Knowledge is the foundation of development, but it is what is done with knowledge that makes all the difference. How knowledge is translated into usable products is critical for society. Arguably, lack of innovation in the African setting is the poverty of our education system. Clearly, incentivising theoretical comprehension without a comparable investment in learners’ direct practical acquisition of technical knowhow is disabling our youth. Matabeleland is the victim and what will redefine us is improving access to the right kind of education; our primary goal must be building an inclusive learning environment that promotes every capability. If we are to turn mirrors into windows, fostering creativity in learners should be a natural function of schools. Learners must be confident to think independently about things they see, they must be free to ask questions and seek to find answers to questions.
The future of the school
We must reimagine and transform education so that it supports learners in all capacities. The school or college environment must bring education to life; education must be friendly and accommodating curiosity of learners; it must place emphasis on the freedom to explore and it must neither be about finding right ‘responses’ nor conforming to expectations. To be progressive, our education must avoid developing ways of thinking that hinder creativity and divergent thinking.
Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way; it is seeing what everyone sees and thinking what no one thinks. We define creativity as the generation of a new product (an idea, an artwork, an invention, or an assignment in the classroom) that is both novel and appropriate in a particular scenario. We emphasise that there is not just one way for a person to “be creative,” or one set of characteristics that will differentiate “the” creative person. Instead, creativity must be thought of as a set of skills and attitudes that anyone is capable of: tolerating ambiguity, redefining old problems, finding new problems to solve, taking sensible risks, and following an inner passion.
A Creative Learning Environment
Where learning takes place plays a huge role in how learners and educators engage. A creative learning environment is one that is responsive to the learner’s expressed individual capability; this is a safe environment where a learner can see what everyone has seen and feel comfortable enough to think what no one has thought. We must reshape our learning space from one that is educator dominated and controlled to one where the educator’s role is as facilitator in response to the learner’s capability, experience, desire and needs. The educator supports the learner to develop critical thinking and build deep knowledge of the content; critically, the educator supports the learner to understand the learning goals and appreciate why they matter. This points us to the Project-Based Learning (PBL) system.
Project-Based Learning is a teaching method which involves student engagement in real-world and personally meaningful projects. A formal definition describes PBL as a teaching method in which learners gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.
Students will typically work on a multidisciplinary project over an extended period – anywhere from several weeks to months – that engages them in solving a real-world problem or answering a complex question. They then show what they learned by creating a public product or presentation for a real audience.
7 Characteristics of Project-Based Learning
The following are the basic characteristics of PBL:
- It stimulates intrinsic curiosity, and raises questions while allowing students to seek answers
- It is inquiry-based, and mainly focuses on an open-ended and essential question, problem, or challenge, for the learner to solve/ research and respond to
- It brings what students are supposed to academically understand, and can do into the equation
- It involves a deeper understanding of 21st-century skills, creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking skills, among others
- It converts learners’ choice into the process
- It asks students to present their methods, research process, problems, and outcomes, just as real-world projects or scientific research must stand before constructive criticism and peer review
- It offers opportunities for feedback and redoing the project and plan, just as in real-world applications
7 Elements of Project-Based Learning
- A challenging question or problem
- Sustained inquiry
- Student choice and voice
- Public product
- Revision and Critique
Differentiating PBL from “doing a project”
There are key characteristics that differentiate “doing a project” from engaging in rigorous Project Based Learning.
While a “dessert project” is a short, intellectually lightweight project completed after the teacher covers the content of a unit in the traditional way, in PBL the project is the main course and the vehicle for teaching the important knowledge and skills students need to learn. The project contains and frames curriculum and instruction.
In contrast to dessert projects, PBL requires critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication. For instance, to answer a focal question and create high-quality work, students need to go beyond memorising information. They need to use higher-order thinking skills and learn to work as a team.
To create a better base for development in the next generation, a cultural shift is required that will transform engagement between learners and educators and see us close the gap in innovation. We need to ensure the education system evokes and synthesises multi-disciplinary learning, builds and sustains learner interest, it enables learners to develop deep content knowledge as well as build on such higher order skills as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication.