The State of Creativity in Education

Story by Libby Judge

Faculty of Education, 2018

Have Schools Killed our Creativity?

Creativity could be defined as the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, or relationships, in order to create meaningful new ideas, methods, and interpretations. Experts in the field of creativity, including Sir Ken Robinson, believe that our schools have killed creativity.

Jane Winnie was an art educator at Wellington Teachers’ College and Victoria University of Wellington for over thirty years, retiring in 2017, so I caught up with her to see what her thoughts were on the state of creativity in education in New Zealand.

The Autonomy of Teaching in Days Gone By

As a budding teenage artist, Jane Winnie chose a career in teaching for the promise of autonomy, in a time when making a living as an artist was virtually unheard of. For three years from 1958 to 1961, Winnie learnt the art of ‘growing’ a student, rather than ‘teaching’ them, at the College. Art was the favoured method to do this, with little emphasis on the formal instruction of reading, writing, and maths.

A Return to College

After spending twenty-five years teaching in schools and specialising as an arts teacher, Jane returned to Wellington Teachers’ College in 1986, this time as an art educator. Two other art teachers were hired at the same time, as a political shift had sparked a revival in the value of art and creativity in schools.

Along with the core art subjects taught at the College, teachers could offer any electives they wanted, and as long as 15 students enrolled, the course was funded by the Ministry of Education. Students had to attain a minimum number of credits with no maximum limit, and the staff quickly found that some students were acquiring nearly double the number of necessary credits (ludicrous, I know). Trips to Bali to learn traditional batik, Cook Island trips, and wearable art classes were just a few of the options on offer. The staff worked holistically across departments to put on big productions, and classes worked to design the costumes and sets.

Classrooms Today

As I listened to Jane tell me of all these amazing endeavours, I reflected on my own experiences as a teacher, saddened to have missed out on a time when New Zealand took such a holistic and wholesome approach to education.

When asked about the current state of creativity in education, Jane comments that she thinks the system has suffocated it. “Teachers measure progress based on ticking a set of boxes, and there’s no time for creativity,” she says, “it’s too controlled”.

A Creative Revival?

A recent change of government and the subsequent withdrawal of the failed National Standards initiative have left educators questioning what will take its place. I asked Jane whether she thought another resurgence of enthusiasm for the arts was a possibility, and I think these wise words seem fitting to leave as her taonga to the future generations of teachers at Victoria.

“At the end of the day,” she says, “it’s up to us as a community to get around our schools and support the initiatives in creativity taking place … Change starts from the ground up. Find people that share your ideas, gather a few more, and persuade those around you. Art is a tool that we use to decipher the world around us, and a future without art is bleak for all of us”.

The School of Education

Waiteata Rd, Wellington, New Zealand