Knowledge Is Not Enough When It Comes to Life on Earth

20th July 2019 - Sarah Mumford

Here, Sarah Mumford contemplates the need to cultivate creativity in schools to ensure that young people not only ‘thrive’ but also, potentially, literally, ‘survive’ in future.

In the words of the 1980s pop song ‘I believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way….’ (Songwriters: Linda Creed / Michael Masser Greatest Love of All lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC).  For young people to lead the way in future the knowledge they acquired in school is not enough. It is not enough to memorise and represent facts alone. Knowing something is not the same as doing something. Knowing the challenges in life is not the same as finding ways to manage and overcome them. Right now, for example, knowing that the survival of our species and the world we live in is in jeopardy – as highlighted most poignantly and powerfully of late by 16 yr old Greta Thunberg – is not enough. The knowledge that we are steadily using up all the world’s resources and creating conditions in which natural resources are unable to recover is not enough. If humans and the planet we live on are to survive long term then new applicable ideas are needed  – and needed fast. Now is the time for innovative solutions – both social and physical. Now is the time for creativity like never before.

Never before has the need for creative thinking and innovative ideas been more pressing – for ideas to emerge that can help solve the real world people-driven challenges of industrialization, pollution, carbon emissions, reliance on single-use plastics etc – if we are to stand a chance of alleviating the climate crisis we are now faced with.

At IVE we believe that human creativity generates the ideas that drive innovation. We believe that innovative ideas come from creative mind-sets. Creative mind-sets can be cultivated by: building on past and existing ideas; when people are highly motivated to find solutions; when given the right environment in which to work; by talking and working together; by focusing on specific things within defined parameters – and with persistence and some good fortune!

Right now IVE are successfully helping business leaders relearn creative behaviours, enabling them to adapt in an ever-changing world. Our commercial creativity training with businesses helps to support our charitable work with disadvantaged children and young people.  We are currently developing Applied Creativity Labs for children and young people in schools to help to cultivate their creativity and keep their creative abilities alive as they move through their childhood.

As children grow into adulthood it would appear that non-creative behaviours become the norm.

In 1968 George Land (author, scientist and consultant) established that at 5 years of age 98% children have ‘genius’ levels of creativity; that at aged 10 this has reduced to 30% and that by the age of 15, these levels had reduced to just 12%. The same test, which has now been conducted with over 1 million adults suggests that just 2% have the same level of creativity as 98% of 5 year olds.

“What we have concluded, is that non-creative behavior is learned.”
Land 1993

The PISA levels (Programme for International Student Assesment – devised by OECD – Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) test if 15 year olds in 80 economies globally can apply what they have learned in schools to real life situations. They test whether 15 year olds have the social and emotional skills to thrive in future. The tests cover science, reading, maths, collaborative problem-solving, financial literacy and most recently global competencies, such as open-mindedness. Conducting these tests when young people are 15, and with just 12% of creativity left in them – if George Land is to be believed – might well lead one to ponder. Andreas Schleicher*, (German data scientist and Head of Education at the OECD) has recognised that, in this digital age, with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IOT), measuring young people’s capacity to remember facts is potentially pointless long term given robots can handle all of that quite easily. What robots can’t do is what humans can – imagine, create, question and collaborate – not yet at least!

With this in mind PISA now think creativity can be cultivated, measured and its development in young people tracked. They are working on a way to assess, and have students assess, creative thinking – such as being inquisitive and persistent –  in the PISA tests from 2021.

Coming back to the real world challenge of global warming and the future of life on earth, all that has contributed to it and all that it entails, this has to be a step in the right direction given that PISA levels are huge drivers of change in education systems around the world.  Schools in future will be measured on the degree to which they are able to cultivate creativity in their pupils – on how they enable them to think creatively and come up with innovative, applicable ideas.  These applicable, innovative ideas are needed to ensure our survival long term.

Creative thinking is needed to both find practical solutions (IVE’s first Applied Creativity Lab will focus on cultivating innovative solutions to the real world problem of air pollution in Leeds) and socio-emotional and psychological solutions too – with the ultimate test being how to bring all the world’s leaders together to work towards one common goal – the continuation of life on earth.


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