Does education kill creativity?

Ever since the late Sir Ken Robinson gave his famous Ted Talk, “Do schools kill creativity?”, educators have grappled with various issues around critical thinking and creativity. On the one side, there are those who would suggest that without knowledge, meaningful creativity is impossible, while others seem to suggest that acquiring knowledge impedes creativity.

I’m pretty much in the knowledge-is-good camp but I do think that the way we assess students seems to impede their ability to think – creatively and otherwise.

Recently, I’ve started asking students questions that I label as “The critical and creative thinking question”. Students are ok with this. Once they expect the unexpected, they’re fine with the concept.

And one thing I’ve noticed is that although a small number of students have adapted really well, most students seem to approach these questions in a sort of Pavlovian way. It’s as if they have been conditioned to answer certain kinds of questions and find it difficult to think through the question that is actually being asked. And so recently when I asked a question that was ultimately about calibration, I got a variety of really strange answers that simply baffled me.

The thing is, the students I teach are smart – I know that from working with them in the lab – but somehow they seemed unable to engage their natural thinking ability. For me, that’s not their fault – it’s ours.

Whatever we’re doing (and I think the fundamental problem here is how we assess students) it’s not encouraging or incentivising students to actually think.

Some thinking of our own is in order.

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