The fourth industrial revolution

We are in the midst of a revolution, where new technology and AI have the potential to help address many of the global challenges we face, such as climate change, health, and wellbeing. The downside of such change is that automation will replace many jobs, and large parts of existing knowledge will become outdated within a decade. Consequently, the new skills most in demand by employers are cross-functional skills related to complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. A major problem though, as highlighted by international education expert Sir Ken Robinson (1950-2020; www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_do_schools_kill_creativity?language=en), is that schools are currently organised more for earlier industrial revolutions which focused on mass production and ‘are inherently unsuited’ for our future needs. If the UK wants to be ‘the world’s most innovative economy’ by 2030, as stated in the UK government’s Industrial Strategy (2017), then creativity needs to be at the very heart of the school curriculum and at the centre of pedagogical approaches. In 2019, the Durham Commission’s report on Creativity and Education pointed out that in other countries, our economic competitors are already making creativity a central part of their education systems.

The value of creativity

Creativity is about producing new work of value, whether that be in relation to individual learning or creating value for others: in the sciences, the arts or through a combination of the two. Creating something new implies taking risks, challenging assumptions, exploring new ideas and experimenting. Creativity is often enhanced through interdisciplinary collaboration. Technology might well play a part in creating such new work of value, but skills such as listening, observing, empathising, synthesising, imagining, playing, and making are core to this creative approach. Creativity is about gaining different perspectives and learning from mistakes. It requires a safe environment to allow individuals and communities to develop confidence, to manage risk and develop personal attributes such as persistent and resilience. Therefore, creativity is best driven by curiosity and intrinsic motivation, i.e., working on things that are of interest and that matter to the individual. If we want our future generations to develop solutions to complex problems where current knowledge is lacking, creativity is required. Knowledge is important but not sufficient. All this has implications for how we educate our children.

A new approach to education

We need an educational approach that encourages creativity just as much as it encourages an understanding of current knowledge. This means moving away from teaching subjects in abstract isolation and focusing on integrating knowledge from different disciplines together with creative methods through active engagement in real-world projects, in short projects that are meaningful. It is about having a curriculum and assessment process that encourages and rewards the exploration of new possibilities (as well as a critical analysis of ideas and concepts), not a system that is primarily structured around finding the right answer to an exam question. A major advantage of encouraging creativity is that it is likely to lead to a higher level of student engagement and wellbeing; as we are intrinsically motivated to find new challenges and to use our capacities to explore and learn given the opportunities and freedom to do so.

A new curriculum

A 2019 survey by BritainThinks, a-UK based research agency, found that 99% of head teachers and school governors think that it is important to support creativity in education, but lack confidence and knowledge on how to make this happen. The New Curriculum for Wales is being introduced in 2022 and creativity lies at the heart of it. The new curriculum is based on four purposes: ambitious, capable learners; enterprising, creative contributors; ethical, informed citizens; and healthy, confident individuals. It uses six ‘Areas of Learning and Experience’ to encourage creativity and collaboration across subjects. This is a significant move away from the current, more prescriptive approach. The Welsh Government, with the support of Welsh Higher Education Institutions, is helping teachers prepare for this transition via the National Professional Enquiry Project (NPEP, 2021).

Teachers and policy makers in England should keep an eye on developments in Wales (and other countries) over the next few years. It might just provide important insights on how to make creativity a central part of the English education system too.

Want to know more?

Donaldson, G. (2015), Successful futures: independent review of curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales.

James, S. J. et al. (2019) ‘Durham commission on creativity and education’.

National Professional Enquiry Project, https://hwb.gov.wales/professional-development/national-professional-enquiry-project Welsh Government (2021) Curriculum for Wales, https://hwb.gov.wales/curriculum-for-wales/