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Thinking outside the box - June 17, 2012

Learning through art in school is not aimed at producing artists but to educate young people for the art of living.

Learning through art in school is not aimed at producing artists but to educate young people for the art of living.

The predominant schooling method currently used in Malta is the transmission model. This is a one-way, largely authoritarian process. In a typical classroom the teacher is in charge and has the authority to assess learning according to how well students meet his or her expectations. The teacher ‘delivers’ the lesson and ensures the class is ‘managed’ as efficiently as possible.

Schools train us to aim for a single, correct solution to a problem, whereas creativity demands divergent thinkers- Marika Tabone, Natasa Pantovic

The teacher is backed by a whole system of demands, stimuli, punishments and measuring devices. Knowledge is packaged and measured in terms of how well students memorise textbooks, pass tests, follow standards and obtain high grades, just to mention a few examples.

Critics of this learning process complain about the model’s narrow vision of the learning process and its effects on students’ motivation and personality. This does not mean a degree of transmission is not beneficial. On the contrary, even in most alternative educational approaches, transmission is necessary to convey factual knowledge about the world.

A crucial question that needs to be addressed by alternative models of education is what cultural, political, religious, social or intellectual values, if any, are of significance and should be passed on students and in what ways?

Alternative schools try to integrate transmission-based learning into a more interactive approach. Teachers and students in such schools set out on the scholastic journey together, and the teacher is as involved in the creative learning process as the children.

A focal part of the teacher’s task is to understand the needs of each child, and cultivate the development of a real spirit of sharing and community within the class. Rudolf Steiner, who laid the principles on which Waldorf schools today are based, once said education should be based on three forces – the need for imagination, a sense of truth and a feeling of responsibility.

The followers of this educational model maintain that the social and moral learning that takes place in childhood is as important as the academic. When surrounded by a loving, structured environment, and with the encouragement of their peers and educators, children develop their strengths while working at their difficulties.

Learning through the arts promotes multiple skills and abilities and nurtures the development of cognitive, social and personal competencies. It stimulates their creative powers and ability to come up with innovative ideas when facing the unknown. In doing so the child must develop judgment and a sense of form and space.

It is important to note that learning through art in school is not aimed at producing artists but to educate young people for the art of living.

Education can no longer be confined to the classroom; students need to venture out into the world and learn from their environment. Education has to be a wholesome experience.

In the traditional schooling method children undergo a lot of unnecessary pressures. They are compelled to focus on subjects in a closed environment, to sit for long periods, to memorise lessons, to study hard to get high grades. However, if we carefully observe our children they are communicating and showing their discomfort all the time.

Teachers say some children in their class are slow learners and at the same time are very creative. Unfortunately these stu­dents cannot adapt to the schooling environment they are obliged to follow.

The current solution to deal with this phenomenon is to employ facilitators to assist these children. But the curriculum and the learning environment re­mains un­changed. This system is creating adults who are well prepared academically but lack logical and innovative thinking and problem-solving skills when faced with challenges.

Creativity refers to the invention of any new thing that has value. Someone creative has the ability to learn from traditional ideas and create new ones.

To be creative we have to choose to be different from everyone else. Learning the skill of creativity is about learning to challenge the existing, learning to trust one’s idea, and working hard to change the world that is by default stuck in the space of ‘conventional’.

Moving from imitating and copying, to innovating and using our talents wherever we are can take time. First we need to master the particular skill: musicians have to know the rhythm, architects should know engineering con­cepts, artists must learn about colours and shades, writers must have the knowledge of grammar. Then we need to open our minds to the possibility of being different accepting our uniqueness.

When we use our imagination to develop a new idea, the idea is inevitably structured in a predictable way, following already existing concepts. Our schools train us to think as convergent thinkers, aiming for a single, correct solution to a problem, whereas creativity demands divergent thinkers who generate multiple answers to a problem because the aim is to mediate inspiration from the unknown, to create something new.

Incubation may aid creative problem-solving, because it enables ‘forgetting’ of existing clues. We are constantly bombarded by ‘solutions’ so creative minds need to stay isolated from the formulas given by society, seeking for the answers in most unpredictable places.

‘Learning by doing’ was the learning philosophy of a number of alternative school pioneers. In their approach a mind should not be thought to passively observe the world, but instead constantly test hypotheses to actively manipulate the environment. The expansion of mind happens when we are open to the new possibilities, when we learn how to be inspired by nature and music and by most versatile forms of art.

So our children should be staging concerts, working on their own newsletters, and building robots, not taking standardised tests. They should be exploring the most diverse flora of knowledge of different cultures: Native Ame­rican tales, African music, Chinese calligraphy; they should be involved in individual and co-operative games from an early age, cherishing time for play, singing, dancing, acting, playing chess, gardening, lear­ning music; they should be exploring clay and beeswax modelling and constantly seeking innovative ways of expression.

Separating education from life and viewing it only as a skills-training for future professions has become obsolete in today’s world. Viewing creativity as an essential part of education will bring ‘life’ back into the curriculum.

Our children’s emotional intelligence, the expansion of their mind-set, their capability to interact with the world are all closely linked to understanding this magic of the ‘divine inspiration’ of creativity.

If these ideas resonate with you or if you are a parent interested in this type of education for your children e-mail [email protected].

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