Dear Dr. Kawambwa,

As previously mentioned it is easy to dismiss the lack of creativity and creative accomplishments that originate from our country to the fact that there is simply a lack of talent. However this is deeply mistaken as talent cannot flourish if not encouraged, and I deem it is important to further emphasize this point.

In his book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Sir Ken Robinson divulges the story of Gillian Lynne a world renowned and highly accomplished dancer and musical theater owner/producer. Gillian was considered a poor test taker and troublesome child in school but was fortunate enough to encounter an adult who saw past this and recognized her inability to concentrate and excel in conventional subjects as a sign that she was naturally a more creative mind. This led to the discovery of her natural aptitude for dance and she was then able to attend a school that nurtured this creativity which ultimately led to her incredible success.

Had Gillian been in our current school system in Tanzania, she would have been constantly subjected to punishment for her inability to excel in conventional subjects and been made to feel like a failure. Her capacity for greatness in dance would have most likely gone unappreciated and unnoticed. There are hundreds of Gillian’s in our current school system whose talent is marginalized and stifled because there are not given an opportunity to excel in what they are good at. This is a shame and a loss for our nation because the true capacity for creative greatness and the talent that exists amongst Tanzanians will not effectively be recognized until creativity is acknowledged in schools.

Dear Dr. Kawambwa,

As a fellow scientist, Dr. Todd B. Kashdan (a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at George Mason University) provides a more logic and fact based approach to the subject of creativity in schools. Dr. Kashdan so wisely notes that it is not only his opinion but proven scientific fact that “Children need passionate activities. Not only are they enjoyable and interesting on their own, they serve to increase a child’s ability to concentrate, think intelligently, and derive creative responses in the classroom.” Science has shown that as humans we have a finite amount of willpower that we can exhaust at a time and once we become burned out giving students carrots or threatening to punish them if they do not continue to pay attention will not change the fact that they cannot take in any more information. The best solution for this is to allow children to explore their creative passions and in doing so become more engaged and attentive critical thinkers.

Even for students who may not necessarily have an interest in the arts, they still offer a platform of emotional and self-expression that can be helpful for students to relax and a great way to re-energize them mentally and emotionally after having spent so much brain power through the day in technical subjects such as math and the sciences.

Dr. Kashdan also touches upon an issue that is a widely popular method of teaching in Tanzanian public schools which is that of punishment. Punishing students for not doing well in an exam, having ‘too much’ energy or having a different perspective that challenges what is being taught will not benefit the student in any way except to result in promoting obedience, conformity and unnecessary health damaging strain. Instead of drilling students to fit into the set educational system, education should have more leeway to allow for diverse and different creative approaches to learning that can be molded to fit the way in which students grasp information. With the rapid and vastly changing nature of the world, each generation is growing increasingly different from the last meaning we cannot continue relying on old tricks to teach new minds that learn and absorb information in different ways.

Advantages of Art education

Dear Dr. Kawambwa,

It seems to get overlooked that Art teaches skills that few if any other subjects in the current curriculum address. Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Art Education is a book by Hetland and Winner that discusses exactly what students gain from art class after observing and working in high school art classes. They refer to these set of skills derived from art education (and more specifically the visual arts) as “studio habits of mind” which include teaching students the important skills of:

Embracing mistakes:
Art is one of the few subjects in school that actually embraces and encourages students to feel comfortable making mistakes. One cannot arrive at an idea that has true brilliance without being willing and unafraid of making mistakes along the way. However with subjects such as math and sciences dominating in school, where students are constantly told there is only one right answer and mistakes mean failure and even punishment, students become fearful of making mistakes and reluctant to take risks, which consequently hinders their pursuit of greatness thus defeating the whole purpose of education.

Persistence:
Art not only teaches but gives students the drive to commit to work that they start and follow through, working around mistakes and finding new solutions to arrive to a piece of work they can be proud of. These are all qualities that would be beneficial in the real world working environment where it is important to be flexible in terms of coming up with creative solutions for problems one encounters and not giving up at the first sign of defeat but rather pushing through to arrive at new and better solutions.


Envisioning:

Another vital quality that can be derived from or further nurtured by art education is the ability to think about outcomes or end products that one cannot actually see. This cultivation of the imagination and capability to envision outcomes can aid students in other subjects such as coming up with a hypothesis in a scientific experiment or being able to imagine past events that took place in history providing a better understanding of the facts that go beyond dates and names in text books.

Empathy and expression:
Finally the arts are one of the few outlets in school that highlight the importance of expressing and respecting emotions. They allow students from a young age to connect, develop a sense of identification and engage in a healthy means of self-expression as well as appreciate the emotional expression of others. It goes without saying that these are all qualities that are important to encourage and preserve within society.

Dear Dr. Kawambwa,

The definition of intelligence as stated in the dictionary is “capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.” however what is considered intelligence in the Tanzanian school system has morphed to be tied in how well students perform on standardized tests and exams. Thus intelligence has become more of a demonstration of an individual’s ability for memorization rather than the ability for true critical innovative and diverse thinking. An article by Robert J. Sternberg featured in The Chronicle, determines the way in which today’s society values creativity in terms of benefiting human advancement and the economy yet we teach our students in a way that promotes memorization and rejects the creativity necessary for innovative advancement.

In order to change this, different methods can be adopted in the classroom that transcends just incorporating the creative art subjects into the curriculum. For example instead of presenting students with a problem and telling them one method to solve it that they must all use because it is the supposed ‘correct method’, students should be challenged to define the problem and explore different approaches to solving it that may result in them grasping the knowledge more effectively. This would encourage students to be more inventive and feel less restrained, as well as enable students whom are not as gifted in the sciences to feel more comfortable in approaching the subject because it allows for more creativity which they may be better at.
Ultimately by encouraging this more creative form of teaching through pushing students towards innovative thinking, schools will be able to cultivate actual intelligence in students.

Dear Dr. Kawambwa,

As you know the Tanzanian educational structure is still based on the British A-levels system that was introduced with the onset of colonialism. This system shuns creativity and requires students to take in information for the sole purpose of regurgitating it back onto a final exam at the end of primary school to determine if one can proceed to secondary school. The arts are practically non-existent and students whom fail to grasp the predominant subjects of math and the sciences are seen as simply being difficult and unwilling to learn. Such emphasis is placed on these more technical subjects because this system was structured immediately after the colonial era when there was an immediate and urgent need to produce administrators to work in offices. However, times have changed and in this new age of endless possibility in terms of career and opportunities it is important that schools in Tanzania evolve and embrace new age methods of teaching that include creativity in the classroom.

This video beautifully highlights the problems with an education system that aims to prepare students for the future economy yet still uses a system and outdated method of testing that leaves no room for creative and analytical thinking as it was modeled during an era where the same issues are no longer applicable in today’s dynamic job market.

Art Expands the Mind

Dear Dr. Kawambwa,
An article published in the George Lucas Educational Fund discusses how Involvement in the arts can lead to benefits in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Art goes beyond providing intrinsic pleasure and stimulation within an individual and it can connect people more deeply to the world around them, expanding their perception and providing new approaches to problems. Furthermore, I realize that it may be difficult on a tight public school budget to hire the needed teachers and acquire the necessary supplies to incorporate all the creative art subjects into the school curriculum. However, creative learning could still be incorporated by applying different teaching tactics as suggested by Fran Smith in her article covering Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who’s Doing It Best.

 

Methods such as teaching students about history by allowing them to write and perform a play about a specific historical event such as slavery, or perhaps conveying their knowledge of the Solar System through an annotated painting may be more effective than the current method of requiring students to know a number of facts and dates that are to be repeated in a final exam then probably forgotten soon after. Incorporating an artistic environment into the school such as playing influential pieces of music in school hallways (such as Mozart) is a great way to create a more creativity friendly environment and encourage students to approach school as a place to explore their own ingenuity instead of a daunting and resented environment where one is forced to conform in their thinking.

A quote in Fran Smith’s article perfectly captures the very core of my belief towards this topic and education as a whole, states “When you think about the purposes of education, there are three; we’re preparing kids for jobs. We’re preparing them to be citizens. And we’re teaching them to be human beings who can enjoy the deeper forms of beauty. The third is as important as the other two.” I couldn’t agree more with this, it perfectly mirrors my own beliefs of art education as being an essential tool to inspire and expose young children to the boundless possibility and capability that humans have to create which will undoubtedly enrich their lives.

Dear Dr. Kawambwa,

Have you ever wondered why it is so rare to hear of Tanzanian individuals accomplishing excellence and success in the creative arts or perhaps introducing innovative world changing ideas?

Sir Ken Robinson claims that the ability for divergent thinking which is the essence of all great innovations diminishes as we grow up. This is not a result of natural aging but rather a consequence of spending year after year in school being constantly told that there is only one right answer and unless you remember this right answer in a test you will not succeed.

Creative and out of the box ideas are rarely rewarded and hardly even acknowledged let alone encouraged in the public Tanzanian school system. This is an important factor to consider when one questions the lack of great innovative and different ideas that have emerged from our nation. World changing companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook all originated from people who had an innovative idea that was different and new in its time and turned out to be absolutely brilliant.

So now I ask you to imagine what Tanzania could be like, what the youth of today could be capable of given the right encouragement, and the things that could be accomplished 50 years from now if we shift our focus from conforming and outdated standards of teaching and testing and our students were encouraged to explore their ability for creative innovative and critical thinking to their full potential.

Compliance, the Common Goal

Dear Dr. Kawambwa,

From an early age our school system tells students that in order to succeed they must excel in subjects that are conducive in getting them a good job in the future and these subjects tend to be math, science, reading/literature and the humanities. It is all too often that students are diverted from subjects in the arts that they show an early passion and talent for simply because adults fear that the child will not be able to excel or “get a god job doing that”. This leads to an educational system that exiles the arts by treating them as more of “supplementary subjects” and teaches conformity as each student is constantly pushed towards the common standardized goal of getting the highest grades rather than encouraging the exploration of the unique human ability for creativity and the growth of organic and dynamic individuals.

An article from The Daily News Reporter sites that several pupils in Tanzania repeatedly fail these standardized exams and so stay in the same grade year after year eventually leading to them opting to drop out of school all together. This is not to say that these students are simply not trying or smart enough but rather that they may not grasp this confined method of learning that has no room for creative thinking, as well as their peers do. Education should accommodate these students by focusing the goal on expanding student’s minds by offering more diverse forms of learning as opposed to constricting their minds by forcing conformity with the purpose of getting a high grade on exams.

The TED lecture featured below by Jessica White, opens with a story very relevant to this topic as it divulges a story of a young girl who is taught to throw her divergent thinking out the window in order to conform to the norm because schools teach conformity as being the only way to get ahead.

Dear Dr. Kawambwa,

It seems today that the early education system primarily in primary school and secondary school serve the purpose of getting students ready to take standardized tests and exams and subsequently get into university so they can eventually get a job that will make them money and thus successful individuals. This is immensely troubling because somewhere along this process which is fueled by the values and demands of industrialism and financial gain, natural talent becomes stifled and killed.

This video consist of a TED lecture featuring Sir Ken Robinson who initially opened my eyes to the magnitude of this problem in the educational system of Tanzania and made me realize the very importance of what I had always thought of as more of a personal desire to make creativity and the arts more prominent in primary and secondary school education. In this short video Sir Ken Robinson manages to articulate this vital point across with such intellect, magnetism and conviction that makes it incredibly hard to ignore.

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