“The lack of creativity among Singaporeans is due largely to the need to conform, and the fear of failure” (No Template For Creativity, Mr. Tan Jiaqi).
The letter “No Template For Creativity” (December 18, 2010) by Mr. Tan Jiaqi makes the excellent observation that the considerable absence of creativity among Singaporeans stem not merely from the pressures within classrooms, but also from socio-economic circumstances. Far from being an exclusive Singaporean problem, educators around the world are beginning to recognise that the international education system – one that emphasises rote-learning and the regurgitation of information in tests and examinations – is stifling young minds and limiting the application of creative methodologies. The situation is far more pronounced in Singapore – especially with our limited manpower – where parents and students’ expectations are premised upon the need to be economically-productive in the future, fuelled by materialism and pragmatism.
Conformity is encouraged from the moment a child enters primary school. Not only are they exposed to standardised assessments and pressures in the form of competition and academic excellence, they are also forced to go through an academic framework which places disproportionate emphasis on memorisation and rigid teaching-learning processes. A child who is interested in arts and craft, in music, or in sports has little avenues to explore these areas. Creativity is almost non-existent, as pedagogies focus more on the transfer of information, rather than imparting skills or encouraging interactivity.
The national formula of education needs a drastic reshuffle. Over the years, teachers and parents should have gradually comprehended that harshly penalising a student or child for faring badly in a standardised examination has generated unwanted ramifications. People see no need to challenge the status quo because of its track record; yet they do not see how the have-nots have been struggling to keep up with unrealistic standards and expectations. Our society treats differences with disdain, and expects everyone to turn out exactly the same; even though we truthfully know that it is an impossible ideal. The message: not every kid is meant to be an academic, and should not be educated like one.
The problem is compounded when education is seen merely as a means to an end; the end being landing a good job, and relishing in the comforts of wealth and material gains. For instance, while co-curricular activities and leadership boards were instituted to help students further their interests and have a hand in organising events and conventions, many have become obsessed with beefing up their curriculum vitae and portfolios, so as to “look good” in scholarship and college applications. Even something like community service has been abused for personal, pragmatic purposes.
Creativity will only be achieved when an individual is given the freedom and liberty to play to his strengths, and interest himself with endeavours or areas that he is passionate and talented in. The true measure of a student comes with the application of what he has learnt; combined with what he truly enjoys and excels in. And the institution’s role? To equip generic skills: linguistic, oratorical, written et cetera to help reach that goal.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.