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January 18, 2019

Without creativity, success in school is not possible

Creativity drives progress. It is vital to our success and well-being. It guarantees our very survival. Without human ingenuity, the advancement of human condition is not possible. Yet, the value of creativity is often not recognised. Why and what to do?


What is creativity? In his book ‘Why So Stupid?’ the world’s authority on creativity, Dr Edward de Bono, stresses that creativity is not artistic creativity. Creativity is the ability to think.

It is our capacity to generate new ideas, ideas that bring change and improvement. Albert Einstein called creativity ‘true intelligence’.

Creativity can be referred to as innovation, resourcefulness, or thinking ‘outside the box’. Significantly, it is a skill that can be taught and learned.


Why creativity is important? Problems and challenges always arise in our daily and professional lives.

Creativity is our capacity to solve problems.

If we solve them effectively, we are successful. Creative, we see opportunities, we are better leaders, better entrepreneurs; we are more employable.

We are even ‘cleverer’ academically. We thrive and flourish.

Leading economists say that nations’ wealth is generated by people with ideas (List, Marshall, Schumpeter). UNESCO, European Union, and the Commonwealth report that creativity is essential to the transformation of lives and societies.

‘America has always been about innovation and thus has been successful’, says US President Barack Obama.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a world’s leading business/education collaboration, says that creativity a key skill young people need in order to succeed in the 21st century.


Creativity in schools. Surely, schools should try to make our children more creative. Alarmingly, this is not the case. Education that fosters creativity is currently limited, if not absent, in many schools.

Dr Ken Robinson, another creativity expert, says that “schools educate children out of creativity”, destroying 75 per cent of children’s inborn creativity.

Universities, he adds, get rid of the other 25 per cent. As a result, the majority of us never learn to think, says De Bono. Instead, we learn to recognise and put information in boxes. In 1970, researchers Beth Jarman and George Land tested a large group of children.

Aged 5, 98 per cent of them displayed strong creativity. Aged 25, only two per cent were as creative.

Entering the workforce, young people lacking creativity become unproductive and lose advantages.

In Africa, demand for ‘talent’ - how people who solve problems effectively are sometimes called - ‘outstrips supply and threatens economic growth’ (Ernst & Young, 2013).

Six million young people aged 18-25 in Kenya, are currently unemployed.

Significantly, ‘only 5 hours of creativity workshops given to unemployed youth increases their employment rate 5 folds’ (De Bono, 2003).

Creativity must be at the center of education. The Industrial Revolution model of schooling - that prepared workers rather than thinkers - is outdated.

Technology has radically changed the rules. In the ‘innovation’ economy of the 21st century, the ability to think creatively is essential.


MASK. Eight years ago I established Mask, a charity that trains young people for creativity and innovation in Kenyan schools.

Mask’s education model was presented at UNESCO in Paris and Seoul, at leading universities, in press, and even at the White House in Washington DC.

In primary schools, Mask runs weekly Creativity Clubs. Through art, we teach children to be imaginative and inventive.

In secondary schools, combining art and creative thinking strategies, we run practical hands-on Creativity for Leadership and Entrepreneurship programmes.

We have seen how the lives of young people are enriched by creativity.

“Mask developed my habit for innovating”, says Hellen Githuri, 23, from a small village in Laikipia. In college, she designed a new drug that the college plans to patent. Within three months after finding a job at a pharmaceutical company in Nairobi, Hellen was promoted to manage a whole team. She credits her success to her ability to ‘think outside the box’.

Since finishing school, Joel Gatua, 22, who was Hellen’s classmate, started several successful start-ups. “Mask made me an entrepreneur”, he says.

Seeing how creativity affects his life, he began teaching ‘goodness of art’ to children and parents at his local school. Noticing his leadership skills, elders invited him to their meetings: “Joel, tell us your good ideas that can improve our community”.

“I love creative thinking!” he exclaims. “But before Mask came, I did not know I was creative”, he worryingly adds.

Mask also set up the Mask Prize, an annual competition to promote creativity on a national scale.

The Star is its media partner. Seven prizes totalling Sh.290,000 will be awarded in Nairobi on 26 May. Submissions are now open!

Enter before 1 May on: Encourage your children and schools to participate.


How can art training at school help people to be successful in later life? As Mask’s main teaching method is art, I am often asked ‘how can art training at school help people to be successful in later life?’

Creativity is visual thinking. Eighty five per cent of all our thinking is mediated through vision. In children it is even higher.

Ninety nine per cent of discoveries made by Nobel Prize scientists began as images. Albert Einstein said that images, not numbers and words, played the most significant role in his thinking.

Creative people have highly advanced visual system (observation and visualisation skills). Art develops our visual system, advancing our thinking and thus helping us to succeed.

The landmark report of the US President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities shows a strong link between art education and a child’s achievement in adult life.

Children who are educated in schools with meaningful art training become much more successful in adult lives than children who go to schools with no art (‘Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools’, 2012)

Dr Manu Chandaria, a Kenyan leading industrialist, a highly creative and successful man, said at a Mask’s event recently: “Survival in the 21st century will be very difficult, and without creativity it is not possible.”

The question is how many of us realise this?


Alla Tkachuk MSc, an artist and scientist, established ‘creative clubs’ in Kenyan schools that led to the training and advancement of young people in Kenya and beyond.

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