Education must unleash creativity, Graca Machel tells WISE

Education systems around the world must change to unleash young people’s creativity, Graca Machel, the Mozambican politician and widow of Nelson Mandela, told the World Innovation Summit for Education.

Speaking on the opening day of WISE, held from 4-6 November, she said that education systems were based on the needs and values of the 19th century when they should be based on those of the 21st century.

“This is about opportunities,” she said. “We need to change the way that we train teachers and give them the tools for the 21st century. That way we will close the gap between the developed and the developing world.”

Earlier Harvard academic Dr Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators: The making of young people who will change the world, said that teaching creativity was not an option but an essential component of education.

“In the past we have revered people with knowledge,” he said. But that was no longer true because of the internet.

“What matters now is not what you know but what you do with what you know.

“Increasingly I am encountering people who don’t trust the credentials that schools and colleges give out.”

Google had learned this the hard way. It used to recruit people with the highest scores from the best colleges but found that it did not hire the best people that way. So now Google hires people who can solve problems and work together.

Laboratory schools

The culture of schooling is at odds with the culture of learning, said Wagner, who is expert-in-residence at the Harvard Innovation Lab.

Schooling measures individual achievement when what is needed is team effort. It measures knowledge in discrete subjects when innovation happens at the boundaries of disciplines.

Moreover, the culture of the classroom is passivity and consumption. By contrast, teachers interested in innovation act as coaches to empower their students, he said.

The fear of failure creates a culture of compliance and risk aversion. “Innovation demands that you take risks and that you fail.”

Finally, today’s education systems rely on external incentives to motivate learners such as getting good grades or making money when we need internal incentives based on encouraging passion and purpose.

That means the outcomes used for assessment should be changed so that it is not only knowledge that is being tested but critical thinking, collaboration, communication and problem-solving.

Students should be given a digital portfolio containing their mastery of core competences.

Calling for spending on research and development, he said that laboratory schools should be established as exemplars of radically different forms of education. Students should be given a certain percentage of time to be the architects of their own learning, he said.

“Changing education is an economic necessity. We no longer have an industrial economy or even a knowledge economy. We have an innovation economy.”

Catch up with the century

Graca Machel said ministers of education around the world should be made aware of the WISE discussions.

“If decision-makers are not aware that they need to catch up with the century in which we are, then we will continue to build a world of inequality.

“Presidents and prime ministers have no clue what they have to do to transform their education systems. They will increase the gap between those with opportunities and those without.”

Change will take time, she said. You can only move as fast as you can train the teachers.