Opinion || Is creativity the lost sheep of a herd mentality?

As school goes back this week and I am finding myself sitting amidst school uniforms and pencil cases, labelling everything and helping my son prepare for the year ahead, I can’t help but ponder the role that education plays in the preparation of future generations for the future world of work.

School helps us learn to work together, to follow plans, to accept the authority of others and to play our part in a bigger system. If you can learn the way you are taught, if you fit into the mould, if you behave yourself and don’t get distracted, your diligence will be rewarded with merit awards and excellent reports.

However, in the reality of the classroom, things aren’t as easily characterised as that. There are often thirty students, sometimes across different year groups in the same class, with different learning styles, strengths and weaknesses, including children with learning difficulties and disabilities, children who need to be extended and further challenged, children with leadership skills, children with sporting skills and children who can code in their sleep.

I do not envy teachers the task of engaging each student in the curriculum while having to assess their progress against educational outcomes external to the school and standardised across the country.

When our children are all so different, how do we standardise their learning? More to the point, why do we want to?

The efficacy of our education system needs to be measured in order to be understood and evaluated and herein lies the problem.

Standardising education makes it consistent, “teacher-proofs” curriculum through scripting, ensures equity of education availability that is deemed to be adequate, and it enables standardised assessments to facilitate comparison and to mark progress.

However, the one-size-fits-all approach can be as limiting as it is convenient. It diminishes the professionalism of the teachers by reducing the role of a teacher’s judgement, experience and skill in the classroom. Perhaps the most frightening element of standardised education is the focus on content over understanding. Students aren’t often encouraged to think creatively and innovatively when it extends beyond the textbook, and when a student questions the content, they are labelled as trouble makers and belligerent.

As a parent, it can feel like your child is a fish being judged on how they can climb a tree. My own experience as a parent has shown me the value of a teacher who “gets” my son and is able to recognise his own brand of intelligence and thought processes that do not mean he is “less than” his classroom peers, but do highlight that he is different.

We were told to ignore his report one year because the education outcomes don’t allow for the measurement of the progress that he made and instead, we had regular meetings throughout the year to help him grow and continue to learn in a positive and engaged environment both at school and at home.

However, being told that we need to teach our son how to curb his creative and often philosophical musings to ensure that he stays on task is certainly an understandable request from a frustrated teacher who is trying to manage a classroom of students with diverse needs, but it is equally frustrating to be asked to tell our son to keep his mouth shut when he disagrees with something and to just get on with it.

I wonder at the value of this “skill” in the future world of work.

Are we valuing compliance and quiet obedience over innovative thought? Are we punishing students who can’t follow the instructions provided as a means of forcing them into a sheep’s mould in preparation for the workplace?  

As the daughter of two teachers, I am the first person to recognise the value and importance of these role models in our children’s lives.

The efficacy of our education system needs to be measured in order to be understood and evaluated and herein lies the problem.

But I also see how they are restrained and constricted in their craft as their professionalism is not given the recognition and trust it deserves to teach children how they need to be taught.

No one knows kids in the classrooms better than teachers. When the workplace is demanding innovation and creative thought, we need to be encouraging our students to build skills that recognise their individuality, not force a robotic herd mentality.

Zoë Wundenberg Careers Writer, Counsellor & Coach Impressability