Rote learning, controlling teachers and a “fixation” on standardised tests are crushing children’s creativity, according to a school principal who is on a mission to change things.
Paul Browning has been principal of North Brisbane’s St Paul’s School since 2008 and is hoping to convince the Federal Government to take a closer look at creative teaching in primary and secondary schools.
“Most teachers would be aware of Sir Ken Robinson’s great quote where he says that schools successfully kill creativity,” Dr Browning told ABC News Breakfast.
“I think that occurs more so in Australia because we’re so fixated on standardised testing and getting results against national benchmarks.”
He said it was vital for teachers to find new ways of nurturing creativity, because the current system had become too rigid.
“We’re rote teaching. We’re forced to teach to the test,” he said.
“As a result of that, we’re actually killing creativity in young people and when they get to tertiary, there’s no point trying to resurrect it if it’s already dead.”
The issue of creativity and innovation has come into the spotlight in recent years as technological changes bring about major shifts in the jobs market.
In response, the Federal Government launched an inquiry in November to ensure Australia’s tertiary system was producing graduates able to “meet the needs of a future labour force focused on innovation and creativity”.
Specifically, the inquiry will examine “the extent to which students are graduating with the skills needed for the jobs of today and of the future”.
Dr Browning said it was a laudable goal, but he has made a submission calling for the terms of reference to be expanded beyond tertiary level to include primary and secondary schools as well.
“Our argument is there’s no point trying to resurrect [creativity] at a tertiary level if it’s already been extinguished by our schooling system at the moment,” he said.
That sentiment is shared by Kay Margetts, an associate professor in early childhood studies at Melbourne University.
“We have a very crowded curriculum, so there’s not a lot of room for children to have time to be imaginative, to be creative,” she said.
“This crowded curriculum does restrict teachers’ willingness to spend time on a big question and delving into that. They have to move on to the next thing, otherwise the bell’s going to go and we have to move onto the next period.”
However, while Dr Margetts welcomed further inquiry into early childhood creativity, she was cautious of making the current inquiry too broad and diluting its impact.
The most recent review of the national curriculum was completed in 2014 and a spokesman for the Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, said this week there were no plans to widen the current inquiry to look beyond the tertiary level.
Still, that doesn’t mean Dr Browning doesn’t have other suggestions for teachers in the short-term.
“Probably one of the biggest things teachers can do is let go of control themselves,” he said.
“As adults we like to control the world around us and in the classroom teachers tend to like to control what they actually do as well.
“It’s that sort of control and fear, I suppose, of not achieving … what you think you should be achieving, that creates those inhibitions and the language we use when we’re teaching young children which puts them in a place where they don’t want to take risks or try new things.”
Author: PATRICK WOOD, ABC NEWS BREAKFAST