How to foster the creative playground

Greg Volz 

‘Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Creativity’ is the most-watched TED talk, ever. At last count, more than 14 million people have viewed the moving story of a girl born to dance, and of a school system that did not recognise that.

Sir Ken Robinson is one of the world’s leading speakers on education. He is widely quoted, talking about the importance of creativity.  However, for Robyn Ewing, Professor of Teacher Education and the Arts at Sydney University, that TED talk is just the starting point.

“It is all very well to give lip service to that, and indeed our Australian government does that,” she said.  The problem is that “we’re going in exactly the other direction in terms of what we are doing in classrooms.”

Ewing, Robyn

Robyn Ewing

Robyn was one of three panellists involved in the Creative Writing as Freedom, Education as Exploration discussion panel. Dr Debra Adelaide was the event facilitator. An associate professor at UTS, where she teaches creative writing, she is also vice-president of Sydney PEN, which presented the event yesterday.

Robyn Ewing writes and researches extensively on teaching and learning. Her latest book, published this year, goes to the heart of the topic. Creative Arts in the Lives of Young Children: Play, Imagination, Learning. She said the signs coming out of our schools are not good.

“There’s a whole lot of research that is emerging and has been emerging for the last 12 months, about the pressures teachers are feeling to perform to the parameters of things like the Naplan test.

“Children get 35 to 40 minutes to do writing which is very much marked on spelling and punctuation. I don’t know how well you write creatively, but I can’t do much in 35 to 40 minutes.”

Children’s author Libby Gleeson agreed. “A lot of what we do in schools now limits creativity,” she said. “There are practices, because of testing, and a focus on testing certain qualities, that limit the amount of time that can be spent.”

She was keen to point out she is not an educationalist. Her experience comes from 28 years of writing children’s literature, including the evergreen Hannah Plus One.  She has also published a number of writing guides, including Writing Like a Writer.

For Libby, creative writing in schools is a must because it helps develop a capacity for independent thought. “I put it up there very firmly because I think it is a way for self-discovery,” she said. “As a person who lives that way, when I start writing, I don’t know how it will end.”

Libby Gleeson

Libby Gleeson

Teya Dusseldorp, head of the Dusseldorp Skills Forum, was the third member of the panel. She is also on the board of the Sydney Story Factory. Based in Redfern, the Factory was set up as a place where children get free help from an army of volunteers, to write stories of all kinds.

In one sense, it is filling a gap. “There are a lot of kids that just don’t get the opportunity,” said Teya. “They can’t be all things for all kids, but they end up being for the kids who have a love of words and stories.”

With three voices coming together, advocating Creative Writing as Freedom, was there a danger that the panel could be an exercise in violent agreement?

“We might be preaching to the converted,” Professor Robyn Ewing said. “So perhaps the conversation might be to ask what are we going to do about it?”

Teya Dusseldorp

Teya Dusseldorp