Is creativity essential in a student’s curriculum during and after a robot revolution?

Glitter, card and glue are often the founding images that people have when thinking about creativity as it relates to their first memories of making things. Does our founding images of creativity cloud the value that it provides and do we value it enough in education?

We allow young children to flourish and be ‘creative’ in the early years by allowing children to make choices and play, the early years foundation stage now embraces that and allows children to learn around focusing on what they are interested in at that moment in time. It is intrinsic, instinctive and very powerful as children learn extremely fast at this stage. Toddlers have an amazing ability to experiment freely without fear or restriction, too much sometimes when they start putting their fingers in an electrical socket but this freedom to experiment and to think of ideas can get lost in the process of learning as these skills get lower down on the priority list when exams start to become the main focus.

Creativity then starts to become this mysterious thing that is given many labels. This can establish misconceptions among pupils as they say ‘I am not creative, I can’t draw’. Whilst drawing is an extremely valuable tool in expressing and communicating ideas and can help with the process of being creative it is not essential to being creative. We can still have creative thoughts and ideas that can be expressed through many different forms, problem-solving in Mathematics or Science, writing stories in English or various other Languages, filling in the gaps of History all require a certain amount of imagination and I am sure that there are elements of all subjects that require these skills, and maybe the exam boards are not exploring this enough? The more traditional route to develop and foster creativity in a school’s curriculum is through expressing your ideas in the Arts or performing in Drama, Music and Dance or more practically through Design or Cookery. These are the subjects that are currently more likely to allow pupils to generate their own ideas and ask them to develop their own response to a brief through a creative process and develop their ideas through project-based learning. Pupils also get the opportunity to plan their time, manage their own projects and learn to present their ideas. All incredibly valuable skills that will be required in the workplace.

Creative skills need to be nurtured in all children as we all have the ability to think of ideas and they need to be taken more seriously as we start to experience a world that is different from now. Lord Knight (Schools Secretary May 2006 – Jun 2007) talked at the firefly conference this year about the need for pupils to develop human skills and have much greater flexibility in their careers as it is much more likely that pupils who are in their first year of school now will live until they are 100 and will have much longer careers. They will not only be competing with workers from across the globe like we have experienced the last 30 years but they will be competing with robots. Elon Musk who invented PayPal and started Tesla talks about the impact of the robot revolution that has started and will continue over the next few decades. The development of Artificial Intelligence will change the job market. Robots will not only complete manual work but also some office work that is currently completed by professionals. ‘The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.’ Stephen Hawking

We have seen the speed at which our lives have changed with the introduction of the first I-phone in 2007. In 10 years’ apps have started to dominate our lives and social media is already an extension of ourselves, as we create a virtual profile and interact in the cloud. 3D printing is currently being experimented with and I have written before about how this may change a whole number of industries including medical, building and retail. Over the last five years, there has been the fastest growth in the creative industries. ‘The UK’s creative industries contribute almost £90bn net to GDP; it accounts for one in 11 jobs, a rate rising more quickly than all other parts of the economy. These jobs are also among the least likely to be lost to automation.’ John Kampfner. The Design industry has been the fastest growing of the creative sectors with new jobs and courses appearing, for example, User Experience Designers, help with the expansion in the app market.

As some jobs get taken by robots new types of jobs will be established in a similar way. The skills that will be necessary are those which robots are not good at. Robots are not good at having an imagination or being human and dealing with people. These are the skills that will continue to be more valuable for pupils leaving education in the future. According to Oxford university economists Dr Carl Frey and Dr Michael Osborne “There are quite a few occupations and categories that we don’t see as susceptible to a computer recession. But they have just one thing in common – they need attentive, human qualities,” says Frey. “There’s evidence to suggest that as we get more automated, machines will do more of the dirty, repetitive routine work. The jobs left would be increasingly creative and social, which is something we find more pleasurable. So it is true that we will work in complementary ways to machines.” says Osborne.

Over the last five years the education ministers have focused on narrowing the curriculum in schools and prioritising English, Maths and Science with the implementation of the EBACC, pupils choosing creative subjects have been on the decline and some schools have not valued creative subjects enough as academic knowledge and skills have been seen as the more important elements of child’s education. Whilst academic knowledge and skills are vitally important to develop into confident adults and build a successful career. It is now equally as important to develop your thought process, be able to generate ideas and habits that allow you to experiment without fear and learn how to find what is needed to improve and progress. Skills that will be a necessity in the future workplace.

Fortunately, here at Ipswich High School as we are an independent school and have the freedom to choose our own curriculum, the number of creative choices on offer at GCSE and A Level have expanded over the last few years. As pupils start to make their GCSE choices in 2017 they should be thinking about balance when choosing their options. Do they have choices that will develop their academic knowledge and skills but do they also have choices that will develop their imagination, thinking and presentation skills that will give them an edge when competing against robots in the future?


Joe Earley, Head of Design & Technology, Ipswich High School for Girls

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