teaching creativity

Yes we can greatly improve the teaching of creativity in Australian schools and yes we can measure it

Creativity is once again front and centre in the call for educating more effective 21stcentury workforces in Australia with the release of David Gonski’s latest review of schooling. It echoes other national reviews in stating that the current industrial age model of school education in Australia must change.

Our national curriculum mandates the development of the general capability of creative and critical thinking. However, achieving this is severely hampered, as the report attests, by inflexible curricula, teaching models that limit differentiation and creativity, and stymied organisational leadership that limits teacher practices and de-incentivises schools as innovative environments.

Today we know that creativity is ubiquitous, that everyone is creative, and that all students deserve the opportunity to develop, learn and maximise their own creative thinking abilities, exploring what leading researchers such as Mark Runco describe as problem-finding and problem-solving. Having progressed through industrial and knowledge economies, we are now propelled into a dynamic creative economy of enormous complexity, interconnectedness and opportunity.

Legendary educational psychologist E. Paul Torrance’s research into intelligence and creativity in school children established clinical links between fluency, flexibility, original thinking and the ability to elaborate on thoughts as markers for creativity. Torrance’s creativity index could predict kids’ creative accomplishments as adults far better than IQ testing.

This is an argument we are still making today through our research at RMIT University’s School of Education, in developing a national Creativity Index that will measure creative skills and capacities alongside literacy and numeracy. Our research also shows an urgent need for a more ecological approach to improving creativity in schools, not just to measuring it. This means approaching schools as ecosystems in which teachers collaborate with other teachers, students and leadership, and teaching and learning is approached interdisciplinarily. It also urges the immediate incorporation of compulsory creativity training in all initial teacher education and professional development across the country.

Today’s creativity research such as the current Australian Research Council-funded study Transforming 21stcentury creativity education in Australasia now focuses on the need to move beyond siloed subject areas or teaching and learning practices, instead developing creative ecologies across school environments, regionally and nationally throughout the sector.

Whilst attention to design thinking and other ‘imported’ solutions grows, we advocate solving the creativity education ‘problem’ from within, with educators ourselves adapting such tools for our own contexts. We believe education reform should be addressed through a holistic systems thinking approach which can incorporate best practice from tools like Stanford University’s famous d-school Design Thinking Bootcamp, but doesn’t stop there.

With support from the Australian Research Council, we are offering new Australian research and practical tools built from the 600+ teachers, principals, and students expressed needs for improving creativity in their classrooms. Large-scale, current and empirical research and tools grown from withinthe Education sector can greatly enhance models like the Victorian State Governments’ Professional Learning Communities model currently offered. The Creative Ecologies Final Report(2016)shares Harris’ Whole School Creativity Audit, Creativity Index, and a Top 10 Creative skills and capacities rubric – practical tools for moving forward at the whole-school level, incorporating creative teaching, learning and collaboration as an integrated and evidence-based answer to Gonski’s most recent call for improving creativity throughout the sector.

Using practical and collaborative approaches like these we believe, can expand user-centred innovation possibilities and have the potential to radically improve Australian education, and more effectively implement the Australian Curriculum’s ‘critical and creativity thinking’ general capability.

Why is this so important?

 Multinational companies such as Adobe are now conducting their own research to stress the need for creative skills and capacities in their recruits. We agree that, while market needs shouldn’t drive education, they play a strong role in determining what gets taught, and how.

Digital technology too is playing an ever-greater role in the how of educational engagements. And we’re not talking about just being able to put an iPad in every learner’s hands, but actually using hybrid reality technologies and emerging digital technology to educationallymeet and extend our own and our students shared creative imaginations. This is not only good education but good business too.  From augmented reality and games development, to immersive world and virtual reality technologies, to smart homes, workplaces and smart cities, creativity and creative ways of thinking are at the forefront of educational needs today.

The dangers of divorcing STEM from arts-based learning

Here in Australia, we dangerously divorce Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education from arts-based inquiry learning, diminishing further opportunities for interdisciplinary, joined-up learning strategies. The worldwide knee-jerk reaction to promoting STEM subjects forges on despite a recent Australian Parliamentary Enquiry outlining that our teachers are placed in STEM teaching situations ill-equipped to deal with this changing role and concept, whilst further acknowledging that interdisciplinary connectivity of utilising arts learningand thinkingin STEAM approaches need to be investigated further.

If governments are going to ensure workforces of the future will be adaptable, creative, and visionary, then they too must adapt to best practice and Australian research, and alter the way they tectonically arbitrate change and coordinate the future visioning of education in this country.

Whilst even countries like the United States have been stalling on creative education innovation, and cutbacks in places like the UK threaten to side-line creativity education once again, our northern neighbours in China,Korea, and Finland are revolutionising the ways they incorporate creativity into their core education, and understand its crucial connectivity to global industry.

Australian chief scientist Dr Finkel in an Education Council Report calls for a reverse in the narrowing trend toward STEM and other ‘baseline’ measures, and opening toward a more contemporary, global skill set. Research is proving that subject interconnection, such as in Finland’s ‘phenomenon teaching’ in secondary schools, Korea’s lead in institutional and industry connectivity, and China’s vision to move significant manufacturing to cheaper labour markets in Africa whist embracing the vision to evolve from a re-creative to a co-creative and entrepreneurial powerhouse, are urgent reminders that Australia needs to change, and change now.

Incorporating Australia-centred, education-adapted design thinking that mindfully intersects with cross disciplinary and creative pedagogies in pre-service teacher education rather than in retrospective and ad-hoc approaches, as well as within professional development plans of our current teaching workforce, can mark significant change forward. And these are changes Australia urgently needs.


Read more in Anne Harris’s book Creativity and Education


Anne Harris is an ARC Future Fellow, and Vice Chancellor’s Principal Research Fellow (Research Associate Professor) in the School of Education and the Design and Creative Practice ECP at RMIT University. Her research focuses on the intersection of creativity, performance and digital media at both practice and policy levels. She is the creator and editor of the Palgrave Macmillan book series Creativity, Education and the Arts, and the ABER co-editor of the Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy. She is the Director of Creative Agency Research Lab, and for more information on Creative Agency go to: www.creativeresearchhub.com


Leon de Bruin is a Research Fellow at RMIT University School of Education and Creative Agency Lab. He is an educator, performer and researcher in creativity, cognition, collaborative learning, creative pedagogies, and improvised music, and also works in the Faculty of Education, Monash University. He is co-editor of the forthcoming Brill Publication: Creativities in Arts Education, Research and Practice: International Perspectives for the Future of Learning and Teaching, and co-author with Anne Harris of Creativity in Education in the Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Education.