifying their education administration and putting value in their teachers. In western education, we seem to think the solution is getting our kids to start school earlier with pre-pre-primary schools. In Finland children only start school at the age of seven, they rarely take exams or do homework until they are well into their teens and the children are not measured at all for the first six years of their education. As for their teachers, all teachers must have a masters degree which is fully subsidized, the national curriculum is only broad guidelines, teachers are selected from the top 10% of graduates and are effectively given the same status as doctors and lawyers. Even though I am in awe of what they have achieved in Finland, I understand that trying to implement the same system in Namibia will be a mistake as we have a very different economic and social environment to the Scandinavian country. Therefore, my hope is that we can take the example of Finland, that went against the traditional ideas of education to create a more progressive system that truly and holistically empowers it’s youth, so that it may inspire us to find our own solutions that suit our own environment.
The first step in finding a solution for our education problem would be to define the major problems. This is particularly difficult as there are so many issues but also because the issues are so intertwined. Disclaimer: The ideas that I would like to suggest are by no means the gospel for a Namibian education revolution but merely ideas to tackle a couple of, what I feel to be, the most apparent barriers for development in Namibian education.
Our first major problem is basic access to education and not just for the learners but also for the teachers. Coupled with this problem is the severe lack of qualified teachers. If we can’t find a solution to the teacher crisis we might have to rely on the intellectual autonomy of the kids and at very least provide them with access to knowledge. There are a few solutions in this regard in which we use technology to set up cheap digital libraries. This could in turn help with the teacher problem as these libraries could also contain content for teacher development.
The other major problem is the industrial style of education administration. Our curriculum and general education philosophy imposed on our learners lack any type relevance to their lives. This is why students are becoming increasing disenchanted with the education system, across all demographics. We need to replace the current mundane parrot style regurgitation of random information with a much more satisfying, ‘learning for the sake of learning’ mindset. A possible solution for this would be decentralizing education administration to allow more relevant content in various environments.
Considering the above suggestions, I would just like to point out that I believe that no band-aid policy change or minor government initiative will ever change anything. Instead, we need to empty our current cup of knowledge and completely re-imagine what we feel education should be. In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, “We need to radically review our perceptions of intelligence” and “We need to reconstitute our conception of the riches of human capacity.”