Creativity has become big news in education in recent years. A combination of the government’s focus on academic subjects and funding cuts has led to a squeeze on creative subjects in schools. Many people have complained about the decline of arts subjects, and the business world has been quick to express concern about a skills shortage that shows no signs of decreasing. Leading business figures also warn that a lack of creativity could now become a real problem in years to come.

But what is creativity? It’s more than simply ‘creative’ subjects, of course, but how can it be defined, and can it actually be taught?

Definitions of creativity

Some definitions of creativity don’t extend much beyond students being able to identify problems, to come up with solutions, to evaluate and to communicate these ideas effectively.

Other commentators argue that creativity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway – suggesting that although creative people are often innovators, they can also display a poor attention to detail and are often linked to a lower rate of performance. In a school setting, traits often associated with creativity are often linked to disruptive behaviour.
Students that are creative often show that they have enquiring minds – something that has to be commended. However, exuberance in the classroom can be extremely disruptive. This is not to say that enthusiasm should be put down or discouraged, but there is an argument to suggest that creative pupils need to learn to balance their creativity with self-control and self-discipline.

Does creativity come from knowledge?

Creativity is incredibly complex. It would be foolhardy for anyone to suggest that it can be reduced to a catchy soundbite or a succinct definition, or for anybody to pretend that they fully understand how it can be instilled in students. One argument is that creativity occurs when a student knows more – to have more knowledge essentially means that they have more ‘to be creative with’.

In contrast, there is another argument that innovation and great discoveries don’t necessarily come about because of an individual has gained more knowledge – or from being creative at all. Rather, innovation often occurs through sheer hard work, dedication and determination. Innovation can occur when people look at things through a fresh pair of eyes, a different perspective – or from methodical and logical thinking.

Can creativity be taught?

So, back to the central question of whether or not creativity can actually be taught, the answer is that – no – it cannot be ‘taught’ by having students learn a set of principles or steps that will result in them becoming creative and being able to think creatively. However, creativity can be supported, and challenges or constraints can be imposed on situations that force students to be creative. But this won’t make people creative all the time.

Some people would point to the fact that some of the great creative minds from history were also experts in their field before they did the innovative thing that they are remembered for today.

In conclusion, we would all be creative geniuses if there was a simple formula that could be taught for creativity.

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