Creating Reforms: National and sub-national stories of creativity reform

Our third publication in the “Creativity Matters” series highlights the journey of six national and sub-national governments, with different cultural and political circumstances, that have successfully transformed their education systems to support children in developing creativity.

Creativity and play may help solve the challenges of our rapidly changing world

Learning through play naturally bolsters creativity, imagination and innovation. Fostering creativity may help solve the challenges we face in our rapidly changing world and boost competitive and innovative local economies. Our third publication Creating Reforms: national and sub.national stories of creativity reform in the Creativity Matters series highlights the journey of six sub-national governments, with different cultural and political circumstances, that have successfully supported children in developing creativity.  

The findings from six case studies (Delhi in India, British Columbia in Canada, St. Vrain Valley School District in Colorado, Singapore, Huddinge in Sweden and Northern Ireland) revealed that sub-national reforms take place in jurisdictions with policymaking authority for education such as in the province of British Columbia, the state of Delhi, the region of Northern Ireland, and the city-state of Singapore. In all these examples, creativity skills were introduced as part of more comprehensive system reforms, similar to national reforms.  

Sub-national reforms also occurred through local authorities or local bodies with education governance over a specific component of the education system, such as the St. Vrain Valley School District and Huddinge municipality whose initiatives aligned with Colorado’s standards and the Swedish national curriculum, respectively. In these instances, changes to public education occur more frequently within the existing legal framework and through initiatives, for example, through teacher training programmes. Overall, formal sub-national reforms are rare in national education systems responsible for all components of the education system, yet there may be room for flexibility and local adaptation. 

The rationale for incorporating these skills into the local education systems is often linked to the need to prepare the children for the technological and related rapid changes in the world and also to mitigate poverty by fostering entrepreneurship. Many reforms were driven by policymakers who explored ways to effect change in their own jurisdictions. Often, these motivated and driven policymakers are teachers and educators who have worked their way up through the system. A leader who is also an educator can act as a catalyst since teachers may perceive them as an ally within the system who can communicate better with the government. Transitional periods can be opportunities for transformation and can create a sense of urgency for reform.  

Fostering creativity may help solve the new challenges we face in our rapidly changing world 

Our world is changing rapidly and the need for more complex skills to successfully live and work in the 21st century is becoming apparent. Many educators and policy makers recognise that fostering creativity may be part of the solution to the new challenges their school districts are facing.  

A common issue across the systems studied was the increased pressure on business and education to respond to the information and technological revolution and modernise an outdated education system. Some reforms were prompted by concerns that the education system was preparing students ‘for a world that no longer existed’. As British Columbia transitioned to a more information-based economy, this concern inspired an education reform with an emphasis on creativity. Likewise, in St. Vrain Valley School District of Colorado, policymakers recognised that the challenges students would face in life exceed the basic academic foundation taught in a standardised curriculum. 

Reforms introducing creativity skills into the education system are also frequently motivated by the desire to prepare students for the workforce and to encourage economic competitiveness. In the Indian city of Delhi, for example, developing individuals with an entrepreneurial attitude is seen as critical to becoming a developed economy and a global economic force. They aim to foster an entrepreneurial mindset among their students. As a young city, nation-state and country, Singapore places a premium on creativity as they believe it may help solve current problems and plant seeds for future innovation. In St. Vrain Valley School District in Colorado, creativity is used to mitigate poverty in the community – by fostering entrepreneurship and innovation. In Canada, British Columbia has historically had a resource-based economy with industries such as mining and logging and is now moving towards a more information-based economy. A desire to prepare their students for such changes sparked an education reform with an emphasis on creativity. 

Learning through play naturally bolsters creativity, imagination and innovation 

Play provides great learning opportunities for children and young people as it enhances creativity. Children are naturally inquisitive and creative, and learning through play has proved to be motivational and far more effective than traditional classroom teaching, especially for the lower age groups.  

In Sweden’s national curriculum, it is stipulated that schools should stimulate the pupils’ creativity, curiosity, and self-confidence, as well as their desire to translate ideas into action and to solve problems. Play is often used to enhance students’ creativity. In Northern Ireland, research findings indicating that children in some of the most deprived schools were doing worse after two years of schooling than before they started school led to the desire to shift to a more play-based curriculum. As a result, learning through play was given increased focus and importance in the curriculum reform. In British Columbia, learning through play has always been a part of the curriculum, especially in the lower grades as it is recognised that for children, there is no distinction between playing and learning.  

Partnerships between schools, local businesses and the wider community have proven effective and fruitful in building creativity skills among students  

Many schools and school districts have partnered with local and international businesses to form the content of creativity education. In St. Vrain Valley School District in Colorado, professional staff from local businesses are invited into the school to teach and collaborate with the children. For St. Vrain, their industry partners are key to their success, and they have routine conversations regarding trends in industries and what skills businesses are looking for in their work forces. Similar practices are found in Huddinge, Sweden and in Delhi, India. These working relationships have proved inspiring and fruitful, for the schools, the students and the businesses.  

It is challenging to assess creativity and entrepreneurship, but if the assessment system is not aligned with the curriculum, it can be an inhibiting element for successful education reform 

It is challenging to assess creativity, and there is a lack of expertise and experience of how to do it adequately, partly because it cannot be done in a standardised manner and it is often highly subjective. However, the success and sustainability of curriculum reform depends heavily on the alignment of the assessment system. Ideally, assessment systems should be able to assess what is taught under the curriculum and what would be useful for the students.  

In Northern Ireland, a thorough curriculum reform emphasising creativity skills and cross-subject learning was implemented, but the assessment system was not changed and remained focused on separate subject contents, which in turn had repercussions on the curriculum reform as “what is being assessed is what is taught”. In British Columbia, on the other hand, the assessment system was slowly changed to align with the new priorities of the curriculum. Their strategy was to wait for the curriculum to settle in to have a better sense of what assessment should look like. Their current assessment system is skills based and not subject based and is assessing numeracy and literacy. Eventually, post-secondary institutions in British Columbia stopped requiring graduation exams for admission, and the University of British Columbia is now increasingly basing its admissions on competencies rather than just the student’s grade point average (GPA).  

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