Are We Killing Our Children’s Creativity? by Sonia Ahmed at The Platform

The British education system is stifling creativity in children and this requires a radical rethink in how and why children are taught


All children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist once he grows up.” Picasso.

During my training to become a teacher, I was determined to teach my future students to be creative in all of my lessons, to train them up to survive in the ever changing, globalising world. I see the need for this kind of approach now more than ever. However, the current education system leaves very little room to allow that to happen.

The US Department of Labor estimates that today’s learners will have had ten to fourteen jobs by the age of thirty eight. Our job, as educators, is to prepare students for jobs that do not yet exist, using technologies that have not yet been invented, in order to solve problems that we do not even know are problems yet. We are living in times of exponential growth. Most of what our children learn in school will be outdated by the time they leave.

We are currently teaching our students skills that they will need to use in the future, but the problem is, no one has any idea what the world will look like in five years time, let alone in sixteen years when today’s nursery children will graduate. So, more importantly than any subjects that students learn at school, in order for them to survive in tomorrow’s world, they must learn how to learn.

Endless research has been carried out on the importance of creativity in education. The new national curriculum has been adapted to some extent to incorporate higher order thinking skills into the curriculum. Unfortunately, in practice this has not been the case.

Schools struggle to incorporate thinking skills and creativity into lessons. This is because schools are under a lot of pressure to get students through examinations and deliver good GCSE exam results. Teachers are forced to teach their subjects in a rigid structure to get students successfully through their exams so that the school performs well in the league tables. Unfortunately for teachers, this gives them less freedom to teach creatively. As a result, our students are spoon-fed content based lessons, missing the vital skills that they will need later in life.

The school in which I work regularly tests pupils with end of year exams, end of term exams or end of topic tests. So much time is spent on testing the pupils and teaching towards the tests that seldom are there opportunities for students to express any creativity.

Group work is the main factor that affects the engagement and enjoyment of students in the lesson. It allows students to be involved in the lesson, to be challenged and stimulated. Furthermore, it empowers students by giving them some degree of control over their learning, giving them the opportunity to learn at their own pace and respond to their own needs. Group activities are implemented in most lessons, but unfortunately come to a halt when most students get to year 10 and start preparing for their GCSE examinations. Parts of this is because teachers feel pressure to deliver good GCSE results and are reluctant to do collaborative activities or discussion, which deviate from note-taking for the exams.

The introduction of league tables has been the most prominent cause of the plummeting focus on creativity in schools. League tables create competition amongst schools, where schools are ranked against each other based on GCSE exam results. The stiff competition between schools based on GCSE results have given head teachers a new priority: to be the number one school in the borough. As a result, head teachers are pressurising teachers to perform and obtain very good examination results from students. The emphasis has shifted from learning to learn, to delivering content-led lessons that ensure students pass their examinations with a good grade.

It is not as if there is no basis for creativity in modern education, quite the contrary in fact. Creativity in schools is fostered at an early age, but the emphasis on creativity disappears as students get older because of pressure to perform well in examinations. The competition between schools to uphold their reputation has lead to teachers being put under pressure to deliver good results, making them more reluctant to take risks to foster a student’s creativity. As a result, this leaves our children with more spoon-fed knowledge which they forget as soon as they leave the exam hall, and less useful, transferrable skills which they will need later on in life. This only harms the students by hindering the development of their creativity and thinking skills.

This type of competitive atmosphere increases anxiety in students and teachers, discouraging teachers from incorporating any creativity, discussion and group work within their lessons. In order for creativity to remain in a child once that child grows up, children need a non-competitive environment in education, without tests, exams
and league tables. The priority needs to be focused on the students learning, not what grade they can achieve in their examinations. Only then will we have any chance of developing and maintaining creativity in children.

The globalising world and rapid technological development means that workers of the future need to be equipped now with skills which allow them to adapt and learn. To do this, students must be engaged in their learning and encouraged to think critically.  However, instead of teaching our children the skills they will need to prepare them for the future, they are being taught how to pass exams. To make matters worse, most of what they learn will be outdated once they get to university. We are teaching our children to prepare for their exams, but are preparing them to fail when they start to live their own lives.


Steven Johnson on Where Good Ideas Come From