Recently I spent some time pondering what interesting units I could develop for teaching in an upper primary classrooom. I wanted to do cool, engaging stuff that challenged the class and gave them some skills that they wouldn’t typically be exposed to. One possibility that sprung to mind was creative thinking. I am lucky enough to get the opportunity to teach creativity professionally now and then, and it’s one of my favourite things to teach. This weekend I’m travelling to Japan with a colleague to run a two day workshop on creative ideation for executives at Japanese ad agency Dentsu. We teach techniques for lateral thinking, generating truly innovative ideas, and creating cultures and spaces where that kind of thinking can occur. I figured that surely this kind of stuff would be interesting for kids.
When I thought about it a little more, I was surprised to realise that these were probably skills of little use to a primary school student. Understanding the work that they do day-to-day, I decided that creative thinking skills were clearly something that would be needed later – not in the primary classroom. We ask students to write imaginative stories, to solve challenging maths problems, to research topics, and to make arguments – but rarely if ever do we put them in a position where they are required to think creatively, to develop original and innovative solutions.
It was only later that I started to wonder whether this was not perhaps the symptom of a greater problem. Dentsu are flying us to Japan for the weekend because, like so many companies, they believe that creative thinking is critical to their future success. Business leaders consistently bemoan the difficulty of hiring creative thinkers and stress the importance of creativity as a business differentiator. Given this, should we perhaps be concerned that – even in the early years of schooling – we are not creating opportunities for students to engage with these kind of challenges, and build skills in an area that appears to be a powerful asset in contemporary society?