Near the end of this second decade of the 21st century, there is ample evidence that earth’s life supporting systems are slipping into crisis. We are in urgent need of all the creative solutions we can get to help us to transition away from the destructive path we’re on. The last thing schools should be doing is constraining creativity but that’s likely what is happening to many of the children who began their schooling journey a few months ago, the ones who will graduate in 2030.
Ken Robinson’s Do Schools Kill Creativity? talk should not be seen as just an interesting thought exercise. With humanity facing the devastating consequences of climate change, his words should sound like a five-alarm fire.
Our students are going to need new ways of coping with the realities of the world they’ll inherit: increasingly hotter summers, more frequent droughts, abnormal floods, regular wildfires, scarce resources and a teetering global economy that will likely mean that they’ll be “hard at work in a jobless future”.
I confess to being impatient with those who believe that children are “too young” to learn about the realities of life. All across the world, there are millions of children who are taking care of younger siblings, because they’ve lost parents to war or disease. There are an estimated 100 000 unaccompanied child refugees trying to survive in Europe after crossing continents in their flight from war zones. Every year thousands of unaccompanied children flee Central and South America to travel to the United States. An estimated 300 000 children are being used as soldiers around the world. For millions of children, facing difficult realities can’t wait until they graduate.
So, when should we let the Class of 2030 know about the challenges they’ll face?
What should they learn beyond reading, writing and arithmetic?
Because education systems the world over have been in constant state of “reform” for decades, there’s a bazillion possible responses to that question but, despite all attempts at change, schools the world over still look quite similar to the way schools looked in 1917. And, as much as I like to dream of having trillions of dollars to turn all public schools into the kind of creative schools that Ken Robinson has written about, I have reluctantly realized that just wishing and hoping is an indulgent waste of time.
We have to think about what can be done with what we have right now, right where we are. We have to engage the kind of creative thinking that people everywhere are capable of whenever they’re faced with a disaster or a crisis.
Something like the kind of thinking that William Kwamkambe engaged when he solved his family’s need for electricity by gathering scraps from a dump heap and reading about how to build a windmill from an old textbook.
Or perhaps the out-of-the-box kind of thinking of Kelvin Doe who scavenged through trash to find parts to build generators and batteries for his own radio station.
There is no shortage of examples of young people finding creative solutions to intractable problems all across the world, making do with what they have and what they know to make a difference in the world around them.
Children enter school as natural scientists, artists, makers, doers. They’re inquisitive about the world around them, excited to explore its nooks and crannies. But how will they leave after 13 years of being told a thousand times not to stray, to stay within the lines that separate curriculum from curiosity? How much of their childhood creativity will still be alive when they graduate in 2030?
Imagine what could be possible if their capacity for solving problems was nurtured and encouraged in schools everywhere for their entire 13 year journey.