HONG KONG. Many Asian countries, keen to have a more innovative workforce, are trying to close the "creativity" gap with the West. However, eastern educators say this must be combined with a rigorous academic approach.
Asian governments have traditionally recoiled from the "creativity culture" being fostered in schools in the West. They see it as unproductive "modelling and pasting" at the expense of a rigorous grounding in academic subjects. Following the lead of Japanese and Taiwanese educationists, there is a growing view that creativity should be superimposed on the strengths of the education system rather than replacing them.
In the 1980s, tests showed that Taiwanese students were not as creative as their US counterparts. But with a government drive to improve creativity in terms of technological research and development, studies on creative behaviour were carried out in 1992-93.
The latest research shows Taiwanese students are more creative now than their counterparts were 15 years ago and the gap between Taiwan and the West has narrowed considerably. All this, say Asian researchers, has been achieved without altering the competitive and exam-orientated nature of the Taiwanese school system.
Hong Kong is far behind Asian countries in fostering creativity in education. One reason often cited is parental resistance to anything but the purely academic approach. The competitive exam-driven system requires pupils to concentrate on getting the "right" answer and engenders conformist behaviour.
Dr Ping-chung Cheung, of the department of educational psychology at Hong Kong's Chinese University, said: "We don't have to teach creativity, rather we should try to encourage natural creativity by not imposing restrictions. "
Novelty or originality of thought, while a central aspect of creativity, is not sufficient on its own, he said. This is a departure from the kind of thinking that influenced educational policy in the 1960s and 1970s. Psychologists say creative people must be able to apply their creativity to specific situations and problems and be able to communicate their thoughts to others.
"Nowadays, we say to be creative we have, first of all, to have a very good knowledge base. Some people think they can get their ideas from a vacuum. These ideas may be original but are impractical and useless. It is this that makes creativity unwelcome," said Dr Cheung.
The ability to generate and express ideas with ease is called "ideational fluency" by researchers. It is, according to Dr Mark Runco, of California University, and editor of the Creativity Research Journal, the most reliable indicator of creative talent, superseding even originality.
Hong Kong people do not see themselves as creative. But tests carried out in a study at Hong Kong University, Chinese University and the Polytechnic University with a sample of 3,000 children, showed that compared to Germans and Americans, Hong Kong youngsters performed higher on non-verbal creativity than the western sample, but lower on verbal creativity. The test was based on the widely used Torrance test, which is supposedly free of cultural bias.