“It is vital that we encourage our children to think out of the box”

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By Education Today

Posted on January 14, 2021


10 min read

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It is vital that we encourage our children to think out of the box

Ms Surabhi Goel, CEO, Aditya Birla World Academy, Aditya Birla Education Academy and The Aditya Birla Integrated School in a conversation with Mahesh Kallayil of Education Today, shares her insight on the role and function of creativity and innovation in the educational domain and how it may be promoted through formal teaching.

As an educationalist, what do you think are the real objectives of education?

In the next decade, the workforce requirements will undergo a paradigm shift and we will need to equip our students with the necessary skill sets to be able to meet these demands. More than anything else, we will need to teach our children adaptability, empathy and resilience as life skills, and when it comes to personal skills – communication, problem-solving and risk-taking ability will be the key differentiators for a successful professional. Also our future citizens need to understand different cultural contexts (and how people with their differences can also be right) and to be sensitive towards the environment.

How will you define the relationship between education, creativity, socio-emotional skills and well-being?

Depression and mental health issues are expected to be the next pandemic. Thus the emphasis on well-being cannot be over emphasized. The schools have a pressing need to focus on the development of the socio emotional well-being of the learners. A happy and positive child will learn better and thrive in everything he or she does. We need to think of creative ways to merge academic rigor and mental health. For example, at our K-12 international school, Aditya Birla World Academy, we have created a yearly inter school event called the ‘Happy Place’. The idea behind this event is to make every child express themselves through a media that they are comfortable with without being judged. It could be expressing themselves through Art, Memes, Stand-up comic shows. This is one of the ways to marry creativity and socio emotional development of the child. No child can be ‘educated’ unless they grow up to be well balanced, empathetic and be an active listener.

Could you please define creativity and innovation in the educational context? What is its role and function in the educational domain and how it may be promoted through formal teaching?

Creativity for me is doing something new or original. It is vital that we encourage our children to think out of the box. There are several grave challenges that the planet is facing. These challenges would need our future generation to innovate and this can begin with small initiatives from home. The first step in creativity and innovation is the freedom to fail and to not be judged. Formal education is gradually allowing students to express their thoughts freely. As educationists, we need to support our students to become change makers and give them the platform to showcase their potential.

Please share your thoughts on Integration of culture education in the school curriculum

Fortunately for Indian students, diversity is a way of life. Most often we have students from different cultures and schools are the cultural melting pot of diversity.  We just need to help children extrapolate the same in a global context. I can think of two examples where we had to sensitize our students and help them think beyond race, ethnicity and cultural backgrounds.  Jain students are brought up as vegetarians and some of them believe that eating non veg is akin to committing a sin! This is obviously due to the conditioning. Similarly, we had a few students making fun of a Sikh student who would wear a turban to school. The school has to actively engage in conversations, cultural celebrations involving parents and the entire school community to make students understand that people with differences can all be right. Alongside with the parents, the school has to play an active role in establishing this.

What creative initiatives are used in the Indian schools?

A lot of international schools celebrate several national and international festivals which allow children to understand the significance of different cultures. Events like the United Nations day, International day are celebrated which is a celebration of different cultures and diversity. Children are encouraged to try new recipes and eat a variety of food, speak the local language and dress up. They are also asked to carry out research projects on the history and culture of a particular place. Often visitors from different backgrounds and sometimes even varied nationalities are invited to speak to children about foreign customs and traditions. But above all, children need to be brought up as global citizens. They need to be taught to think deeply that ultimately we are all humans irrespective of the geographical and political borders. The pandemic is a very significant example in this aspect. The pandemic will not end unless all the countries unite and work together for the eradication of the same. Children can be asked to reflect whether we can similarly unite to eliminate poverty and such other inequalities in the world.

Please tell us about ABEA and the concept behind its inception? What role does ABEA play for creativity and culture in education?

The Birla family has been in the education sector for nearly a 100 years. They have established world class schools and universities. With the expeditious change in the learning-teaching space, they realized that the teachers who are the foundation of all learning, need to be constantly upskilled. The need for teacher up-skilling and constantly innovative is more important now than ever with the recent changes that the NEP 2020 has proposed. It is important for teachers to go beyond content and text books and make classroom teaching a combination of developing knowledge, skills and attitudes. It is with this in mind that ABEA (Aditya Birla Education Academy) was conceptualized.

How are creative and cultural education relevant to raising academic standards?

Unfortunately, in India, high academic standards are often linked strictly with performance in the exams and achieving high scores. There is enough data to indicate that often meritorious students don’t necessarily achieve success in adult life. The life skills to succeed are communication, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. The learners need to learn to establish connections, work in teams, negotiate, become good listeners, think out of the box, reflect and reason in order to achieve the desired results. Today there is a large population of Indian students who choose to study abroad as the universities out there focus on overall student development through various student outreach programs, internships which help in all-rounded personality development. The need of the hour for institutions in Higher education in India is to give students more opportunities for engagement and develop creative skills.

How do we use the arts to develop students’ creativity in schools?

                  “The principal goal of Education is to create a man, who is capable of doing new things, 

                    not simply repeating what other generations have done, man who is creative, inventive 

                    and can discover” – J.P Guilford

India as a country has a rich heritage of Performing arts, Visual arts and writings. Creativity arises from a combination of Cognitive, Affective and Psychomotor domains and is the highest form of learning. The schools have to maintain a healthy balance between academic and non-academic activities for a truly enriching school experience. It is imperative that students with a creative bent of mind are encouraged and celebrated and given opportunities to showcase their talents and schools maintain a good balance of scholastic and the co-scholastic components of the timetable in a well-balanced manner especially in the higher classes. 

    How creativity skills can be visibly and tangibly articulated by teachers?

Creativity in classrooms is not restricted alone to the use of vibrant and colorful charts, teaching aids and other forms of expressions. Apart from that, creativity needs to be embraced even in academic delivery. Creativity arises from using varied forms of expressions both out of the teacher and the students – out of the box thinking, learning of new concepts, having varied forms of student assessments and teaching activities. Students’ problem-solving skills can be developed by giving them creative ways of applying the taught content in projects, assignments and formative forms of assessments and feedback. 

What are the constraints in developing more creative curriculum? 

Creativity can be considered subjective. It is often intangible and unscientific. There is no one size that fits all. Therefore, a school system struggles with assessments. The other issue is the student- teacher ratio. To engage students in a creative pursuit, there needs to be a more favorable student teacher ratio. In India, unfortunately, we often have 40 to 75 students in each class. Thus it is almost impossible for a teacher to engage meaningfully in any kind of creativity. Teaching methods which support creativity require more time and effort. Finally, the teachers are often woefully ill equipped to understand the nuances of teaching creatively. They need to be upskilled for the same. Also, the focus of curriculum delivery needs to change from a text -book content heavy approach. This can be done by having creative ways of curriculum planning and execution. 

What are, in your opinion, signature pedagogies to develop students’ creativity across school subjects?

Some of the terms that describe Creativity are Design, Assemble, Construct, Develop, Formulate, Investigate. When classroom activities are structured around these terms – this will foster students’ creative process and in turn help teachers develop the same. Well-meaning activities like Discovery learning, Play-based learning, Learning via problem solving, Learning via structural analysis are pedagogical approaches that will foster creativity across every subject area.

    What should be done to ensure constructing a creative climate education domain 

                   through partnerships of cultural agencies with schools?

What schools and managements need to understand is creativity is not restricted alone to Co-scholastic domains of Art, Music, Sports and other cultural pursuits. While it is becoming increasingly a trend for schools to hire external providers for Co-scholastic activities in the classroom it is important to nurture the talent and promote the same. In order to do so, students need platforms to exhibit talent apart from the regular school events in the form of government supported competitions and other forms of exposure. Schools need to encourage and partner with agencies that promote creativity. There are several avenues and partners that promote creativity like elocutions, debates, music, art, game-based competitions, STEM and STEAM activities to name a few.

                   How can governments support creativity in education?

The entire system of teaching, learning and testing needs to move away from fact and knowledge based testing to a more holistic approach. With the NEP 2020 – the government has taken its first steps towards doing something like that. Curriculum needs to focus on Interdisciplinary teaching, classroom activities need to be designed in a manner that excite, simulate and increase curiosity. The tests need to be more application based and text books need to be more activity based and not merely content and focus on research skills development. The government also needs to invest in teacher up-skilling and professional development in this area as this remains a challenge for all teachers as they are not used to these ways of teaching.