Posted by: Principal/Editor | March 3, 2010

Do schools kill creativity?

In an interesting talk given by Ken Robinson[1], he provides some very compelling arguments that could be salient starting points for reflection. He first contends that in education, “creativity is as important as literacy”?  Addressing the often asked question whether creativity is the same as doing things wrongly, he clarifies that for him if one is “not prepared to be wrong” then one can “never come up with anything original”.

In the talk, he launches into a scathing criticism of modern day education systems, specifically pointing out that in today’s schools, creativity has been stymied. Specifically, he argues that:

“We stigmatize mistakes. We are now running National education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make…the result is we are educating people out of  their creative capacities…”

He continues by saying that today’s education system is “predicated on academic ability, education systems came into being to meet the needs of industrialism”. The implication from this statement is whether or not education systems today should re-think its own dynamic. What needs do school systems intend to address? Would these needs still be that of  the age of industrialization? Or should it be for a dynamic and fast-paced information age?

A possible way forward for schools and for education systems was proposed by Robinson when he stated that:

“Creativity…process of having original ideas that have value..more often than not comes about due to the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things”

Implications to leaders in education

Could this be a clue as to how schools and education systems need to reform themselves to become relevant and to reignite creativity? Is the approach of allowing “interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things” as opposed to the highly-structured, oftentimes fragmented and subject-specific way of schooling, a possible path to pursue education for the future?

What are the implications of the arguments of Robinson to school leaders facing the challenge of producing high-performing students who are also expected to be highly-creative? Are performativity and creativity complementary? Or are they diametrically-opposed?  Is there a paradox in this leadership challenge?

[1] Robinson, K. (2007). Sir Ken Robinson: Do schools kill creativity? [Electronic Version], from


  1. As long as the examinations continue to be the only marker of success or reasons for school, it will be difficult to infuse creativity. Schools usually find it easier to teach to exam in the most direct fashion, rather than through creativiy which inherently requires chaos. This is the chaos that most schools are uncomfortable with.

    • I agree with inderjit that in Singapore, it is the exams that matter. Unless it is a school for the very elite, the rest of the schools are more concerned with the results of the exams at the end of the day. As it is, we struggle to finish up the syllabus. Where are we going to find time for creativity? Another stumbling block could be teacher competency. As most of us were from the system of churning out good results, we tend to teach in pretty much the same way we were taught. How is teacher training going to deal with this gap?

  2. Teachers who want to encourage creativity in the classroom should make sure they are giving their students choices & options when it comes to assignments and projects. But in Singapore classrooms, we are imposing too many rules & guidelines on students [Requirements by MOE, School, Department etc], even we as Teachers, get students to “think out of th box”, but at the same time, giving them guidelines is simply absurd. This is killing creativity right from the start.

    The true reward a student should receive for being creative is purely intrinsic. The teacher needs to provide a friendly and comfortable environment [Not compeititive at least-this is easier said than done, given our competitive and kiasu kids] that students can feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions and explore new ideas. The teacher should always be reinforcing to students that you value creativity, that you not only allow it but also actively engage in it.

  3. Creativity lies with the teacher. While pressures of exams and demands from school, departments and parents can stifle creativity, a teacher can still skillfully inject creativity into his/her lessons. We may link creativity to pedagogies and content of the lesson but it may just be the teacher’s openness, the questioning techniques or simply the environment and tone created in class.

  4. Creativity. This word seems to be over-used in today’s day and age. I do agree with Ken Robinson’s statement of ‘if one is not prepared to be wrong’ then one can ‘never come up with anything original’. If we want to try to create or invent something new, it is without doubt that we have to learn and be prepared to take risks. However, with all due respect, I disagree with him when he criticised that ‘in modern day education systems, specifically pointing out that in today’s schools, creativity has been stymied’.

    If indeed today’s education has been stifling students, there would not be education policies or even reforms which have ignited many innovative TLLM ideas in Singapore. The next question is: Is creativity a skill that cannot be attained? In the past, creativity was associated with artistic ability -something that you either have (born with it) or not. It’s quite an outdated definition, I can say. But in today’s day and age, creativity is perceived from another dimension. It is no longer deemed as related to the ‘artsy-ness’ according to Prof Erica McWilliam. Creativity is the ‘capacity to work across domains of knowledge that are normally held separately’ (McWilliam). Wow! Isn’t this intriguing?

    Upon reflection, are we really far off from the modern definition given by Prof McWilliam? Personally, I think not. In schools, we are looking at students working or collaborating with peers for project work. We have seen many schools conducting successful curriculum integration projects or action researches. Even our TLLM Ignite projects have proved that our students are able to work across domains of knowledge which used to be viewed separately. We now have projects integrating EL and Math or even Art and Food & Nutrition. We might not have ‘arrived’ but we are ‘work in progress’.

    However, the ‘cherry on top of the cake’ would be the fantastic piece of news by Prof McWilliam that ‘creativity is a learnable and teachable skill’. But to teach creativity, we must understand what it is. It’s an exciting piece of news indeed. Therefore, creative thinking is crucial as a learning outcome. This changes the notion of the role we, as teachers, play in preparing our youths for the future. According to Prof McWilliam, The best environments for building creativity are “low threat, high challenge” environments.

    Quality teachers need to know the approach known as ‘meddling in the middle’ to spur creativity – when to be the Sage, the Guide and the Meddler.

    The BIG question is: How much is Singapore willing to give up or sacrifice to move towards this direction. Here, the focus has always been on assessments and merit meritocracy but we’ve carried it too far. Perhaps this was productive and necessary when Singaore first gained her independence during the industrialism era. This era is long gone. We are now in the ‘dynamic and fast-paced information age’. Shouldn’t we now be looking at talent meritocracy to move forward?

    Can Singapore jump to the next level in terms of developing creative capacity for employability as global workers and leave behind it’s archaic believe or system of paper qualifications?

    As Prof McWilliam aptly pointed out: High-end employment calls for creativity, not just credentials.

    How creative is Singapore going to be? 🙂 It’s a scary thought that we as educators are partly responsible for the success or failure of equipping our students with ‘creativity’ skills to face the 21st century and evolve to become global citizens.

  5. Schools generally do fear failure. The pressure of accountability is always at the back of our minds. However, the role of fear of failure in stifling creativity lies in the perceived narrow definition of success. Deep down inside, we still believe that good academic results indicates success of the school and tried and tested methods are a security blanket. Unless our definition of success changes, there is no motivation to be really creative.

    • I agree. It is the fear of failure, the worry of not being able to meet expectations that limits what teachers do in class.

      A key factor contributing to teachers’ narrow perception of success is the emphasis that the system places on the academics. With the existence of high stakes examinations, academic-related KPIs, appraisals and bonuses that depend on the achievement of academic results, it is going to be a challenge to get teachers to step out of their comfort zone. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating the removal of the above, because developing pupils academically is after all one of the key responsibilities of teachers. However, I would definitely propose for a more balanced system, with an equal emphasis on non-academic areas. And this, is something that can be done at the MOE and school level.

  6. What is creativitiy? Ken Robinson mentioned that “creativity…process of having original ideas that have value..more often than not comes about due to the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things”. We are so used to seeing result, outcomes and output. We often judge a person’s effort based on the product and end-result. Less emphasis is put on the thought process that is involves while producing the product. Let us recall the functions of Singapore’s education system. Why do schools exist in the first place? One of the reasons is to select people for occupational structure which means to prepare the young ones for the workforce. Now, let us examine the current workforce; the so-called ability-driven economy. How is our ability being testified or judged? Well, it is no other than paper qualification even if one has the required skills. Even our pay differs if one is a degree holder, O-level, ITE cert and etc. Pay is equivalent to money which is the main drive to why most of us enter the workforce in the first place. So, the educational path is set in a way that we learn or study to get a good qualification for us to land in a reputable organization and earn a decent amount to have a good living condition here in Singapore. Back to the main topic of discussion – do schools kill creativity? My personal view is yes. I shall look at it in terms of primary school context. Students are evaluated based on their exam results. Although there is a current emphasis on holistic education where students are given the opportunity to expand their talent and ability in non-academic areas, PSLE grades are still the deciding factor for students to move on to the next level of education. At the end of the day, written examination with standard answers is used as an evaluating tool. Thus, creativity is not valued. Ken said that if one is “not prepared to be wrong” then one can “never come up with anything original”. In school, mistakes are often corrected and students fear to make mistakes because it is judged and given value. For example, your marks will be penalized for every wrong answer. Hence, there is a need to change the way we value a person. It is not just schools that are killing creativity. The whole society is responsible for this.

  7. Thanks, Misliana, for your comments and starting the ball rolling. Look forward to class response.

  8. Creativity is an important quality, but its attainment should not be at the sacrifice of performativity. To make room for creativity, we should allow experiments and doing things wrong; but after that, we need the quality trained through performativity to analyze what is wrong and how we should proceed to rectify and improve. Performativity is critical to give directions to try, finally turn the “wrong” to a “right”.

  9. From my opinion, creativity is rather subjective. One may look at a piece of art work and say it’s creative but others might think it’s just plain doodle. Therefore, it is very difficult to draw a line between creativity and impracticality. I believe what kills the creativity in children is not the school but rather the society – the social conditioning we have all experience. It is the social conditioning that we have that causes us to stigmatize mistakes. Just as what Mr Ken Robinson had mentioned, “We are now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst things you can make. “ Therefore this results in the attitude that the schools are taking on, causing them to “educating our kids out of their creative capacities”. I believe rather than pin-pointing our fingers at schools for not giving our children the room for creativity, we should look into the attitude that the society might have on creativity. I have heard quite a number of stories that parents are withdrawing their children out of CCA because they feel that it is more important for their children to score academically rather than ‘indulging’ themselves in useless art or musical activity. For the past twenty years, I have received my education in Singapore. I believe most of you would have agreed with me that whenever we meet up with our relatives, the first thing they talk about is how well ‘academically’ you have done and not whether you have done any creative work in school or receive any award for art or music competition. Hence, I believe at the present stage, our local society has not yet being able to see the importance of creative beyond the academic benefits that one may gain from. Therefore, since we are not prepared to be wrong, we would never be able to be original and creative.

  10. Do schools kill creativity? My answer is, yes, schools kill creativity but the schools are not to be blamed. It is the family and ultimately, the society, that kill creativity. It is the social status that we tag to exam results. A child who does well academically is viewed favourably by parents, teachers, relatives, friends. This child is deemed to be someone who will eventually do well in life. Conversely, a child who does not do as well in school is viewed less favourably.
    As a result, schools and parents resort to drill and practice so that the child has a better chance of achieving better results academically, and therefore, enjoy a better life socially and economically, in future. These are all done at the expense of creativity.
    How much time and stamina does a child have left for creativity after a full day of school, supplementary classes, remedial classes, tuition, homework and revision? Can an exhausted child be creative?
    Schools are now shifting towards holistic education but ultimately, a child, in the primary school, is still assessed by his / her score in PSLE. Therefore, much emphasis is placed on worksheets, model answers, the ‘right’ way to approach a problem sum or a reading comprehension question or the best way to answer a question during an oral test.
    I think to bring creativity to a higher platform for recognition, there is still a long way ahead.

  11. Yes, with all the exam preparations and mindset about what’s right and wrong, it will certainly contribute to killing creativity in our students. However, I believe that classroom teachers (with power in their own hands for their own classes) can definitely do more to help our students become creative.

    MOE has recently made changes to the syllabus of each subject to incorporate critical thinking and creativity skills. For example, the Science syllabus 2008 is geared towards building up process skills such as creative problem solving in our pupils. It has freed up more curriculum time by reducing the number of topics to be learnt in the primary school to accommodate development of such skills.

    In Mathematics, it is evidently moving students towards using creative thinking to solve certain Mathematical problems. These problems are increasingly seen in recent years’ PSLE Mathematics papers and they are deemed to be “difficult” by parents. But, are teachers “doing the right way” of preparing students for creative problem solving?

    Maybe it is because teachers are not helping their students enough to acquire such creative skills. We teachers are also sometimes obsessed with getting the right answers. Therefore, we teachers have to help our students acquire such skills by modelling and incorporating opportunities of creative thinking into our lessons. For example, we can do it by going into the class without the answer key to a particular problem sum and solve it together with the class, “thinking-aloud” along the way so that pupils will model the skill of critical thinking and ultimately thinking creatively. Only then, our students will not be afraid to make mistakes and be able to be creative.

  12. Addressing to the question, Do school kills creativity? I do not fully agree with it because I do see more emphasis on creativity, original ideas in present; however I do admit that this is true in the past. In the past, academic excellence is more valued than creativity. Learning was based on rote drilling and students were assessed base on their academic performance more than anything else. However, I would like to highlight that the education system is not the only party that is responsible for this; this is largely due to the society’s perception of success. In Singapore, academic performance is highly valued and students who do well academically usually have better prospect in life. Hence, parents are focusing on stuffing their children with lots of supplementary classes and a lot of rote learning to ‘help’ the children to be academically proficient. This does kill creativity.
    However we do see a paradigm shift of the perception. In today, there is more awareness of the importance of creativity and people are seeing how powerful creative and original ideas are, With original idea, Steve Jobs develops the iphone and Mark Zuckerberg develops the social network-Facebook. We can see schools embarking on holistic learning (PERI report) and there is a blooming of specialized school to cater to the diverse talents, e.g. SOTA(School of Arts), Singapore Sports School and NUS High School. All of these are evidence of nurturing creativity in diverse intelligent. Though we might be at the initial stage of creativity, but we are definitely heading the right way.

  13. I believe if one’s habit is nurtured by comfortable routine, not much creativity can be developed. The same way if the teachers believe in the traditional way of teaching without infusing creativity or allowing such skills to be practised in class, there will be small room for creativity to even take place in a child’s life.

    Our curriculum is organized in such a way we are too familiar with. Is there room to even exercise more strategies to help students to develop this skill? Or just leaving the main objective of the lesson to have students grasp concepts and get to the main answer?You tell me.

    If we still hold on to the belief that children are naturally creative, is this popular belief hindering us from allowing one to practise such in class?The ability to see and decipher the meaning is an acquired skill. However,one must understand that children might not have the chance to develop it to a significant degree without much formal instruction.

  14. Imagine our lives wihout schools. There will be no education what more, competition. Only when there are competitors who have the same goals and vision as us, do we have the motivation to compete. When there is a motivation to compete, that is where creativity starts to flow.

    In my opinion, schools have indeed helped in bringing out the creativity of our youngsters instead of hindering them. Schools provide scaffolding and the resources for their students to work on their creativity.

    On the other hand, after watching the talk by Sir Ken Robinson, it somehow altered my perception towards how schools can actually kill creativity. I specifically like, I quote, “If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.” I strongly agree with this line.

    Teachers can prepare comprehensive lessons for their students but if the teachers are too rigid with the process and has their own set of expectations on the outcome of the students’ work, they are actually killing the students’ creativity – even without them realising it.

    So, how do we as teachers change the bureaucratic way of teaching? A teacher cannot change the world. It needs the support from the different parties such as the Ministry of Education, allied educators, parents, the community as well as mass media. And like what Misliana have said, ‘it is not just schools that are killing creativity. The whole society is responsible for this.’

  15. I do agree to some extent that schools do kill creativity. I agree with the fact that the world has evolved so much, from industrial age to information age. However, the education system in Singapore do not undergo an extensive form of evolution.

    Over the years, we do take notice of the different approaches tried in classrooms and the types of questions in pupils’ textbooks or examination papers. Yes, creative questions have been included to train pupils to think out of the conventional way and see things from a new perspective, various new perspectives in fact. However, how evident are these changes? How forcefully are teachers adopting and encouraging creative thinking? Perhaps not all teachers practice it. Perhaps it is because the teachers themselves come from an education background with conventional way of learning.

    Thus, I feel that teachers may be unequipped to handle and nurture pupils with higher order thnking. Perhaps more could be done to train, encourage and open the minds of educators first, before we can encourage creative thinking in the pupils.

  16. I think it is not kill creativity but don’t culture creativity. Because we only pay attention to the result of teaching and learning instead of enjoy the process of teaching and learning.

  17. Yes, I do agree that schools kill creativity to a certain extend. With the focus on the results of tests and examinations, sometimes it’s difficult for the teacher to pay attention to the creativeness of students. But with adequate practice and time management, I believe that it is also possible that the teacher should role model creativity in the classroom in order for students to be able to cultivate it in them.

    I also agree to what many others have quoted on what Ken Robinson had clarified in his talk ““If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.” I believe that failure is the mother of success.

  18. Educational system should encourage students to think freely and speak their minds. I think that the current examination system is the main reason for killing student creativity. Everyone has the potential of creativity, but most of students do not develop their potential. In another words, there is no opportunity for our students to release their potential. Students are busy with tests and exams all day and they have no time to play to their strengths. Schools based solely on student test scores to determine the quality of students. But High-performing student doesn’t mean high ability student. Exam score is not important for development of creativity, but more to please others. I think training of personal character is the key to creativity.

  19. In my opinion, school’s do kill creativity. For students to be creative, they need to be exposed to failure and accept it as part of the growing and learning process. However, this is missing in our schools now-a-days. Our focus as teachers has turned to gearing students towards success. Thus during this process, we conciously or unconciously do not allow our students to fail or experiment but rather drill them via practices and methods that we are comfortable and familiar with, which will in turn produce good reasults that will be reflected on pen and paper.

    However, schools alone are not to be blamed. In this competitive world parents want their children to succeed in life and as a result are putting pressure on schools and teachers to drill them (students) into individuals who are who are capable of producing perfoect test scores.

    Singapore being the knowledge based economy is one of the contributing factor as well. But what we have to remember is that scores that are reflected on paper alone does not act as a complete assessment of the persons knowledge and understanding but rather gives an assessment of the students performance at that particular time (Exam time). Thus these exams only serve the purpose of streaming and banding our students and does nothing to instill creativity in our students (and to think that we spend our entire curriculum year teaching and drilling our students just to get streamed into classes that are divided based on students ability).

    I would like to end my comment by one of my favoruite lines from Dr Ken Robinson’s talk;
    “We dont grow into creativty, we grow out of it. Or rather we get educated out of it.”

  20. It is true to an extent that education in Singapore is geared towards the needs of industrialism, that is we mould the future according to the needs of the economy, to what the nation needs. Most often, we tend to overlook the need for creativity and thus forget the importance of making mistakes. Mistakes are made , so that we can learn and improve. Unfortunately, this is not what we perceive in Singapore. Parents, schools and even societies do not perceive mistakes as a good and must step for success and such thinking have been rooted for years.

    Therefore, it would be good for schools in Singapore to incorporate creativity or multi-disciplinarity into our curriculum. To see things in different manners create creativity and originality. Students will be able to see things in different perspectives and in turn form their own opinions in matters.

    Nevertheless, to produce both high performing and highly creative students is not an easy task. It seems easy to work on one but definitely not on two. Schools might choose to produce high performing students than the other, as that is precisely what we have been producing so far and seems easier to do so. After all, producing what the nation needs is essential to sustain a good economy for all.

    Creative people can find different solutions to a problem, in other words, creativity can also solve problems to achieve high performances. Therefore, performativity and creativity, I would say, can be put or placed together, probably when the nation finds the importance and then schools start to give an equal weightage for both.

  21. no doubt education is one of the most important element in one’s life. Education is not just solely receiving knowledge from a teacher and apply it in working life. This perception has caused many people to comply to requirement needed to be asuccessful person in future. A lot of emphasis are given by teacher to score high mark. Practice on previous year exams papers or other supplementary workbooks just to get the high mark without questioning themselves why are they learning them and how canthey do it differently.

    Too much pressure on students nowadays to get the best grade but not focusing on the learning process. Students who do things differently are judged as don’t-act-smart kid. Discouragement from teachers will certainly bring down the students’ morale to try something new or to think differently from the other. Of course, I understand that teachers are in under alot of pressure too to deliver good results to their students. Nonetheless, I believe teachers whould give space for their students to explore their area of interest, including non-academic area.

    Most of the time students are not able to express their creativity as it was deemed not practical and unecessary. Many teachers force their students to be what they want the students to be rather thanletting them explore and experience what is best for them. Give students the autonomy to choose and support them.

  22. Do schools kill creativity?

    First of all, what is creative?
    …the ability or power to create; having the quality of something created rather than imitated. (taken from

    The idea of creativity may not be fully recognized by some school as they actually regard education as said by Ken Robinson, “today’s education system is predicated on academic ability, education systems came into being to meet the needs of industrialism”. I personally feel that this really depends on the freedom school leaders give to teachers to educate students to think out of the box and the direction schools are taking in education. It is often school leaders to object activities which will help on developing the creativity of students as they feel a waste of time doing so.

    On top of that, the mindset of parents and the reality of life, which is better, growing up to be a doctor or an artist? Which has a more stable income and future? Obviously, being a doctor. Hence, students will put focus on their academics; remembering model answers, always being correct to score for marks in examinations and getting best grades, scoring 265 and above for PSLE, L1R4 for Os to get into JCs and As to get into university.

    Nevertheless, now schools are urged to develop holistic education for students, hopefully with this introduced to schools, the creativity of students will be well developed.

  23. If its referring to ‘Are schools in Singapore killing creativity’ then my answer would be a big fat YES!. If its schools in general world wide then it will be a no.

    This is proven by the hordes of foreign talent that needs to be imported as the local populace does not have the desired skills, creativity etc according to the government.

    True enough that Singapore students excel academically on the world stage from research, studies and competitions such as TIMSS.

    But when it comes to the amount of inventions, ideas or creations patented, the numbers coming from Singapore are sorely inferior than those from other first world or developed countries.

  24. In my opinion, I would agree that schools kills creativity. I would agree with Mr Ken’s statement. If students are not supposed to or fear to be wrong, there is no way they would be creative as creativeness is based on exploring things out of the box. In schools, every aspect taught is very syllabus focused, students would have to concentrate on syllabus, they are being drilled to do worksheets after worksheets to make sure they are prepared for exams. Some classes don’t even get to do art every week. We don’t really give opportunity for the students to expand their creativity. They are being restricted to think within what is taught. Although schools encourage creativity, they don’t create much opportunity for the students. In schools, everything is based on being correct, so it does not encourage students to think creatively. Even when some teachers encourage creativity, they face time constraints, so definitely schools kill creativity.

  25. In my view, I do think schools kill creativity. Creativity is important in Education. But in our local system, it does not promote creativity as the schools are constraint with time and focusing on results. To cultivate creativity is not easy and it won’t happen overnight.

  26. Singapore is a “productive” country. At the end of the day, everything we do focuses on the end product. Are our goals and objectives right? Will we achieve the goal? We are driven by the need to constantly achieve excellence. It is a product-based society.

    The moment a child enters primary one, all he will ever do is to prepare for the PSLE examinations that will take place five years down the road. There’s no time to lose, because a child’s brain is similar to that of a sponge- let him learn everything and anything that will help him climb up the corporate/professional ladder easily in the future. We we doing the right thing, or are we doing the thing right?

    Instead of a having a product-driven society, why won’t we focus on the importance of the child’s learning process? As teachers, how are we able to help our pupils’ learning process that simultaneously allows him the freedom to be creative thinkers? Creativity is not an end-product. Sadly, in this overachieving society, education plays a part in killing creativity.

  27. In my opinion, i think the current education system has banned students from performing their creativity. Most of the schools are still exam oriented, teachers are focusing on teaching whereas the students are busy doing projects and exams. There are no much extra leisure time for them to think creatively. In order to be creative, they need to have inspirations, to have plenty of time to think and absorb on their own. A big suggestion is to let the MOE change teacher’s mindset of “result is everything”, excellent result doesnt mean that you are creative.

  28. Before, we throw out the old system of education and say that it kills creativity, I think that it was necessary then to equip students with the necessary knowledge and to obtain the qualifications needed to be employed. Yes, the old system stifled creativity because students were studying set information that prepared them for school and national pen and paper exams. But it was helpful then.

    However, with the fast changing world, such a system would not suffice as it has been noted that students have not been able to apply their knowledge, be lateral thinkers and to be creative and innovative. These skills are much sought after today and change is the only constant. Knowledge becomes obsolete quickly and therefore students must be equipped with the skills to be life-long learners.

    I think the the education system is slowly but surely making the shift to better prepare students to survive in such a dynamic environment. Teachers have been and are being trained to use more creative and inquiry-learning approaches in the classroom. Lately, the relevant authorities have also been looking into more appropriate methods of assessment. There is definitely an awareness that things need to be changed.

    But these changes will require time as many teachers themselves were taught under the old system of education and most are able to teach creatively, some others struggle. Parents also play a major role in how fast these changes can be implemented. Many are still concerned over the product of learning (grades) rather than the process. This can be seen in the large amount of money spent on tuition for the children.

    I see this change as a process too. It will happen but it will take time.

  29. I like Sir Ken’s (the way to address him) thought of Shakespeare as a 7 year old boy who probably annoyed his teachers. Sir Ken’s lecture is immensely creative but I bet it took him a lot of time to prepare and to rehearse. Perhaps, to pick up on Nancy’s point, he was exhausted when he’d finished. All the comments have recognised that the education system is charged with identifying, developing and differentiating talent. As Misliana points out, this leads to a situation where “people are judged by end results” and less emphasis is put on thought processes. Ke Hin agrees and argues for “leaving the answer key behind”, “thinking aloud” and solving problems as a class. In such a situation ‘wrong answers’ are tolerated and even encouraged. This is very different, though, from tolerating wrong answers in an exam or wrong behaviour in a public place. There is a body of academic knowledge and norms and values to be acquired, and for the most part there are right and wrong answers. Shirley sees that we are at the initial stages of creativity, where we are rebalancing content, process and assessment. As Wee Ping notes, the teacher can model creativity by focusing on process, what Ke Hin called ‘thinking aloud’.

    As black is to white, so knowledge is to creativity. Xiaoling graps this by pointing out that we need analytic skills ‘ to work out what went wrong’. Dharina also underlines this point when she writes that we need formal instruction to be able to be creative. What is wrong, in her view, is “habit and comfortable routine”, by which she means that the curriculum and school are organised in ‘too familiar a way’. By this I think she is alluding to what I would call ‘the comfort of predictability’ – content, drill and exam. This comfort zone needs challenging, perhaps by introducing competition, as Dian suggests. Her business analogy is very helpful. She is thinking of how creativity is encouraged in the business world. Why change if people continue to buy your product? And this brings us to the larger, societal point: many parents want to keep buying the old product. This reminds us, as Yoges, Yvette and Alfred point out, that teachers need the support of principals and MOE, to help shake up the comfort zone and introduce new products. (though life would be unbearable in school without the predictability that rules and routines afford.)

    When I go to the dentist I often sit in the chair and think about what it would be like to have a creative dentist. What about a creative accountant, I think. That should help shake up the world economy. Mmm. Then I think, what happens if, when I’m ‘thinking aloud’ with my students, I suddenly discover that I am creative.

    And that is where I am going to end – I have some essays to mark.

  30. I strongly agree that scholls do kill creativity. No matter what the teachers have been taught to make lessons interesting, the teachers are often stressed to pay more attention in completing the academic rich syllabus rather than to enhance the different types of talents found in their students. Sadly to say, scholls have enough time just to fulfill the criteria in making the kids book smart so that they are able to compete during exams and somewhta be prepared for survival in the global economy. What they fail to realise that students cannot achieve anything by just memorising the books and reiterating the ides from the books. That would just make them robots who repeat things for the sake of it. Students have to be street smart and for that to be successful, students have to be encouraged to be creative. Schools should assist students by providing help in their confidence to speak out.

  31. There will be many questions asked on the topic of creativity. Does the teacher have to make the lesson creative to reignite the creativity in students? Do the students take the chance to be creative seriously? Does our parents want our students to be trained creatively?

    Personally, i think it is important all students to be academically strong before we can talk about being creative. Of course, i don’t reject the idea of coming up with creative, interesting or even humorous ideas during class discussions. Yet, before these students can come out with these ideas, they have to be strong in their language to be able to convey these ideas.

    i can relate this to my own experience. I was the typical student who stuck my head in books all day to make sure i could get good results. I believe all of you would call me boring. Yet, i joined a design course in my polytechnic days. I truly enjoyed my days, as my academic base opened my path as a website programmer. Now, as I am in NIE, i apply what creative skills i have back into context to make my future lesson interesting for my students.

    Therefore, i think that schools can stay how they are with the horrifying amount of work and stressful examinations as each individual is responsible for their own learning and what they want to make out of the knowledge they obtained in their first 10 years.

  32. Producing or using original and unusual ideas, that is what Cambridge Advanced Learners’ Dictionary defined ‘creative’ the noun as. But are teachers getting pupils to ‘think out of the box’ when teaching and they themselves for all the pedagogical principles they used in the classroom? How are we measuring up to ‘creativity’?

    A lot of questions have been raised on the Singapore Education System about its stand on promoting creativeness in the classroom. But getting pupils to be creative is no easy feat. No doubt, our students are performing up to par with their counterparts from many countries as shown in the TIMSS studies, and as Singapore teachers, we ought to take pride in our children.

    A minister has spoken recently that we need to have more of entrepreneurs like those of calibre matching Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Henry Ford and Ray Kroc. This would no doubt boost our knowledge-based economy more than ever. Are we able to imagine a world without Microsoft computers, Apple’s ipods, Disney mickey mouse, Ford’s cars and McDonalds? That’s how powerful creativity can get.

    As educators look to building and constructing a meritocratic and standardised curriculum, we should ponder if we are stigmatising the academia field by solely focusing on results-oriented performance. One who is not book-smart, may well rise up to the ranks of a CEO, e.g. FaceBook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

    The words of Sir Ken certainly appealed to me and I do wish that the Singapore Education System would change in a way which benefits our economy in the long run. In conclusion, we must tweak our social context of teaching and learning to what our policymakers have created to expand our global standing as more than what a red dot can possibly do.

  33. I feel that creativity in today’s world serves a very important purpose as it makes way for the invention of new things. In order for one to become, or rather boost his creativity, he should be given the opportunities to make mistakes, as one can only learn from his mistakes.

    But nowadays, teachers are forced to complete the given curriculum/syllabuses and as a result, the students are not given the opportunity to try new things out and also to learn things in a creative manner. The exam is what matters at the end of the day.

    • Your notion on the allowing room for mistakes boost creativity is appreciated. Whats your take for students? How can we allow creativity in daily classroom activities?

  34. Having been a student for at least 15 years in the Singapore Education System, I believed that the schools here do not encourage creativity because teachers here care more about what a student did is wrong or right rather than focusing on how the students came up with such a solution, which I feel is much more important.

    Assignments that are given are also very stringent in that it tells students specifically what needs to be done. E.g. the type of fonts need to be used, the content that should be presented and how it should be presented-either in words or PowerPoint.

    To be fair , there are certain schools that have added portfolio of students as part of the students’ assessment scheme and this certainly help the students to be creative in a way but how much interference from teachers have been put into the work.

    The message that i want to drive home is this, creativity is being stifled here in Singapore, changes need to be made not in the school level but at the ministerial level. We need students that think out- of- the box and to be able to do that restrictions need to be relaxed so that teachers are able to do their work and be creative themselves.

  35. I agree with that “today’s education system is ‘predicated on academic ability, education systems came into being to meet the needs of industrialism'”. I know that the objective of most education systems in the world is focus on students’ acdemic performance. Teachers assess students by acdemic examinations.
    In singapore, students use most of their time to learning acdemic knowledge. they even don’t have chance to face any problem,except acdemic problems and e-games challenge. In fact acdemic knowledge is experience of Older Generations, surely students could get all these knowledge easily, and some of the knowledge is very useful in theie life, in the other hand, students creative capacities is limited by these knowledge, because when students want to find some ideas to solve problems, they will compare with all the acdemic knowledge that they have learned.
    I think that school need use more strategies to nurture students creative thinking skill, follow stuents’ interesting, find out their talent, and develop it, Instance give students more opportunities let them thinking and imagining freely, and write out their ideas.
    I think in the future, human’ life will be great different with today’ life style, nurture students’ creative thinking is very important in schools. hopeful that today’ education systems will reform soon for adding some good ideas in developing students’ creative capacities.

  36. Name: A JASON ELIJAH
    Course Name: DED200
    TG GRP / DAY: TG13 / THUR
    Tutor : Dr Leslie Sharpe

    My Response

    Do schools kill creativity? This is a baffling, thoughtful and debatable post.

    We must first delve on what creativity means to us? According to Wikipedia, creativity comes from the Latin term creō “to create, make”.
    Originally in the Christian period: “creatio” came to designate God’s act of Ex nihilo, “creation from nothing”(Albert, 1999). Thus, we must encourage
    our students to be ‘creators’ of their learning to think out of the box by letting them ask any type of questions and experiment the impossible. We must not chastise them if they fail and allow them to learn from mistake(s). Remember our scientists who some were even expelled from school and termed useless for their curiosity.

    Light was not possible but creativity of Thomas Alva Edison proved it to past. This scientist Albert invented light bulb and phonograph. It was an impossible feat that we cannot fly until Wright brothers invented it. We are now enjoying the fruits of the labor of such creative people.

    Lastly, let the following poem kindle you on the experience of present time where true creativity is possible if we only explore it:

    To the witch she did go
    To find out what the future holds.
    And to the seeker, the following was told:

    “Present Time you must find
    And within it dwell.
    For in there is the key
    That opens the door to the Great Mystery
    And the Future you will see.

    But hark!

    If in Present Time you cannot dwell
    You’ll have no future to foretell.
    Trapped in the past you’ll always be.”

    So she went forth
    to dwell in Present Time.

    But alas!

    Present Time, like the divine,
    Is most difficult to find.

    P.S: We can talk but lets walk the talk by exercising our creativity in creating your reply to
    another post atleast 🙂


    Albert, R.S. & Runco, M.A. (1999). “A History of Research on Creativity”. In ed. Sternberg, R.J.. Handbook of Creativity. Cambridge University Press.

  37. This is my thoughts penned for another post entry. Feel free to comment and lets unleash our creativity by posting your divergent thoughts into words.


  38. This should be the URL instead. Pardon me 🙂

  39. Creativity in our context is possible and achievable, but only to a certain extend. If the mindset of the ministry or the education system do not change, we cannot expect too much to happen just relying on teachers alone. All the stackholders need to be on the same direction in order for such to happen. In our context where results and qualification rank the most important among all, creativity is a long way to go.

  40. I think Creativity is an inborn or innate ability that some possessed, hence even if schools do not do the extra bit in promoting this aspects. The creativity portion could also be seen in the students’ work be it in discussion or individual works like an English Compo. However, what schools can do would be kickstart certain activities or programmes to enable professionally trained teachers to help more students to be creative in terms of thinking aloud or ideas for CIP projects. All in all, i believe singapore schools do not kill creativity in our students,but could do more to nurture creative students.

  41. I don’t think schools kill creativity.

    If you feel that you want to be creative in school, there will always be a teacher there somewhere willing to foster and culture that creativity.

    In Singapore today, it is apparent that a lot of “special” schools are built to cater those students with special talents in which these students will be able to express their talents and creativities either in music, sports or arts.

    However even so, I would think for the most part a kid who wishes to indulge his creativity will find a method to do it, and a kid who doesn’t will go along with the flow. We cannot make people creative after all. Only encourage it from individuals

  42. as the everyday situation chances,new knowledge is acquired. one can no longer learn without creativity or through just a single path. the world constantly evolves with new ideas and innovation, without multi-disciplinary ways of learning seemed to be an disadvantage to a school’s environment.

    While every individual is born unique, the ability to absorb and learn is thus unique too. For example, if an individual spends a quarter of his life in school not learning through creativity, mistakes or failures of any sort, then there won’t be success story of Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton.

    Therefore, in an education system, it is important to promote and influence the parallelism of creativity, literacy and also accept an attitude for continual tries and errors.

    lifelong learning attitude then it can help grow that individual. of If creativity is not encouraged and failures (however big or small) not experienced then the works of Albert Einstein or Sir Isaac Newton would not be a success.
    We can’t help that global citizens are industrialization As one grows
    and to certain degree literacy cannot function without creativiy.
    ee that “creativity is as important as literacy”.
    because without creativity how can one learn to be literate
    According to this website (

  43. Well,not all schools in Singapore kill creativity right. Maybe a small minority of schools don’t really encourage creativity.

    It’s just time taken to encourage the students’ creativity.Some teachers might think that it’s better to concentrate on teaching the students and making sure they excel academically and they neglect the students’ creativity.

    But somehow, some schools do allow creativity to be explored and in the end produce something like the school i went to for TA. The school does encourage students to be creative and indeed all the deco(s) in the school are of the students’ work.


  44. Schools kill creativity??? Well it depends on how we look at it.

    But first, what is creativity and how to be creative?

    Creativity does not always involve art, it can be anything but on how we approach it, a process, that calls for creativeness.

    Crafting a lesson plan, can be as creative as possible so as to encourage engaging yet conducive and meaningful learning. And I don’t think any school forbids that.

  45. Reading this article brings to mind a story I heard from a friend. Once, there was a teacher in school A who taught design and technology (D&T). Greatly unsatisfied with the rigid way in which D&T was taught in the school, she boldly introduced new ways of teaching. Students were given a free rein in the design process and the teachers were advised not to restrict their project presentation and thus thinking process.

    The other teachers were intitally apprehensive as they preferred to teach in the trialed and tested method where students were mandated to go through a rigid and prescriptive process of design. Eventually, they were convinced to try out this new way of teaching as it allowed the students to think creatively and become independent learners.

    On the day of the the O level results, the department was in for a rude surprise. Many of the students did not do well. The department in school A then went for a visit to school B which did well for their D&T. They were apalled to find out that school B achieved their good results by teaching the students to go through the rigid and prescriptive process of design; the very methods that school A threw out of the window in the name of creativity!

    So, if you were in the position of the department in school A, would you continue with teaching creative, all the while praying for good results? Or will you keep to the trialed and tested way of teaching?

  46. I have another story to think about. Not so long ago in a school near the North, a teacher who was in tune with the IT masterplan initiative(he was ahead of his time) implemented a peer critique programme in his science subject using students blogs and on-line forum. Students were engage almost anytime of the day in Science. They continue to contribute to the lesson even when lessons were over for the day. They would support their “argument” with creative drawings or mindmap on on-line.

    However, one day the Principal met up with the teacher’s HOD. There were some parents complaints about the lack of homework given to the students and they spending too much time on the computer. The principal then reminded the HOD there the school has a homework policy and results need to be achieved. The HOD was told to instruct the teacher to focus on getting the results through conventional homework.

    As a HOD what would you then do?

    • I would try ‘enlightening’ the Principal. Isn’t the use of blogs and online forums a form of ‘homework’? I would also get parents involved in the online blogs – to comment on their child’s entries etc. If I can get parents on board and they see the value to what I am doing, half the battle is won.

      I would not deny the importance of academic rigour through pen and paper work so I will also balance learning with meaningful ‘homework’. : )

    • Hi Ernest,

      I can understand the point you are trying to make here. It seems strange that on the one hand, we are trying to encourage creativity and the use of ICT in schools, yet on the other hand, some teachers’ efforts are stifled by school leaders and the middle management – perhaps a case of misalignment of expectations between the various stakeholders?

      How much are we willing to allow our teachers to experiment? Do we as SLs and MMs create that safe space for teachers to ‘go against the norms’ to bring out the best in our children?

  47. There is something i find ourselves generally highly lacking in us as local teachers. Creativity is not solely inspiring, imaginative,’s higher level of creativity comprises of the ingredient call, “wit” and the amazing thing’s is to be ingenious about it.

    Would you agree that in 100 people that you meet..aren’t they mostly groomed to be of similar/standard ‘packaging’, rather predictable in the things they think, say or do? there seems to be a conformed and typecast ‘pattern’ of how people should turn out to be – as a child, a student, a teacher, a parent, a corporate worker, an employer, an employee, etc. Doesn’t it all starts with how we are taught from home..then at school – over a total of about 23 years (2 years pre-school, 1 year nursery, 2 years kindergarten, 6 years primary, 4-5 years secondary, 2-3 years JC/poly, 3-4 years uni)..can you believe the thick ‘stack’ of mental models we’ve been piling over the years..deeply stuck in our heads.

    Frankly, we seem to be a load of people who simply have no time to be “creative” about things and the way we do in, day out, we are just rushing – we rush to complete our study years..we rush to join the work field..and thereon..

    whether in our educational system or corporate world, when have we paced ourselves to enjoy creativity?

    are we grooming robots, that just a press button and it would go or are we producing thinking people that think with their hearts and not just the heads.

    let’s just ask..are we creative in our eating..making our meals? no..itz just a packed lunch rectangular styrofoam or round plastic box..simply because we have no time..

    one day, we might just find ourselves blending all our meals..pre-pack..defrost/heat up and just drink it up at our own table..3 packs a day and we’re done..and we creatively call it “the creativity of finishing a meal in 3 secs”.

  48. It is interesting how many people seem to view academic performance and creativity as polar opposites, that we must always choose one and sacrifice the other. But surely this cannot be right? How can it be possible that someone who does well academically not be creative at the same time? This amounts to the claim that computers and robots can do well at our examinations; I would like to see this happen (although now that we have computers marking our students’ English essays, I’m beginning to wonder …). The amount of novel insights (“novel” from the student perspective) required from our students is enormous – just take a look at our PSLE Maths papers!

    I think the reason many people seem to believe that schools kill creativity is that students come out of our system not being more able to answer questions of the how-many-uses-of-a-paper-clip-can-you-think-of type than they could before they begin Primary 1. But I don’t think that people who can generate a lot of ideas on the uses of a paper clip are necessarily creative people. Yes, they may have more imagination than the rest of us, but that is merely one tiny aspect of creativity. At the end of the day, creativity is tied to an outcome, a product. There is simply no point in engaging in lateral thinking imaginative exercises if nothing is “created” in the process – someone must paint the picture or compose the symphony to achieve creativity and “create” value for others in the process.

    I don’t think creativity is a skill to be learned; rather, it is a habit of mind that needs to be cultivated. What I feel we can do better and more of in our education system is to provide more opportunities for students to exercise their creativity in the course of rigorous academic work. We can do this by engaging them in longer tasks that can be approached from multiple perspectives. We can encourage this by specifically focusing their attention on metacognistic aspects of their learning. We can reinforce this by relooking at our exam papers (school and national) to achieve a better balance between straightforward and more novel items. We are doing a lot of this in schools already, but we just need to do even more.

    • I think Yi-Huak has rightly pointed out that “At the end of the day, creativity is tied to an outcome, a product. There is simply no point in engaging in lateral thinking imaginative exercises if nothing is “created” in the process”. I like to think of performativity and creativity as being complementary. Unfortunately, many of us have been led to think that “creative curriculum/lessons” do not bring about performance in high-stakes examinations. It is sad because creativity represents one’s individuality; it represents one’s thoughts, feelings and actions. It requires one to “create”, as opposed to standardisation. I don’t think you can create without having some knowledge and ability to apply what you have learnt. As teachers, we dislike reading assignments which have been plagiarised because we value the individual’s worth and would like to see how our students think. You don’t want to be reading something that has already been established. Among many others, we are looking for the sparkle in our students – new ideas, new ways of doing things, new ways of applying knowledge learnt. As educators, we need to think of ways to bring in creativity into our schools and classrooms. This means looking into new ways of teaching and assessing our students. Assessment must be seamless in the sense that students are not assessed on creativity as a stand-alone quality but it becomes part of the whole educational experience.

    • I would like to build on Yi-Huak’s and Cheryl’s points, and consider creativity as something that emerges from deep learning. Truly creative acts and products arise when the creator is deeply engaged in his/her field and work, highly attuned to the nuances and niches, and a consummate craftsman who has mastered the art and science of what works. Creativity is emergent upon the craftsman’s intuition and realisation of the possibilities of what may, can and will work. In the academic disciplines, flights of creativity emerge from such deep learning and intuition, such as Einstein and the theory of relativity. In the business field, Apple has almost single-handedly created the market for tablets, with its deep learning and intuition of technology and buyers.

      Along this line, I would agree that creativity arises from an “interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things”, in that it takes deep learning on the part of the student – to have learned the subject deep enough for it to coalesce into a discipline, such that it can become a lens or mirror with which to see things – and to be able to interact these different ways of seeing things would require craftsman-like mastery of the disciplines themselves.

      I thus consider that creativity cannot be “taught”, but encouraged through students’ deep learning and engagement with their subjects, such that creativity may emerge from realising the possibilities within the disciplines, or from the seeding and cross-fertilisation of possibilities across disciplinary lines.

  49. I agree with Chee Mun’s perspective that creativity hinges on deep learning. When we look at Jackson pollack drip painting. What he creates looks like a mess and yet there is a philosophy and technique supporting this style of painting. This technique takes time to perfect even though to en untrained eye, it seems that the painting has no real meaning. The deep thinking and learning has resulted for him a style of painting that expresses his personal philosophy.

    In the excitment of searching for creativity, we have not thought through the processes of how and what is it like to be creative. I think this is the direction that we can consider, how to put in place thinking processes in students with the various subjects to be thoughtful and then creative.

  50. A study conducted by by Rudowicz, E., Lok, D., & Kitto, J. (1995) rates Hongkong children aged 10-12 years of age as having a higher level of originality than singapore children.The discusssion trails that these differences could be noted due to the reforms in the Hongkong educational system in the last ten years. The educational system there has headed towards divergent thinking.
    In Singapore an attempt at creativity has somewhat been explored in Math. When one compares the out of box approach here to western counterparts one will realise a major shift away from mere arithmetic skills. However the space needed to bootleg is vastly absent in the lives of educators and students alike. Effective leadership of schools is measured through grades and an improvement of past results.
    The polytechnics have explored the concept with their entrepreneurial ventures as well as robotics projects. The lag time in starting this avenue of thinking has however resulted in some negative economic circumstances. An example of this will be the low entrepreneurship activity in Singapore. Much expensive awards/rewards are now needed to spur this. The key to a vibrant society can then lie in the fact that measures to brand “successful schools” change and create that balance between performance and independent creative thinkers.

  51. Do schools kill creativity?

    In my personal opinion, it seems a bit unfair that schools have to shoulder the responsibility of nurturing creativity. Society and home environments are also keys to fostering creativity. If society and parents view success as having high scores and good results, we would most likely be unable to produce a conducive environment where creativity can be encouraged and valued. In the article “Education Reform in Singapore: Towards Greater Creativity and Innovation?” (Jason Tan and S Gopinathan), it is argued that “the larger problem for Singapore’s educational reform initiative is that Singapore’s nation-building history resulted in an omnipresent state that cherishes stability and order. A desire for true innovation, creativity, experimentation, and multiple opportunities in education cannot be realized until the state allows civil society to flourish and avoids politicizing dissent”. This supports the idea that schools are not the ‘main culprits’ in killing creativity. There are other important factors at work here, and to put the blame solely on schools and educators would be unfair.

    Creativity is an innate need. Human beings need to express ourselves in a creative manner. If schools are indeed guilty of killing creativity, the human race would not have progressed. Schools provide grounding in literacy and disciplines such as language, science, mathematics etc. Without this literacy and grounding in content disciplines, would we be able to create and innovate? Is creativity the opposite of performativity? Are these two traits on a dichotomous key, being mutually-exclusive and non-overlapping? I think not. Teachers and schools do encourage creativity (for example, in Project Work and essay writing assignments), while trying to fulfill the basic duty of ensuring that students learn the content in Instructional Programmes.

  52. A different perspective of this issue:

    Schools tend to encourage conformity. The assimilation process is prevalent in classroom practices of donning similar school uniform, seating arrangement, common timetables and school programmes. However, the greatest killer of creativity comes from the teacher who insists on his/ her one and only valid answer and advocates only one mode of thinking. Even for Mathematics, there is a definite answer but there is always more than a few ways to solve it. Students have opportunities to exercise the most creativity in Composition Writing and Literature.

    Other ‘assassins of creativity’ within the school system include overly-critical remarks/ discouraging remarks by staff and other students , ‘strictly no deviation of flight-path’ lessons and the over-assignment of repetitive homework.

    On the other hand, schools provide platforms for creativity. It would be difficult for home-schooled students to Show and Tell (other to own siblings), participate in a school concert skit, join team-building/problem solving games in camps. In some schools (particularly in foreign system schools in Singapore), students can propose their own programmes to the Principal. Recently, the 10 year-old Caucasian daughter of my ex-neighbour, managed to gain approval from the Principal for the formation of a Dance Club during lunch time which she and other students will organise and lead. When asked why she did this, she indicated that she wanted to ‘express herself’.

    This young girl and another Caucasian girl (ex-neighbour too) of the same age were registered in top primary schools in the Upper Bukit Timah belt. Upon the start of their P1 experience, their parents immediately noticed a change in their temperament, attitude towards learning and liveliness. One of the girls became withdrawn. She complained continuously of being tired, needing to complete her homework and get up at 5.45 am to catch the school bus. The father of the other girl confided that he was alarmed that his daughter was becoming a ‘robot’. Both parents removed their daughters before they reached P3 and was placed in a foreign-system school. Both girls have returned back to their smiley, chatty, bubbly selves.

    The above anecdote could only be person-specific but it does raise a question as to whether a student can be creative when placed in an environment that has the power to change individual personality. Another interesting phenomena would be to scientifically determine if there are really more ‘assassins of creativity’ in schools due to the difference in school culture. If there are ‘Tiger Mums’, are there ‘Tiger Schools’ ?

    Are these two experiences merely singular examples and not truly representative of the school system in Singapore ? Even if they were singular examples, they are highly disturbing.

    Creativity in schools have been:
    (a) given little priority due to lack of time to finish the syllabus (anyway, given more time most teachers will want to discuss topics and issues that would appear in the exam)
    (b) hijacked by pressing concerns for exam-results (the year-end grade score, mean subject grade, and above/below national average statistics is always foremost in the minds of teachers of graduating classes)
    (c) put into the after-burner of post-exam activities, CCAs, mini-project work (topics dictated often by scheme of work)
    (d) sidelined by the approach where making mistakes is not an option especially in academic subjects (stick to the correct acceptable answer and model answer/essay -please don’t be too different mentality)
    (e) upheld in specific school programmes (fun competitions, entrepreneurship enrichment, I&E, curriculum integration, higher tertiary / post-secondary education) but with little changes in the approaches to teaching, pedagogy or instructional methods to the general student population especially in the student’s graduation year or the few weeks leading up to exams.

    I agree with some of my peers’ comments made that being creative in the curriculum can be possibly detrimental to teachers. The worst thing to hear from a MM or School Leader in teacher performance assessment is “….is always creative in class but very little of it was translate into academic results as evidenced by class results, student book checks and student file checks.” It is required of teachers to be creative in class AND produce academic value-add. This, in itself, requires creative planning on the part of the teachers themselves.

    For SLs and MM, the pressure comes from the Upper Echelons of the education system’s command structure. When teachers, SHs, MMs and SL are busy preparing students for national examinations in Term 4 (with little time at hand), there will be a ‘survey’ for the school’s data estimates of repeat students for upward submission. A follow-up of this ‘survey’ is usually a ‘request’ for the school to list the programmes which are being carried out to address academic gaps and the school’s projection of grades and which subject will achieve/fall below national average. I doubt that the SLs and MMs themselves are carrying out the survey when they are busy gearing up students for their Term 4 examinations.

    In our country’s Life Science industry, this exact result-oriented and KPI-driven mentality has led to the accusation that administrators in the Life Science Industry have taken over the roles of researchers and administrators have ‘driven out’ the creativity talent. Will this same scenario be played out on our national school’s education scene, especially for primary, secondary and JC education ?


  53. Do schools kill creativity? Depends. There are schools that encourage creativity in their staff and students. They allow their staff to try new teaching methods and do not penalise them if they fail. However, there are also schools that kill creativity. Some schools are very result oriented, thank to the high stake tests in SIngapore. They focus a lot on academic results and teachers are penalised heavily if they fail to deliver good results. Hence it forms a barrier to teachers to be creative in their teaching, They are teaching for exams and hence are teaching to help students pass their examinations. They forgot about their real learning. However, we cannot generalise that schools kill creativity as ther are schools who encourage innovations and entrepreneurship in their students.
    How about rephrasing it to “Do society kill creativity?”. Generally I feel that it is the society that kills creativity. Society cannot allow failures. Society cannnot allow people to be creative and fail. There is no place for failures. However, they do not realise that people who are credative but may have failed are not failures. It just simply means that things may not work out the first time and may work subsequently. Look at Einstein, look at how many tries he made before he succeeded in his inventions. And just because society do not accept failures, people dare not be creative. So has society killed creativity? YES! Has schools killed creativity? DEPENDS.

  54. With the demise of the famous Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, the role of schools was questioned again. Steve Jobs was hailed as the college drop-out who decided that he was not to be confined within the structure of the school, or in this case college. The news of famous 14 school drop-outs, from the young Facebook founder, Zuckerberg who left Harvard to the ascerbic tongue of American Idol, Simon Cowell, made in the cyberspace. These people are filthy rich. Whenever there is someone who become famous or makes a lot of money, there is always the question of where did he or didn’t he graduate from. Somehow, there is this underlying assumption that we get our ability from schools and if we did not, then it is big news. The unfortunate thing is the big news to a certain extent seemed to deride the school rather than simply admiring these individuals who made it good sans schools.

    Do schools kill creativity? To me the answer is no. Schools may not encourage creativity all the time but schools never kill creativity. Creativity is about overcoming a challenge and to do so in an elegant way. Creativity serves a purpose and I believe that creativity complements performance. There are thousands and millions of those who had completed their education and went on to make the world a better place. I do not see a paradox in striving towards productivity and creativity. The challenge for educational leaders is to continue to build school as a place for growth, for various skills and expertise to emerge to cater to individual and societal needs. With the right ingredients, creativity will appear and be applied to serve the individual and society.

  55. In a simple world, we will be able to say yes or no to whether schools kill creativity. If we were able to do that, at least, we would be able to stare down the obstacles to creativity. Unfortunately, this kind of world no longer exists.

    Schools in Singapore have to constantly balance the need to fulfill their obligations to pupils and various stakeholders in academic achievements and the need to prepare the pupils for life, equipping them with 21st Century compentencies.

    What is clear is that the rigour in helping students achieve academically is not the only obstacle to creativity. We need to look into how we manage our schools and how we deploy our teachers. Having a teacher to take care of a child holistically is nice-sounding but it distract the teacher away from reaching deeper into pedagogies and practices. For example, having teachers to teach a subject, take care of a child’s Character development, champion a 30-week CCA plan, head several committees just rob both the teacher and the pupil of precious learning moments that can be deep and fulfilling.

    In promoting this view, I hope we can move towards having teachers to specialise more (with subject teaching and CCA being led by two different groups), better utilising our resources to support a richer and deeper learning environment. Creativity can only be cultivated by passionate individuals who delve deep into their areas of expertise.

  56. Creativity is the ability to make or produce new things or imagination. Young children who are not aware of failure tend to want to try new things and use their imagination to create new drawings and stories. Children would speak their mind and explore the surrounding through play. Society is less judgmental of children’s action and is more ready to forgive them for their failures. However as children grow older, they would face more disciplinary processes and are taught to conform to rules and regulation. As a result majority of young adults would not venture beyond what they have been taught and have been learning. Nevertheless, there will be pockets of young adults who are curious and would want to create new things.

    The challenge is for our school system to produce large batches of high performing students who are creative as well. I do believe that performativity and creativity are complementary but it need not go hand in hand all the time for all students. Increasingly our school system are infusing multidisciplinary activities and programs such that students can relate to the big ideas and see the interrelatedness of the subjects they are taking. Subjects like Knowledge and Inquiry and Project Work have been introduced to help stimulate creativity in our students learning.

    The challenge for leaders is to create buy-in from our teachers who will have to let go of their winning formulas of producing good exam results. Teachers need to believe they can help stimulate creativity through the programs and activities we design for our students. We would also have to find ways of determining how creative our students can be after going through our education.

  57. Schools Will Creativity (not kill)

    ‘Thinking Schools, Learning Nation’ (TSLN) was introduced to encourage creative thinking, more varied curriculum and improvement to teachers’ education while the IT Masterplan aimed to use information technology as an education tool to expose students to new information sources anywhere and any time. In some schools, ICT may be weaved into lessons or programmes in an attempt to apply creativity. Generally, as part of TSLN, schools seek many ways to promote continual learning and create staff and student innovations or improvements of existing programmes.

    Innovation and Enterprise (I&E) is a liberating policy that encourages schools to differentiate themselves as well as provides a ‘loose structure’ for schools to move beyond existing boundaries or mindsets. Before the arrival of the I&E policy in schools, school leaders participated in focussed-group discussions and other communication channels to provide feedback. School leaders then interpreted the policy as broad guidelines to ensure that they were moving in the same national direction (not as a directive from MOE). They wanted to ensure innovation blooms in schools (i.e. they will it to happen) through careful implementation across various levels and stakeholders. However, in some schools, there did not seem to be sufficient groundwork before implementation as teachers were not well-prepared to make full use of the reduced curriculum to creatively engage the students or delve deeper into innovations.

    But there is no best way to implement a policy, including that which promotes creativity. School leaders will eventually try to promote creativity based on their values and beliefs of what is best for the school. The most important criterion essentially is to ensure students’ and teachers’ understanding – which will safeguard against the dearth or death of creative ideas.

  58. Do schools kill creativity?

    Before one attempt to answer the above question, fundamental questions have to be asked?

    1) What is creativity?
    2) How do we learn creativity?
    3) Is creativity necessary? Why?
    4) How do we teach creativity?
    5) How do we assess creativity?

    According to the Wikipedia: Creativity refers to the phenomenon whereby a person creates something new (a product, a solution, a work of art, a novel, a joke, etc.) that has some kind of value. What counts as “new” may be in reference to the individual creator, or to the society or domain within which the novelty occurs. What counts as “valuable” is similarly defined in a variety of ways. In addition, as creativity is studied across several disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, education, business and sociology, there exist a multitude of definitions and approaches to define creativity. Even within the field of education, the definition of creativity varies. What constitute creative work in the classroom? Is creativity referring to the thinking process or the students’ work? For example, are creative pieces created only in art and music classes? Can a student’s creative thinking process in solving a math problem be considered a creative work? Are there different forms or components of creativity?
    In my second question, how do we learn creativity? Is creativity an in-born quality? Or is it acquired the same way as babies acquire language skills and articulate the names of things? Some may argue that children are by nature inquisitive, perceptive, creative and imaginative and that by going to school, they would have lost all these natural abilities. This implies that creativity is either an in-born quality (gifted) or acquired at the early ages before going to school. I personally believe that creativity is an acquired skill that a student learn just as he learns other knowledge like language and sciences. I believe that schools play an important role in promoting creativity. While in some parts of school life, a student’s creativity might be impeded, he may acquire other forms of creativity which enable him to survive in the ‘real world’.

    The next question is how do we teach creativity in schools? A common assumption is that every student is creative and that the role of the teacher is to tap and develop students’ creative capacity. A teacher can help every student to identify their creative passions, raise awareness of everyday creativity, encourage exploration of different forms of creative expression and rewarding creative outcomes and efforts. The reality in schools is that such activities are often seemed to be time-consuming with little relevance to academic achievements (exams and tests). As a result, teachers have little incentive to promote such activities.

    Lastly, how do we assess creativity? Or do we need to access creativity? Some have the view that assessing creativity might lead to discouragement and thus inhibit creativity. Creativity is often seen as a personal response, and that people are creative in their own way and that a request for a creative act cannot be assessed. Some argued that since pupils are creative in different ways, there is no single way of assessing creativity effectively.

  59. Do schools kill creativity? Through my experience and observation, it is a yes and no answer.

    No, schools do not kill creativity. Policy initiatives such as Innovation & Enterprise (I&E), Teach Less Learn More (TLLM) are all focus on getting schools to be creative in what we teach, how we teach and in the process, reflect why we teach. Schools are given opporunities to showcase their creative interpretations through channels such as MOE Excel Fest, the Bluesky website, etc. We celebrate those successes.

    Yes, schools kill creativity. As much as we celebrate sucesses of creativity,we do not celebrate succeses of failures. I believe this is what Ken Robinson meant when he said, if one is “not prepared to be wrong” then one can “never come up with anything original.” How can we then celebrate failures? From the same channels that we celebrate successes, we can also celebrate failures. There could be a category called “The Trailblazers” to encourage teachers and students to showcase works that have not been successful yet. Other schools could study those projects and maybe some form of collaborations could take place to bring the projects to the next level. 3M Post-it Notes was a result of such collaborations. Schools should not be afraid of such celebrations as we are educational institutions, not corporate institutions.

  60. Schools are at the liberty to incorporate creativity. Creativity, after all, is a precondition to innovation, which is the buzz word of today. Maybe we can show how creativity in education for youth can lead to youth being problem-solvers and thus an asset to the community. Eg structure service learning projects that challenge the youth to apply a variety of design and invention techniques to addressing a social need whether in their immediate community or elsewhere? The Overseas CIP for one is laudable.
    Structuring such service projects with tangible and visible successes in the short term would recast the introduction of creativity in education as a highly pragmatic move – namely to provide a generation of community problem-solvers. Creativity is often confused with disobedience, arrogance or even stubbornness and refusal to just fit in. Introducing the value of creativity should not be an educational issue, but a cultural and social value as well. It entails change, hard work, going into the unknown. We have seen the examples in the late Steve Jobs and other creative geniuses.

  61. The notion of having original ideas that have values through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things immediately brings to my mind Artist-scientist. Examples of such archetypes are Leonardo Da Vinci, Archimedes, Su Song, Benjamin Franklin etc. These individuals who had contributed so much to mankind are usually multi-talented. As the term Artist-scientist implies, they are artists as well as scientists. They dwell in the realm of artistry which gives them a sense of how things should naturally work and the patterns of things that bring harmonious order to the physical universe. These traits are the foundation to understand complex and intricate relationships between numbers, concepts and ideas. These archetypes have distaste for simple solutions in favor of Rube Goldbergian methods. It usually does not sit well with most people who prefer efficiency over effectiveness. Children with untainted mind would usually have an elaborative way of getting things done which is the least efficient to the adults but a valuable learning process for them to experiment and test hypothesis. With such a vast number of creative inventors, scientists, physicists who share a background of diverse training in many disciplines, we can safely conclude that creativity does require people to be multi-disciplinarians. School leaders who are overly concern about efficiency more than effectiveness would have a hard time nurturing creative learners simply because they would be depriving them of opportunities to make mistake and learn from them.

    In her sharing at a TED conference, Kathryn Schulz spoke about “Being wrong”. She asked an audience how does it feel like to be wrong? Some brave souls ventured with adjectives like disappointed, regretful, sorry etc. Kathryn politely pointed out that those are good answers to another question. That question would be how does it feel like to realize that we are wrong as opposed to how does it feels like to be wrong. The feeling of being wrong as enlightened by Kathryn is actually nothingness or it feels like being right. Say when a student make a mistake in his calculation and submitted his exam script. He felt nothing about his mistake. For if he does, he would have corrected it. As a matter of fact, he felt that he was right about his calculation and confidently handed in his exam script. It is only upon the return of his exam script after his teacher has graded it that he felt disappointed but not during when the wrong was committed. Kathryn rationalized that our numbness to knowing how it feels like to be wrong has to do with our attitude towards mistakes. We are so success oriented that making mistakes is almost a taboo to discuss. And since we are not receptive about making mistake, our brain become reluctant to entertain the thought of being wrong. And we lose our sensitivity of being wrong.

    If we can change our attitude towards being wrong and making mistakes, more learning and deeper understanding will occur. So let us not be too concern about efficiency and focus on being effective, so that our pupils have the time and space to be creative.

  62. The notion of encouraging creativity through the “interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things as opposed to the highly-structured, oftentimes fragmented and subject-specific way of schooling” is indeed compelling. It allows for the introduction of multiperspectivalism as advocated by Calvinist philosophers, a valuable skill associated with not just creative but also critical thinking.

    However, while the education system and schools can do something about reigniting creativity, I believe that the problem lies beyond MOE and the schools. Many people, including teachers, students and parents, still place great emphasis on academic achievements, something that they perceive as independent of soft skills such as creative thinking. This is unfortunately a deep-rooted mindset and belief that has been passed on for many generations. It is not that they do not see the importance of such skills. They just deem it as of lower importance and so if given a choice of either a programme that hones creative thinking or another that drives academic results, many would probably choose the latter.

    As such, the success of reigniting creativity in schools and even at home depends largely on the mindset of these stakeholders. Till the day they fully embrace the real purpose behind education, MOE and schools can do a million and one things to promote creative thinking, but still will not achieve success in their endeavour. The stakeholders need to see the purpose of education beyond that of preparing the children for high stakes examinations. Education is really about preparing them for the future. It is about preparing them for the test of life and not a life of tests.

  63. Before we even talk about killing Creativity, we need to understand what is Creativity and the application of it in teaching and learning. In Singapore schools, we have the tenancy to attempt to assess anything and everything that is possible so that there is accountability. When Innovation and Enterprise was a buzz, the school leaders allocated a vast amount of resources to train students to come up with not just good business ideas. The resources also went to setting up mini stalls that allow students to make products to be sold in school and reap profits. At this moment, Innovation and Enterprise is not even the talk among the school leaders, teachers and students. The stalls that stood as hallmarks of Innovation and Enterprise have been converted to serve other purposes. At the school level, the attempt to explicitly teach Creativity or even trying to assess it is very weak. Some of the “unpopular” subjects like Design and Technology, Art and Music have been testing ground for Creativity. These subjects are ranked low in the hierarchy of subjects because they take too much time. . I believe that all subjects do teach thinking skills. These thinking skills are what Creativity is all about. But teachers do not see the relevance of Creativity (thinking skills) in subjects like Mathematics, Science and English. This mind set has to change. We need to “talk” Creativity in the context of thinking skills and see the application of thinking skills as work of Creativity in students.

  64. Efficiency and effectiveness in teaching has always been the holy grail of the Singapore teaching fraternity. At least that is the case for teachers still in the MOE system. Given this context of local education, it is difficult to imagine how a curriculum on creative thinking will pan out. Will the planning of such a curriculum follow that of any other examinable subject or will it be a trailblazer that shows the way for an alternate planning process that takes the issue of time and syllabus completion out of the equation and allow creativity to gestate and grow in a truly nurturing environment that is free from the toxic practice of judging and measurement via rubrics and assessment criteria? In early 2000, creative thinking was packaged in the former format and it fell flat due to various reasons. For one, curriculum planners fail to recognise the finer necessary conditions for creativity to grow; the ‘farmers’ who seed creativity in the students. Are teachers sufficiently skilled to be the expert proponents of creativity let alone be the instructor of creative thinking? As it is, the definition of creativity lends itself to endless debates so what how did curriculum planners arrive at the consensus that creative thinking is what they envisioned it to be? Furthermore, the question of how creativity is assessed is another debating maelstrom that has yet to be addressed before curriculum planners rolled out the package. One might argue that in the impossibility of consensus, then curriculum planners simply have to make do with their current understanding and interpretation. However, is it fair for assessment to be based on one individual, the teacher? Just like art pieces in a gallery, they are subjected to varying interpretations and as such varying degrees of values are attached to them. So if assessing the product may not be the best way to go then perhaps a better way to assess creativity is to focus on the process of arriving at the product. However, this would entail substantial investment of time to sit with each individual student to assess their thinking. If we cannot afford that investment of time, then the whole policy of implementing a creative thinking curriculum seem more like a paper exercise to justify the excellence of the education system in promoting creative thinking.

  65. MOE’s TSLN initiative for the 21st century learners emphasizes moving away from quantity teaching (content-based base on the premise on rote learning and didactic teaching) to quality teaching (creative imaginings on the premise of self-directed and independent learning). This is also assumed that both teacher and students are sufficiently equipped with the skill, knowledge and attitude towards such pedagogy. The challenge here is how far schools really address this assumption and its tipping point for schools to teach creatively.

    Aaron Koh’s article maintains that teaching critical literacy as thinking tools is more likely to move teachers in Singapore a step closer towards a critical pedagogy, thereby realizing the vision of TSLN. [1]. Perhaps this may address the common observation that teachers instruct their students to use creatively without explaining how. In this case, do all teachers really know how to teach creatively in the first place?

    It is appreciated that efforts to move the whole organization towards TSLN with supporting structures to teach creatively such as the relooking at testing and assessments and syllabus content reduction to make room for critical pedagogy at the school, cluster and organizational level is encouraging. However, the challenge may not be a structural flaw or the availability of resources or learning platforms for our teachers to explore and re-discover creative ways to teach. The real crunch here might really be the teachers’ readiness to embrace critical pedagogy in terms of efficacy and even attitude. Schools do not kill creativity but issues left unattended far too long can kill creativity in schools.

    [1] Koh, A. (2002). Towards a critical pedagogy: crating ‘thinking schools’ in Singapore. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 34(3), 255-264.

  66. In my personal view, I think it is unfair to say schools kill creativity. To me, it could be the larger context – the competitive and vulnerable environment students are brought up in. As a young and small country with no natural resources of our own, Singapore has achieved good outcomes – economically and stability. Since young, we have been told that we must continue to stay ahead and remain competitive or we will lag behind others. This could have indirectly made us very conscious and risk-averse to try out new things. In a way, we are scared of falling behind others. Because of the pressure and high price that Singapore may have to shoulder, we tend to be conservative in our approach. This would have explained why schools are still slow in changing our education assessment beyond the usual pen and paper as well as high stakes exams.In other words, teachers continue to teach to the test and usually by the conventional and proven way.

    In schools, teachers often need to complete a tight syllabus within a stipulated period and coupled with the national exams, there is little space available to go beyond the syllabus. Unlike schools in other countries such as Australia whereby the Principals do have the autonomy to plan and implement their curriculum, Singapore has to abide to the given national curriculum. As such, this will also impede creativity among teachers and hence students.

    Within the stressful and constrained environment and system we are currently in, are we as a country ready to accept some dips when we implement a change – say in assessment?

    Therefore I think it is not fair to say schools kill creativity as I feel the society and the environment we are play a major role in killing creativity.

  67. Schools don’t kill creativity; it is the education system plays a part. Schools were designed to equip students with knowledge and skills, as well as make them good and useful to the nation and society.

    Creative is definitely one of the goals for education. The benefits of creativity include independent thinking and adaptive problem solving, and success when meeting new and unexpected challenges.

    Singapore Education system is still an examination driven system. Singapore’s schools have become global role models, with consistently high results in international tests, especially in Mathematics. Now government even wants to pursuit further – towards cultivating creativity through “holistic education”.

    Although the intension is great, but how to achieve the goal is still full of challenges. Many people criticize the high-pressure Education system, they advocated to reduce the stress level from children in terms of home works, extra tuition class hours, and heavy examinations, which are the factors destroyed students’ creativity. This does only make sense if the examination based education system changed or reformed.

    We don’t have to worry about making learning fun if we don’t destroy a child’s innate curiosity to begin with. This is one of the challenges we are facing. Parents often regulate their children’s behavior based on the education they have gone through and their common sense – “tradition”.

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