Are Schooling and Innovation Mutually Exclusive?

Recently I was listening to a highly educated panel on television discussing the economics of the nation. The six gentlemen who made up the panel were all respected experts from various business and political fields, considered leaders of the country in opinion, possibly guiding national policy on these matters.
Economics is not usually riveting TV viewing for many, but I found this discussion interesting for a couple of reasons:
One: The panel were discussing solutions for the “current economic crisis”. This, to me, is always a problem somewhere. The solutions for economic issues seems to allude most individuals, families, businesses and governments much of the time across the world. There never is enough money to fix everything and never enough places to find it. It was the problem solving processes that interested me, of which this panel suggested and argued the pros and cons of many formulas that have worked in the past.
Two: One statement by a financial journalist on the panel that seemed to explain everything to them and everything to me for very different reasons.
At the end of a long discussion about education and how it’s failing (isn’t education always failing…I don’t know how we teachers and educators live with ourselves) he stated “…our score levels are down and we have no innovation”. The panel and audience seemed to think this explained it. Having low school test scores of course directly correlates with the problems of the world not being solved through innovation…right?
I don’t think so. I would go as far as to state that there is no correlation between school testing and innovation or problem solving.
Tests rarely measure anything other than skills and knowledge directly taught and used to produce a specific, proven answer. Schools normally use benchmark testing… where a student of a certain age or year level (cohort) should be with their knowledge and skill accumulation. Children who read well commonly do well at school testing as they are very confident about anything written on paper. However, problem solving on such tests is limited to maths problems and innovation is not required.
Even when studying at university, you write a paper or assignment, however, it must be back up endlessly by eminent people in your field. So the same solutions and same thinking is regurgitated, but you sound very intelligent and have proven that you can accumulate the required knowledge. I don’t know what happens when you come up with radical out-there theories as an undergraduate (I certainly never tried it!) but history is littered with brilliantly successful dropouts who could not quite fit the schooling mold but were highly valued achievers in life.
Recently I was chatting to a high school art teacher. We were discussing the loss of creativity in children and the need for ongoing play and open creative experiences with children. I shared a statement from “Wiseheart – The Forgotten Factor Of Success” (Phillip Baker) that “5% of adults show flair for creative thought. The percentage grows very slowly as we move down the age profile until age five when it soars over 60%”. She shared her first dealings with Year 7 students (moved up to high school this year in QLD). She said they had lost the ability to even choose a pencil to use when drawing, asking for constant instruction on which to use even when free drawing. Are we schooling the creativity and innovative thinking out of our children with constant instruction and content?
Don’t get me wrong, skills, knowledge and education are very powerful, but it is how the knowledge is used and how we educate that creates the power and change, combined with knowledge itself. I used to work with a woman who bragged about her ability to spell. “I have been able to spell “Mississippi” since I was very young” she said. I then asked her how many times she had spelt Mississippi in her life, outside a spelling test. Never, living in Australia, it was never required.
Academic knowledge is not the final step. To solve the BIG problems; meaningful content along with the alternate skill set of intuition, creativity, risk taking and playful thinking is required.
In a three year government cycle where make a wrong step you’re out, divergent thinking from the party or main are frowned upon and popularity is king, how can creative, innovative processes have time, room or support to develop?
If creative problem-solving and innovation are key to the BIG Issues, there has never been a more important time to support playful thinking throughout schooling, not just isolated to early childhood. We must make space and time for these attributes to grow, for our children will need all these and more to solve the many issues that are before society. Innovation, creativity, play need equal time with the so called “basics”- academic skills and knowledge.
The boxes we create to think in as adults have not formed around our children’s minds, so they don’t have to get “outside of the box” to think afresh. Help them retain this freedom of thought so they can achieve the required unique solutions to old, ongoing problems and “unknowns” of the future.

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