Creativity in the Caribbean (Cover Story) (Copyright ©2008)

Red Mango, March 2008

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The famous Spanish painter Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Without questioning Picasso’s remark, if you take a look around, you will notice creativity looms everywhere; in our homes, on the street, at our workplaces, and even at the local coffee shop. This publication you are now holding is profound evidence of creative expressions. The sheer richness of human creativity leaps off the pages in the form of art, words and photography. Like every great invention, it started with an idea. And every idea needs nurturing to become a valuable reality. The Caribbean is no different from Picasso’s native land, because here in the region, there is also an artist in every child. The question, however, is how do we cultivate those creative minds, rather than squander them.

The extent to which kids in the Caribbean explore their creative selves depends on the opportunities made available to them, and whether or not they have the creative freedom to make the most of their talents. That said, public education in the Caribbean has a lot to answer for.

In many ways, our Caribbean society is grappling with the residual effects of colonialisation, which blatantly manifests itself in our schools. Here, like in many other developing and developed countries, the education system was designed to produce lawyers, doctors and bankers. Unfortunately, it’s a system predicated on the idea of academic ability, with very little room for creative input.

In our society however, such a system creates the notion that a white-collar job is the high watermark of all human achievement. With this mentality, and without sufficient guidance at home or school, our kids are often forced to study subjects that they care very little for, rather than the ones they are passionate about.

Our parents and grandparents were victims of the system, and our children, if we do nothing about it, will lose touch with their creative sides just the same. Education is supposed to prepare our children for the future, by stimulating their development in all ways. This includes strengthening their creativity. With a lack of creative education in the school curriculum, in years to come, if those gifted kids pursue medicine, law or finance, who will produce our music, write our books or make our jewelry?

Artistic children with tremendous talent, restless minds and bodies are seldom encouraged for their energy and curiosity. Rather, they are ignored and sometimes stigmatized. These kids who yearn to fulfill their creative needs all share similar attributes. They are generally good with their hands. They ‘create’ things, and are able to grasp technical subjects a lot quicker than those of the academic curriculum. Because of this, more often than not, creative students fall under the categories of ‘hyperactive’, ‘uninterested in schoolwork’, or ‘indifferent’, when they are simply bored being trapped in a classroom when they would much prefer paint, play a musical instrument, or write a poem.

Instead of motivating our children to be creative thinkers our schools educate them out of their creative capacities. Where is the guidance in our Caribbean schools to cultivate the talents in our kids and help them be more creative? Why do our schools fail to acknowledge various types of intelligence to get the best out of their students?

It’s about time we realize that creativity is as important in education as literacy, and treat it with the same status. Art as a subject does not differ from other subjects such as mathematics, biology or history. Just as a qualified science teacher is employed to teach a science subject, so too should there be qualified arts teachers to teach art.

We need to create an education system that nurtures creativity in our youth rather than undermine it. But where do we start?

Creative teachers work best in a creative environment. The education establishment will help make teachers’ jobs a lot easier if it acts as a stimulant rather than a hindrance to teaching creatively. On the other hand, teachers may find it difficult to stimulate creative students if they are not creative themselves.

One of the best ways of teaching is to make learning fun, by integrating creative principles in other subjects. To become more creative is to learn more ways of thinking and behaving. This puts more responsibility on the students to think independently and stimulates them to develop ideas on their own.

Creative methods of teaching also allow students to think in the ways they experience the world; kinetically, abstractly, visually, through sound and touch, thus encouraging them to use their imagination for creative problem solving. When faced with difficult situations, they have a natural ability to separate facts from ideas; a skill that comes in handy to solve ordinary everyday problems.

Through other more exciting teaching techniques, students learn various skills, for instance, creating a story with pictures, using drawings to express feelings and translating those emotions through drama.

Interactive creativity teaches children the importance of working as a team, as well as communicating effectively. By collaborating on different assignments, these children grow to appreciate each other’s contributions put together to make a whole.

At the end of the school term, it would benefit students greatly if their creative skills are assessed alongside academic intelligence.

There is so much that can be gained from stimulating kids creatively and ultimately, we nurture confident, driven and good-natured children who find a healthy balance with home and school life.

Thankfully, a few independent schools across the region are beginning to take the lead introducing creative subjects to students from a very early age. One of the reasons for this is that parents, many of whom are artists in some way, govern the schools themselves. These parents have a vested interest in the educational well-being of their children, and are committed to provide a balanced learning environment for their kids.

The staff and parents involved understand the value of providing optimal developmental opportunities for children with overt as well as covert artistic tendencies.

While it’s true that creativity should be taken more seriously in schools, as it is an important element of an all-rounded education, parents too have a significant role to play. Creativity should form a fundamental part of home life, where parents assist their children in making the right decisions as regards to their talents.

Unlike our past generations, parents of today must not allow academic ability to dominate their view of intelligence. When kids show an interest in dancing or painting, they should not be steered away from their passion. On the contrary, they must be encouraged. Otherwise, the result is a new generation of talented, artistic, creative individuals who think that they are not, because everything they were ever good at was criticized and not valued.

Given the lack of formal education in arts and craft, many artists in the region are unable to maximize their full potential to compete in the world market, as they have very little understanding of aesthetics, technique and design processes; nor do they appreciate the potential uses of local materials which are widely available on the islands.

At a time when culture plays an important role in our Caribbean society, it seems pertinent that creativity and freedom of thought form part of the education process, rather than being strangled by it; for a creative industry adds to depth of culture.

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