In a world of education systems that have been tailored to meet a global economy’s demand for particular industries to thrive, the trending shift of academic institutions towards more efficient, alternative institutions may well be on the fast track of moving, but in certain countries, they just might be on the wrong side of traffic.

One particular example is the recent English Baccalaureate (EBacc) reforms by the UK government which involves the introduction of a streamlined academic curriculum, but sidelines creative subjects such as art, design and technology.

Majority of leaders in the cultural and creative arts industry were up in arms as the latest changes come amid much debate over whether the British ministry recognizes the growing economic importance of creative industries and its artists. It is argued by both business and creative lobbies, that in the nation’s desperation to solve grade inflations, strengthen its academic qualification standards and provide a rounded education, its actions in effect demote the focus on the practical and theoretical aspects of education; both of which are substantial catalysts in fostering innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. Other concerns that were raised in the agitation suggests the risk of marginalization, as well as denying, the balanced education students need in order to grow and thrive as cautioned by UK shadow education minister Stephen Twigg: “[The EBacc] will usher in a decade of economic decline because there is no value placed on subjects critical for our future economic competitiveness.” If they wish to continue retaining their beloved “Made in Britain” label, steering adjustments should be corrected now to prevent certain traffic collisions.

While the UK struggles with its education reforms, that is not to say that its neighboring developed nations disregard their respective creative potential in favor of a socio-economic framework, nor are they lost in the clamour for the true value of creative education.

Sweden, ranking first in the 2011 Global Creativity Index, has been a strong advocate in policy-making for the creative education industry; funding national programs for research and development that have greatly contributed to economic competitiveness. On the other side of the globe, countries such as Singapore, China, and Japan have also been constantly adapting their education policies and placing a strong emphasis on creative skills to stay afloat in the global economy. These countries understand that creativity is not sustainable in an “autonomous schools” system, and education flexibility is crucial in enhancing international competitiveness. With the creative industries contributing 40% or more of the workforce in 14 nations, the demand for innovative thinkers has never been this intense.

Correspondingly, there have been upgrades in both the traditional academic subjects (such as mathematics and sciences) and modern subjects such as languages. International Advisor on creative education Sir Ken Robinson notes on the importance of nurturing innovation together with pure academics, “In practical terms, most creative processes benefit enormously from collaboration. The great scientific breakthroughs have almost always come through some form of fierce collaboration among people with common interests but with very different ways of thinking.” Sir Ken’s perception in the global problems of today, is that it needs the young minds of tomorrow to solve. The minds made from a future-thinking education system, not from an education system still lingering in the past. A creative system.

Creative education is an expansion of direct learning, in areas of mental development and problem solving. In the practical and theoretical aspects of learning, the society’s demand for higher innovative capacity can be achieved through the harmonious collaboration of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. Even Asian countries such as Singapore and China, whose educational systems have been praised as the best curricula in the world, are currently repositioning their core academic criteria (which was once the predominant component in education) by similarly introducing the creative arts into their curricula. It is worth noting that both Singapore and China are among those in the top economic growth chart around the Asia Pacific region, with a good part attributing to their forward-thinking entrepreneurial strategies. This intellectual ability is the result of a foundation system that allocates space and promotes critical thinking. An article from the Smithsonian Institution magazine on fostering creativity sums it up,

“Not every child will become an artist, singer or dancer but everyone benefits when the children who grow up to be doctors, lawyers, researchers or entrepreneurs have learned to employ creative problem solving techniques in their craft.”

It is puzzling then, for a global economic power such as the UK, with its EBacc implementation, to now abandon the integrated curriculum when the Asian counterparts have shown considerable progress from it. What the UK’s education system should avoid, is limiting the student according to what is premeditated as “socially-established” viewpoints, and denying them the opportunity to practice alternative thinking and critical analysis in their solving assessment. Without the critical-thinking rebels (those who think out of the box, the square peg in a round hole) of traditional institutions, one could surmise that the world would never have had inventors and innovators. While the 21st-century societies are built on innovative minds for economies to grow and prosper, the race to produce these thinkers should not be hastily dependent on standardized education factories. In all aspects of the education curriculum, a creative custom-fit structure must serve as a main component.

A nation’s anxiety should not steer its people into partially unmapped territories, just as a booming economy should not prevent a nation from acting.

Neville Hew
Neville is a designer working with brands.
Neville Hew
Neville Hew

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