Some time ago I noticed on the website of the World Economic Forum (WEF) a text that dealt with creativity as a future skill. It starts by pointing out the incredible potential and playful creativity with which every child meets the surrounding world.

According to some studies, as much as 98 percent of children before school age are “creative geniuses”. They can invent zillions of different uses for a paper clip, for instance. Unfortunately, we have noticed how this playful creativity tends to fade away over time.

Namely, when these creative geniuses go to school and emerge from the other end of the pipe nearly a decade later, less than three percent are still creative geniuses! Most teenagers can only think of one or at most three uses for a paper clip.

Should we thus conclude that it is school, specifically, which has badly failed them? Surprise, surprise: no, we shouldn’t!

Let’s take an example: A three-year-old may well draw a human figure that stands upside down, whereas 13-year-olds never do so even accidentally, do they? The reason for the change is not that the child’s “spontaneous creativity” would disappear due to the spoiling influence of school. Instead, the explanation is that the child has grown and developed.

The children have themselves observed the world around them and learned to see that people are not usually standing on their heads. It is a matter of developmental psychology and cognitive development rather than an issue of creativity.

The same applies to paper clips. Comprehensive school graduates already know what paper clips are usually used for. And that’s why there are so few alternative answers.

On the other hand, this does not mean that we shouldn’t truly consider how our splendid schools could even better support the creative thinking of children and adolescents.

The World Economic Forum doesn’t actually discredit school as such, even though they are suggesting some improvements. One of their proposals is that school could generally ease off a bit with the delivery of knowledge.

The future is less about knowledge and more about skills, says the Forum’s report on human capital. It also states that there should be more focus on problem-solving skills for complex problems, critical thinking, and unsurprisingly, creativity.

Indeed, creativity seems to be here again. On the WEF ranking for working life competences it has risen from tenth to third in just five years.

Of course, I don’t mind it at all. To my eyes, it seems – alongside those others – just like an educational goal one would find in a world that is nowadays taking on increasingly enigmatic forms.

I have written about creativity and other current educational themes in my book Kasvatus ajan kanssa [Education with time], published in 2019.

Juha T. Hakala, Professor, Kokkola University Consortium Chydenius

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