A number of years ago, I had the great fortune to attend the World Gifted Conference at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England. If my memory serves me correctly, there were about 900 attendees, representing over 90 countries. I was astonished to find that about 100 attendees were from Singapore, and even more astonished to find these attendees packing all of the workshops on curiosity and creativity. Naturally curious, I asked many of them why they sent so many participants, and what attracted them especially to the innovation-type workshops. Their answer was, essentially, “We lead the world in preparing our youth in academic pursuits as evidenced on global measures. What we lack is creative students. We need to learn how to find and nurture creativity to remain highly competitive in the 21st century.”
As we continue to forge our way into the 21st century, I often think about that conference, and those encounters. Much of the work of 21st century educational leaders, such as Sir Ken Robinson. Tony Wagner, Ken Kay, and Wisconsin’s own Jim Rickabaugh, has also highlighted the need for nurturing curiosity, creativity, and following personalized passion in our students. America has long been known for its emphasis on individualism, creativity, and innovation, and increasingly other nations are following in our footsteps.
Therefore it did not surprise me to come across this article in Forbes Magazine this past May, Japanese Teachers On Curiosity: 'All This Time, They Have Kept It Inside. Now It Is Pouring Out.' According to Peg Tyre, the author, Japanese teachers are under great pressure to teach in new and different ways. “The government, which determines what knowledge and skills are taught, is changing the national curriculum to stress creativity, critical thinking, and self-expression. That's on top of detailed subject knowledge of history, Japanese, science, math, and English. Next year, the all-important college entrance exam (the "Center Test") will be changing, too. The goal? To spark a new generation of Japanese innovators.”
Teachers in Japan say they need to learn new ways to teach in order to meet the new standards. They are looking to America’s project or problem-based learning model (also known as challenge-based learning, or personalized learning) to guide them. According to Sato Fujiwara, who runs innovation workshops for Japanese teachers, “The big idea is that humans acquire knowledge better, faster and more deeply when they are interested and connected to the material... This kind of teaching/learning is perceived as less teacher-driven, less top-down, less about memorizing atomized facts and more about integrated knowledge.”
The changeover in teaching and learning in Japan has been difficult for teachers and students. One teacher summed it up this way, "In the beginning, it was very difficult," says Minote Shogo. "I would ask a question, and they would stop and couldn't respond. But now they are getting accustomed to it. Gradually, they are speaking about their ideas. And I see that all this time, they have kept this inside, and now it is pouring out."
We in gifted education have known and celebrated creativity as one of our five identified areas of giftedness. We know that kids have this deep desire within to question, to wonder, to create, to hypothesize and experiment, to build, draw, perform, design...and the list goes on and on. We know that the building blocks of creativity include fluency with ideas, flexibility with those ideas, originality, and elaboration. And we also know that our youngest children express creativity most freely. It is, I believe, our duty to protect the creative spirit in our children, and to keep it burning brightly as they age - in spite of often rigid and narrowed curriculums, frequent testing, and standardized learning outcomes that can stifle creative kids and teachers. As other nations are moving toward more creative teaching and learning, we in America need to fight to preserve it.
My greatest hope is that the entire world embraces and nurtures the creative spirit in all of us, and harnesses it to solve the many problems facing our existence.
As always, I look forward to hearing from you. Together we grow.
Past President, WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.