Is education killing our creative minds?
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Is education killing our creative minds?

The more we become conditioned to reject 'wrong' ideas, the less ability we have to create

Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” In other words, creativity and talent is something every individual is born with. Some succeed and some fail trying to recognise what their strengths are and how to act on them. Sometimes when we go against what we are meant to be or do, we become someone we aren’t pleased with, and that leads to despair.

I recall a TED Talk by a speaker who told a story about an eight-year-old girl who was viewed as a problem student because she was incapable of sitting still and focusing in class. Her mother sought medical assistance for her child’s “issue” and the doctor suggested a private consultation. Before leaving the room, the doctor turned on the radio. Soon afterward, the child began to dance. Observing through the window, the doctor told the mother that her child was not sick, she was a dancer. 

Isn’t it easy to point fingers and criticise those who aren’t on the same page as you? Just like that, the child’s school had portrayed her negatively, assumed she had a behavioural problem or a cognitive impairment. That child, Gillian Lynne, grew up to be one of the world’s most successful choreographers, famed for her work on Cats and Phantom of the Opera, among others.

This story illustrates dramatically the importance of understanding and using our creative capacity for the riches it contains, rather than wasting it on something we aren’t cut out for. 

Did you know that from the day you are born, your brain is full of wild thoughts and inventive imagination that play a part in your actions? According to a test devised by Nasa scientists, 98% of children are born creative, but as we grow older that figure drops. By adulthood, the number of creative individuals is very low. 

Divergent vs Convergent

This is due to the fact that we generate ideas in our mind in two ways: divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Divergent thinking is free-flowing and non-linear, allowing us to explore novel ideas and solutions, whereas convergent thinking involves coming up with a “correct” answer after we have tested, criticised or evaluated the information. We are taught to use both types of thinking together, and they end up competing with one another. 

Imagine yourself thinking of new possibilities, while at the same time you are already judging your thoughts and criticising them without even letting them truly come to light. If this describes how you think, it’s because you and millions of others have been conditioned by our education system to believe that being “wrong” is the worst outcome. When we generate thoughts or ideas that don’t “fit”, they are automatically rejected. 

Just imagine how many artists, people with creative minds and talent have had their hopes and dreams dashed and their potential wasted because the “system” doesn’t guide them. Instead, they are told to adapt themselves to follow the path that is “right”; if not, they will be considered failures.

A teacher’s job isn’t just to convey information to students, to be a mere delivery system. Instead, a teacher should be a guru and mentor, someone who can inspire and stimulate people to think and learn. Being “educated” means gaining knowledge through teaching, but real learning is the acquisition of knowledge gained through experience and requires teachers to engage people and spark their curiosity. 

The Right Balance

Having been in the learning and development business for some time now, I have thought long and hard about how to help people realise their potential. The lifelong learning ecosystem at my company offers diverse programmes through YourNextU, providing individuals with context and understanding of potential impediments to creative thinking and innovation. Armed with that awareness, learners can come up with strategies to explore their possibilities and the areas in which they might have been stifled in the past. 

More and more employers in today’s world are looking for people with creativity. According to MarketWatch, it is now the number one career skill wanted in workforces. Fostering creativity in students is vital because they will be entering an increasingly uncertain and complex world. However, it has been a challenge for educators to encourage this change and find the right balance between completing projects and the essence of inspiring artistry. 

We are accustomed to being disciplined in school or in college, as we are used to making decisions and evaluating ideas. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But teachers should also take into consideration the value of real learning and the nature of talent as they guide young people toward the future.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC - Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at or Explore and experience our lifelong learning ecosystem today at

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