By Greg Volz
Sir Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity. It’s the most watched TED Talk ever. At last count, over 14 million people had viewed it online. The moving story of a girl born to dance. Of a school system that did not recognise that. n some way, Robinson’s talk struck a nerve.
Robinson is one of the words leading speakers on education. He is widely quoted, talking about the importance of creativity. However, for Robyn Ewing, Professor of Teacher Education and the Arts at the University of Sydney, Robinson’s TED Talk is just the starting point.
“It is all very well to give lip service to that, and indeed our Australian government does that,” says Ewing. The problem is that “we’re going in exactly the other direction in terms of what we are doing in classrooms.”
Professor Ewing is one of three panellists involved in a discussion entitled Creative Writing as Freedom, Education as Exploration at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. An expert in the field, Ewing has written and researched extensively on teaching and learning. Her latest book, published this year, goes to the heart of the topic. Creative Arts in the lives of young children: Play, imagination, learning. For Ewing, the signs coming out of our schools are not good.
“There’s a whole lot of research that is emerging and has been emerging for the last 12 months, about the pressures teachers are feeling to perform to the parameters of things like the Naplan test,” she says. “Children get 35 to 40 minutes to do writing which is very much marked on spelling and punctuation,” she says. “I don’t know how well you write creatively, but I can’t do much in 35 to 40 minutes.”
It’s a view shared by Ewing’s fellow panellist Libby Gleason. “A lot of what we do in schools now, limits creativity,” says Gleason. “There are practices, because of testing, and a focus on testing certain qualities, that limit the amount of time that can be spent.” She is keen to point out that she is not an educationalist. Her experience comes from 28 years of writing children’s literature. This includes a slew of awards including the 1997 Book of the Year for Younger Readers with Hannah Plus One, at the Australian Book Council Awards in 1997. She has also published a number of writing guides, including Writing Like a Writer, which was published by the Primary English Teachers’ Association.
For Gleason, creative writing in schools is a must. “I put it up there very firmly because I think it is a way for self-discovery.” She argues that creative writing helps you develop your capacity for independent thought. “As a person who lives that way, when I start writing, I don’t know how it will end.”
Dr Julian Sefton Green, Honorary Professor in the School of Education at the University of Nottingham once said “Creativity is like motherhood and apple pie sort of stuff. Who could be against it.” Sefton Green was visiting Australia at the time. He was keen to get into specifics around what creativity might provide for children. Like building resilience. Or learning how to take risks. Or stimulating curiosity and imagination.
Dr Sefton Green’s 2011 visit was developed in partnership with the Dusseldorp Skills forum. Executive Director Teya Dusseldorp is the third member of the panel. She is also a Board member of the Sydney Story Factory. Based in Redfern, the Factory was set up as a place where children get free help from an army of volunteers, to write stories of all kinds.
In one sense, it is filling a gap. “There are a lot of kids that just don’t get the opportunity,” Says Dusseldorp, “They can’t be all things for all kids, but they end up being for the kids who have a love of words and stories.”