I have developed the fervour of the converted for the educational potential of Twitter. With some judicious navigating of the Twittersphere, it is possible to find truly interesting links authored globally with a global audience. This week I was greatly struck by a blog written by Maria Popova, notable for her association with Brainpicker, a hugely popular Twitter feed. Ms Popova’s blog presents a case for creativity which is far removed from the tortured muse concept of popular mythology: “To create is to combine existing bits of insight, knowledge, ideas, and memories into new material and new interpretations of the world, to connect the seemingly dissociated, to see patterns where others see chaos.”
She cites as evidence a range of individuals who have worn the mantle of genius status because of their creativity: “Creativity is just connecting things,” Steve Jobs proclaimed. “Science,” Darwin recognised, “consists in grouping facts so that general laws or conclusions may be drawn from them.” “Substantially all ideas are second-hand,” Mark Twain observed, “consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, and daily used by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them.”
The same day I read this blog there was a report from the BBC on the rigours of the Chinese examination system. From Shanghai the reporter focused on the students’ work ethic (6 hours of homework every night at least) and the huge competition for places at the top universities. Such was the perceived pressure and importance of the examination system that traffic was literally stopped in Shanghai during the examination sessions to reduce any possible distraction for the anxious students. Whilst western countries applaud the work ethic and success of the Chinese system, interestingly there are growing concerns in China that their examination driven system educates a nation of doers. China is suffering from a mounting creativity deficit which could in the future impact on its global economic position.
Maria Popova’s view of creativity as a synthesis between old and new ideas offers a powerful model for China. Just imagine the potential of a nation combining Chinese drive and ambition with a facility to create? Just imagine what this could mean to the UK? As a nation with a great history of creativity in a range of disciplines, and living in a city which is renowned for innovation, we are well placed to compete with and contribute to the development of the new global players. Policy makers beware – to lose sight of the global picture and to refocus our educational vision on Gradgrind principles, is to fly in the face of the Chinese experience. As a Chinese Government minister commented when challenged on the slow pace of change in its educational system, 2000 years of Han Culture will take time to change. At least we have a head start.