Let creativity shape the future;Another Voice;Opinion

27th February 1998 at 00:00
A hundred years ago people would have scoffed at the possibility of comprehensive literacy and numeracy skills being attained by all children. The dominant belief would have been that most were only capable of very basic levels of achievement and that for working class boys and most girls, too much education was unnecessary, confusing or pointless.

Who at that time could have imagined our changing world of class, income, gender relations and work-style and, therefore, who would have had the vision to advocate that the sensibilities and skills of all children should be nurtured?

Although we now accept that compulsory education for all has allowed us as a nation to thrive in a modern world, I still meet people who argue that too much knowledge encourages people to get above their "natural station in life". "There's still got to be people who empty the bins" - serves as their catch-all phrase for "we can't all raise our aspirations or society as we know it would cease to function".

This prejudice stems from a fear of change and a sense that an ordered society is a conservative society where the purpose of learning is to serve present needs and not to tamper with the future. The image of traditional classroom methods comforts those alarmed by Britain's failure to deliver a fully-formed obedient workforce of literate, numerate 20-year olds who will slot in to current employment practice.

Fortunately, the majority of people now accept that Cool Britannia cries out for civic-minded citizens, multi-disciplined with flexible, transferable skills, entrepreneurial and capable of adapting to the hectic speed of change.

However, which of us can really imagine the Britain of the future, since it will inevitably be far removed from our current familiarities? And therefore, how do we go about constructing an education system that allows children to shape and cope with that future?

Those of us who argue for creativity to have a greater role do so because of the overwhelming evidence that allowing expressiveness and imaginative curiosity to flourish creates a level of confidence, self-esteem and purposefulness that can change a child's abilities forever. Of course the arts should be studied in their own right but the qualities that arts disciplines offer can also bring great benefits when applied to other subjects.

Creative approaches to learning unlock motivation and enthusiasm, develop lateral thinking and encourage independence of thought allowing a child to deal with a changing world. The desire to narrow curriculum choice and downgrade the arts components plays into the hands of those who believe in the hierarchy of subject matter with so-called "hard" factual subjects at the top and "soft" subjects which require emotional, kinetic and aesthetic intelligence at the bottom.

The belief in this hierarchy is, I believe, innately conservative - concerned with past and present certainties and not to do with future vision or aspiration. The technological age is persuasive in suggesting that the ability to master information technology will provide the perfect springboard to employment and a fulfilled life; but just as good copywriting with quill pens melted away from our world, so numeracy, literacy and computer skills won't provide our children with the range of knowledge and ingenuity needed to take us into a dynamic future.

In the debate surrounding the role of creativity in the curriculum, I hear people warn that the application of open discovery methods of learning can leave a child stimulated but unskilled - particularly children whose domestic circumstances offer no educational support.

However, all classroom styles badly delivered will fail many children and although a fully creative curriculum is hard to deliver, it has the potential to transform those individuals forever.

Education requires brave, resourceful, confident teachers and governments which refuse to pander to the idea that our children's lives and experiences should replicate our own. We know past societies underestimated and undervalued most of their people - it's important that we don't make the same mistake by restricting learning opportunities.

Allowing people to get "above their natural station in life" is what education should be aiming for.

Jude Kelly is artistic director of The West Yorkshire Playhouse

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