Monday, June 3, 2013

Our education system is destroying creativity - moderator's introduction

« Every child is born an artist » said Picasso. Hence the problem is to remain one as we grow up. Yet isn’t it one of the purposes of education? In the last decade, there have been increasing criticisms towards our educational system.  Among the protesters, Sir Ken Robinson, an English international advisor on education, is one of the most vocal. Indeed, his conferences are followed worldwide and have got millions of hits so far. He bases his speech upon a very inspiring report: « All Our futures: Creativity, Culture and Education » published in 1999 by the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education in Britain. (Continues below the fold…)

by AA

His major argument is that our current system was conceived for the age of « enlightment » when an « industrial education » was to be implemented due to the economic imperatives of the time. Hence, a hierarchy of subjects was set up in order to serve the needs of industrialization, stigmatizing certain fields, like the arts. As a consequence, many people would have left the academic system because their ability was not enough acknowledged or rewarded. In other words, we are unconsciously getting rid of creative minds that do not find their place in school. In that sense, school would « destroy creativity ».

However, what is creativity and how can one promote it? It can be defined as the ability to have original and valuable ideas.  We are all born creative, and the role of education is to maintain this ability as long as possible, by stimulating people and creating interactions.

Hence the proposing and opposing team will be facing a major issue: Does current education support the process of creativity among people?

Let’s keep in mind that, with the current demographic growth and the skyrocketing access to education, our system is no longer sustainable. Nowadays, more and more people are graduating from college, creating what Robinson calls an « academic inflation ». In the past, one had to get a degree to eventually find a job. This once ordinary scheme is no longer systematic. Therefore, should education be reformed to adapt to the needs of the 21rst century?

For example, France have some of the strongest and most powerful companies in the world (L’Oréal, Total, LVMH,…). If they are strong, they are necessarily innovative; otherwise they would not survive the current tough market. Yet these companies are led by people who graduated from the top French institutions. Can we conclude that everything is working well? The answer is not that trivial as almost no international company has been created in France since 1970 (contrary to Google, Microsoft or Facebook in the USA)!

Does it reflect the lack of creativity in French elite schools? Is our teaching method questionable?

If one considers the « classes préparatoire aux grandes écoles », do they trigger or inhibit the power of creativity? Indeed these formations are very intensive and quantitative; the students are bound to master a large amount of knowledge in very little time (equivalent of 3 B.A in 2 years), in order to prepare the very competitive exams. Furthermore this stream focuses heavily on math and has the advantage of shaping very rational and analytical minds. Yet is that large assimilation of knowledge a relevant way to develop people’s creativity?

To solve this question, both parties will have to identify the key factors that lead to inventiveness and innovation. Among them, one notes the importance of collaboration between people. Indeed, as intelligence is diverse, one truly learns from others.  Secondly, one has to demystify the seriousness of failure. I don’t say that creativeness and failure are equivalent, but as stated in Robinson’s report, if one is not prepared to be wrong, one will never come up with something original! An education that promotes creativity is an education where mistakes are not stigmatized. Errors allow people to pick themselves up. As a matter a fact, many medicines like penicillin, Viagra, were created by errors of experiments.

The stakes raised by education are high. As engineering students, will both teams be able to highlight the pros and cons as well as the major factors that make creativity live inside people?


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