Academic Inflation – How Education is Robbing you of Creativity

“Even a circus lion learns to sit in front of the whip, but you call such a lion well-trained, not well-educated”. This idea is taken from the thought-provoking film, 3 Idiots, and it makes a poignant comment on how unimaginative schooling systems are breeding generations of well-trained automatons.

The issue of hierarchical and test-based education systems is one that has been discussed and critiqued widely in recent years. The structure of this system is attributed to an anti-chronological process of thought: In order to get a certain job, I need a degree; to get a degree, I need to do well at university; in order to get into university, I need a prescribed number of A’s, and so on. It is easy to see how this way of thinking drains all creativity out of schooling. Sixteen years of learning become nothing more than a glorified checklist in pursuit of employment. The only thing more dangerous than this problem is the innumerable students who have no idea that it is happening to them.


Are books coming before creativity?


In 1958, a series of creative tasks were conducted with around 400 children by Professor E. Paul Torrence. The purpose of these tasks was to develop a way to measure creative aptitude. The progress and success of the subjects was tracked into adulthood, and it was accurately predicted that children with higher levels of simultaneous divergent and convergent thinking would be significantly more successful in their careers. Since then, the “Torrance tasks” have become the recognised standard for judging CQ – creativity quotient. According to a Newsweek article, over 300,000 scores were analysed recently, and the results were more than disheartening. While IQ scores tend to rise with every generation, CQ scores have been dropping rapidly since 1990. This is attributed mainly to the structure of schooling from a young age, and how too much emphasis is placed on academics and left-brain dominated subjects.

Sir Ken Robinson, a highly respected author, speaker and educational advisor in the arts coined the term ‘academic inflation’ in a TED talk in 2006. The talk was about the state of national education systems and how they ‘educate out’ creativity from childhood. Robinson describes academic inflation as being similar to economic inflation. Fifty years ago, having a degree meant a guaranteed job. In 2014, an undergrad means very little and one needs at least a postgraduate degree to have any hope of a decent occupation. One can never be too educated, but global population growth rates and lack of jobs have created a frenzied environment in which students are pressured to produce high results as opposed to unique thought.

In the competitive global job market today, employees need to be more creative and adaptable than ever. As is said in Newsweek, a recent survey of 1,500 CEOs “identified creativity as the No. 1 ‘leadership competency’ of the future”. It is paradoxical, then, that our entire learning lives should, to quote Robinson, “educat[e] people out of their creative capabilities”. When finally, after years of institutionalised conformist thinking, we have reached the stage of having employment, we now have to teach ourselves to be unique again; to forget most of what the last twenty years taught us was important. For many creative people, it is easy to wonder if a degree is worth that ordeal.

A study was conducted last year in conjunction with Adobe, in which 4,000 Matric or higher teachers, as well as parents were surveyed about creativity in the classroom. An overwhelming majority agreed that “fostering creativity in education today will fuel the economies of the future.” The top concerns of many parents and teachers were that the education system doesn’t value creativity and that schools don’t allow enough time for creative learning. In addition to this, they agreed that the greatest hindrance to creativity is an “education system that is too reliant on testing”. Testing does little more than to unfairly reward those with good memories and quick thinking, and yet it is the prominent standard of assessment at almost all levels of public schooling.

While tertiary education is vital for some, there is a lot that can be said for those who weren’t taught to think like the rest of the herd. Many revered icons, such as Quentin Tarantino and Mark Zuckerberg, never studied or dropped out of studying towards their degrees. They simply didn’t need them. University is a valuable tool for many people, but being uninfluenced by an academic mind frame often fosters creative thinking and fresh ideas. Hundreds of millionaires with unique visions would support this claim.

Parents, teachers, psychologists, educationalists and employers all seem to agree that creativity is vital for the successful future of our world. And yet, the powers that dictate structure do not seem to be coming to the party. Creative and academic exploration need to be valued equally, and time-based testing assessments should gradually become a thing of the past. Once that has happened, the imagination of future generations might know no limits.