Is Creativity As Important As Literacy?

why teaching creativity is as important as teaching literacy

“Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” – Sir Ken Robinson, TED talk, 2006.

That is a bold statement. The first time I heard Sir Ken Robinson say that in his 2006 TED talk, I was a little shocked. Really? Did I agree? I had to think about that one. Being an early childhood/ elementary teacher myself, I had always been made to believe that nothing is more important than literacy.

However, over the years as I have learned more about the 21st Century workplace and the changing landscape of the future, I have begun to question my educational assumption. Is literacy still the most important thing? (Or, along with math, the only important things, as reflected by today’s school practices.)  Is creativity something we should be explicitly teaching in our schools? Is it “as important as literacy?”

Let’s think about it this way:

1- Literacy is crucial. No one (including Sir Ken Robinson) is saying literacy is unimportant. Obviously, if a child leaves school unable to read or write well, he/she is going to have a slim chance of success in today’s world. Rather, he is saying that creativity is just as important.

2- Literacy by itself is not enough. Today’s high school graduate is entering a workforce that has changed drastically in the last 30 years. Think about what it takes today to run a successful business (or work within one):

  • Fluency in technology and its applications.
  • A working knowledge of effective social media and branding and how to leverage that to one’s advantage. (Note: If you don’t think businesses need social media, you probably aren’t trying to sell anything or market a business!)
  • Problem solving and critical thinking skills (to deal with problems and challenges, analyze data, develop action plans, revise systems and processes, etc.)
  • Creative thinking skills (to generate new, original ideas that will propel your business and provide an edge over the competition.)
  • Strong communication skills which falls within the  “literacy skills” category . I think being a strong writer is especially important these days. Graduates today need to be able to communicate their ideas clearly, write persuasively, write to inform, etc. The demand for strong writers has never been higher.
  • Obviously, high school graduates need to be able to read all kinds of text for all kinds of reasons.
  • As always, strong social skills are crucial. “People skills” have always been important but never more so than now. The number of jobs one can do in an isolated manner in a cubicle are dwindling. Many of them have been outsourced to other countries or turned into “do it yourself” computer software programs (such as tax software.) Successful companies expect employees to work collaboratively as members of teams.

Here is the point: I believe that while most of our schools are generally doing good work with literacy, we are doing rather poorly with the rest.

And I include technology as something we are doing poorly. Putting kids in front of computers and iPads does not necessarily mean they are doing meaningful and important work. In fact, I recently visited a school that had installed several brand new computer labs. ($$$$!) At first I was excited to hear what kinds of wondrous educational experiences they had planned for their students that would require so many computers. Had they found an engaging new software program that would help students research information and generate engaging presentations? Was it a multi-media lab where students could integrate photography, music, art, and design with content?

I was so disheartened to hear the answer: students were going to visit the new labs several times a week to practice on math fact drill games. Basically, they bought a $100,000+ set of hi-tech flash cards. Womp, womp, womp…..

Even when we make efforts to use technology effectively or integrate the arts, if we don’t understand the creative thinking process, we are limited in our effectiveness. Creative thinking skills are vital for today’s students who face a rapidly changing and unknown future. 

And here’s the thing; creativity isn’t about teaching different content. It’s about changing the way we teach the content we’ve already got. It’s not about giving the children more work to do; it’s about changing the kind of work we require.

I’ll be back to talk more about this process and how we can embed it into every subject we teach!

How do you think we are doing with creativity? Do you see it as an important teaching point for today’s children?

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Photo credit: This above photo, “Book Fotográfico_01” is copyright (c) 2014 Juliana Fernandes and made available under a Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 license.

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