System failure

2nd May 2003 at 01:00
When you hear some people talking about creativity you'd think it was something you could order up, like stationery.

"Yes, it's Sean James here, ICT co-ordinator at the primary school up the road, I'd like to have a couple of crates of creativity delivered for next term. Could you stack them up in the store room alongside the barrels of motivation and the boxes of professionalism the department sent us?"

Creativity is something that you have to work at. You have to give it space and time. It's one of the great precious metals of primary school life, something of great value that gets dug up in the most unpromising places.

It's also often the mystery ingredient that makes young children want to use computers. They don't see the grey box on the outside, they see the story they want to write or the picture they want to draw on the inside.

In our school, the infants have "choosing time" each day, when they can pick an activity that they like. Of course, the things they would really like to do - watch DVDs, mispronounce irritating pop songs, examine each others' scabs - are not allowed.

But instead they can choose something like making a model, or reading a book, or work on the computer. In fact, they always say "play" on the computer, but we're working that in our new verbal correctness module.

What makes the computer such a popular choice, both for boys and girls, is the way that it taps into their creativity. Art software or video editing can turn the computer into an extension of their imagination. And it's so unselfconscious. It's a kind of educational alchemy, watching someone clicking away at the screen, and then out comes a book cover or a story about a holiday or a print-out of a horrible fluorescent splurge that they think is hilarious and which you wouldn't want to touch without a chemical warfare suit.

I sometimes think that there's more creativity in a single day in a primary school classroom than most adults experience in a year.

This has been recognised by an award set up by Specta, the government's shadowy agency to encourage the use of communications technology in school.

The agents from Specta have awarded prizes for creativity in making digital videos, with the winning primary school now contracted to produce programmes for the new cable television channel, Spectavision.

And Specta, breaking its tradition of speaking entirely in code, has also published research showing how computers motivate pupils - this must be linked to the sense of creativity that they can deliver.

Fired up by such thoughts, I made a terrible mistake in thinking that such optimism might be extended to my colleagues. And I even rashly suggested that the concept of "choosing time" should be extended to teachers as well as the taught, so that we could all be more creative.

Susan Chard, resident cynic and woman so bitter that she has called her dog Early Retirement, says that if we went down that route it would only be a matter of time before there was a creativity league table, with baseline creativity tests so that we could measure whether we were improving enough to reach our creativity targets.

The headteacher, Mrs Gatsby, had that faraway look in her eye, and said that this year's test results were creative enough already, thank you very much.

Even Fiona Strepsil, the hard-working, newly qualified teacher, said that there wasn't enough time for choosing time, which seemed a little depressing, to think that she only had time to do things she wouldn't have chosen.

So instead I'll have to go back to Year 1 and ask them if they'd mind if I joined in with them, because they seem to have much more fun than adults.

Maybe I could use the computer to design a storyboard for the first few scenes of a movie that could change my life. Well, it is my choosing time after all. And I do like to be creative.

Sean James

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