Why is Creativity Important in Education?

At its core, creativity is the expression of our most essential human qualities: our curiosity, our inventiveness, and our desire to explore the unknown. As we navigate an increasingly complex and changing world, promoting creativity in education is more important than ever before.

Emily Veno
March 24, 2023

Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community

The Importance of Creativity

We are all creative people, whether you think of yourself as creative or not. It takes creative thinking to paint a picture, but it also takes creative thinking to figure out the right formula to use in a spreadsheet, to invent a twist on a chocolate chip cookie recipe, or to plan a birthday party. But some people are more practiced and comfortable in the creative process than others.

At its core, creativity is the expression of our most essential human qualities: our curiosity, our inventiveness, and our desire to explore the unknown. Using creativity, we are able to push the boundaries of what is possible, imagine new worlds, and find solutions to the most pressing problems facing our society.

In a world where automation looms to take over all but the most innovative tasks—ones that truly require unique thinking—how can we make sure the next generation is capable of creatively solving these problems? We founded Prisma precisely because we were concerned traditional forms of education weren’t up to the challenge of creating future innovators.

In this post, we will explore the importance of creativity in the education system, the role of creativity in students' emotional development, and the ways in which it can be taught.

Creativity in Education

Despite the vital role creativity plays in our lives, it is often undervalued and neglected in our educational system. We are taught to memorize facts and figures, follow rules and procedures, and conform to the expectations of others. This approach may produce technically proficient students, but it fails to cultivate the spirit of creativity at the heart of true innovation.

In a rapidly evolving world with increasing automation, the ability to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions to problems is critical. This is particularly true in education, where fostering creativity can help students develop important critical thinking skills, as well as prepare them for the 21st-century workforce.

Creativity=Critical Thinking

“There’s no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would forever be repeating the same patterns.” -Edward de Bono

What does creativity have to do with critical thinking? At its core, creativity is about problem-solving. This is a skill becoming increasingly important right now as the world rapidly changes. To keep up with these changes, young people need to be able to come up with creative ways to solve problems, and be able to adapt to new situations quickly.

At Prisma, learners engage in a workshop called Collaborative Problem-Solving twice per week. These workshops might involve a critical thinking simulation, like when learners had to choose which businesses to invest in, Shark Tank style; or a science simulation where they had to figure out how to power a city using a combination of resources. In real life, much of creative problem solving happens in teams, yet in many traditional schools, kids are asked to solve problems on their own.

To build the form of creativity that leads to innovative thinking, learners need complex, interesting problems to solve. Education needs to figure out ways to design these kinds of authentic problems to prepare learners to succeed.

Creativity & Social Emotional Skills

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time.” -Mary Oliver

One of the benefits of creativity is the role it can play in the development of emotional intelligence. As mentioned above, creativity is an essential part of what it means to be human. It feels good to make something and be proud of it! When learners are given the opportunity for creative expression, it can help them develop their self-esteem and build confidence.

Prisma learners complete a creative project every 6 weeks based on our interdisciplinary learning themes, and present their final projects during a celebratory “Expo Day.” LaShonda S., a Prisma parent, described how making a creative project for the first time impacted her son this way: “His sense of pride and accomplishment has gone through the roof. He has told all of our family and friends about his podcast.”

Building students’ creativity isn’t just about the warm and fuzzy feelings, though. Going through a creative process is tough, and can build resilience, grit, and tenacity. It’s much easier to follow step-by-step instructions than it is to brainstorm, ideate, and iterate on your own idea. Creative projects can help kids learn to take risks and embrace failure, which is always an important part of the creative process.

In addition, creativity can help students develop important social skills. When learners work on creative projects together, they learn to collaborate and communicate effectively. This is an important skill for the 21st-century workforce, where teamwork and collaboration are essential. Since Prisma is a virtual school, our learners go even further, learning how to collaborate on creative projects virtually with young people all over the world, much like many adults do in their jobs today.


Role of Creativity in the Education System

The education system has not always prioritized creativity. In fact, many education systems around the world have placed a greater emphasis on rote learning and standardized testing than on creativity and innovation.

Chen Jining, the president of Tsinghua University in China, once described the dichotomy between “A students” And “X students.” “A students” were those who followed all the rules, achieved excellent grades from kindergarten through high school, and aced standardized tests. Jining noticed what these Chinese students often lacked, however, was an aptitude for risk taking, trying new things, and “defining their own problems rather than simply solving the ones in the textbook.” (Mitchell Resnick, Lifelong Kindergarten). The kind of creative people who could do those things could be thought of as “X students.”

High-achieving students who lack creativity are a major problem for any society who wants to solve problems, invent solutions, and innovate. What kind of learning environment might create a society of “X students” rather than just “A students”?

Creative Thinkers in Education

Fortunately, there are many educators and thinkers working to promote creativity in education. Sir Ken Robinson made a splash when he argued in a highly popular TedTalk and other writing & speeches that traditional education systems kill creativity.

Prisma’s curriculum was inspired by Seymour Papert, a mathematician and computer scientist who was a pioneer in the field of educational technology. Papert believed technology could be used to promote creativity and empower students to learn in new and innovative ways. He also believed creativity was a key component of the learning process, and that students should be given the freedom to explore and experiment to develop their creative thinking skills. His philosophy that learners learn most when engaged in a process of “hard fun” inspired the design of Prisma’s engaging curriculum themes & creative projects.

Another influential thinker in the field of creativity in education is Peter Gray, a psychologist and author who has written extensively on the importance of play and creative expression in children's lives. Gray argues play and creativity are essential for children's emotional and cognitive development and that schools should prioritize these activities to promote social skills and academic success.

Assessing Creativity

Unlike standardized tests, which (arguably) provide a clear measure of students' knowledge and understanding, creativity is more difficult to assess. This prompts some educators to dismiss its importance. However, there are ways to measure creativity, such as through creative projects and assessments focusing on problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Before joining the founding team of Prisma, I researched creative assessment at Harvard. We discovered strategies such as assessing the process as well as the final product, allowing opportunities for peer & family feedback, and incorporating self-assessment and self-reflection helped reliably assess students’ creativity.

4 Ways to Teach Creativity

So how can teachers and homeschool parents foster creativity?

  1. Design a creative classroom environment, or make your home workspace more creatively inspiring. Of course, at a baseline, a creative learning environment may include materials like art supplies, building blocks, and maker tools, but kids can also be creative with digital tools like Procreate, TinkerCad, Canva, and plain old pen and paper. Remember, creativity is about ideas, not materials!
  2. Provide opportunities for brainstorming, encouraging students to come up with their own ideas. Instead of deciding in advance what learners will create and what the steps will be, consider coming up with the project together, or letting learners design their own. At Prisma, learners get multiple options each cycle for projects they can complete, and also have the opportunity to propose and design their own projects.
  3. Foster a creative mindset. This involves encouraging students to take risks and embrace failure, and helping them understand creativity is a process, not a product. At Prisma, this looks like using badges instead of traditional grades, and offering lots of opportunities for kids to reflect on not only what they made, but what they learned along the way. Don’t just give praise for what a learner completed, but their behavior during the process: for example, “I noticed how you changed your idea after you got peer feedback, what a great creative mindset!” instead of “Your drawing is really good!”
  4. Teach creative thinking skills explicitly. This can involve teaching students how to brainstorm effectively, how to find a creative flow state, and how to give & get feedback on their ideas. At Prisma, we use design thinking frameworks and teach learners the steps.

So what happens when schools decide to emphasize these strategies? Kids can do amazing things! As one Prisma parent describes, “This year, my 10 year old designed her own ecosystem in TinkerCAD, started her own business with a functioning website, served as "Swedish Ambassador to the UN council" where she debated how to resolve the Syrian refugee crisis, coded her own game to educate others on Audio-Sensory-Processing-Disorder, and wrote her own fairy tale.”

Creativity is a critical component of education in the 21st century. By promoting creativity, you can help students develop important problem-solving and critical thinking skills, as well as foster their emotional and social development. While there are challenges to promoting creativity in the education system, there are also many educators and thinkers who are working to make creativity a priority in education. As we navigate an increasingly complex and changing world, promoting creativity in education is more important than ever before.

More Resources for Creative Education

Our Guide to Design Thinking For Kids

Our Guide to Entrepreneurship For Kids

Our Guide to Curiosity in Education

Our Guide to Interdisciplinary Education

Our Guide to Real-World Education

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