School tests: Do they stifle creativity?


Mum of four and popular online parenting writer Constance Hall (pictured below) recently posted this note to her Facebook page:

Billie-Violet “mum, you’re probably going to be disappointed with my report”

Me, “will it say you didn’t try?”

BV, “no”

Me, “will it say you didn’t respect the teacher?”

BV, “no”

Me, “will it say you were mean to any of the other kids?”

BV, “no mum of course not.”

Me, “well sweet kid, I ain’t gonna be disappointed”

And what do you know, I wasn’t. She got all Satisfactorys and even smashed a high for drama and a high for Art. With the report claiming that she is a “caring and considerate class member”

Academic excellence is not the only achievement school has to offer ??? #‎proudmum

Constance Hall

Wise words many mums would subscribe to. But it seems that our school system mightn’t be on the same page.

With the growing number of tests enforced on children to see if they meet local, national and global standards, the pressure to be academic has never been so great.

We have all heard of NAPLAN. It’s a national test of literacy and numeracy for children in years 3,5, 7 and 9 which pegs school against school to see who is performing above and below average.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s also another fancy acronym, PISA, which stands for Program for International School Assessment, which tests 15-year-olds in maths, science and reading. Australia usually comes somewhere in the middle with Asian countries and Finland leading the pack. Our politicians are dead keen to see us climb the ranking ladder though. As Julia Gillard said during her time in power, “We want to be in the top five by 2025”.



So our kids have to do a lots of tests, so what?

Well, the ‘so what’ is more than the added stress levels on children, teachers and principals and it’s more than the regimented rote-learning that a tonne of multiple choice tests end up demanding.

It’s that all this focus on a), b) or c) might just mean that we’re missing something huge. We’re missing the opportunity to teach our children how to be, you know, unique.

“We are no longer interested in deep learning that helps students to be a stronger person, a stronger critical thinker, a creative thinker,” says the man who has been called ‘The World’s School Master’ Andreas Schleicher*. “It’s all about equipping people with the tools they need tomorrow, not for the day after. I don’t think we want to see how tomorrow’s world looks and then train the students to get there because, again, that is a short-term perspective. We need to think about the sort of people we need to create tomorrow’s world, and what are the fundamental building blocks to shape that?”

It’s a statement which Alex Walker (pictured below), director of children’s creative wellbeing academy The House of Muchness, wholeheartedly agrees with.


“More and more, the future is unknown in terms of industries and technology and environment,” she says. “The education system is still modelled to serve the needs of the industrial revolution but the children of 2016 will not be entering the workforce as we know it now.”

“The education system continues to cut arts and prioritise standardised testing. Through this choice, we are limiting children to learned information and facts rather than fostering inquisitive minds, lateral thinking, innovative problem solving and resourcefulness.”

“We insist that people get wiser, smarter, more talented, better with age, but actually can most of our lessons be learnt by the young? The voracious appetite for knowledge and understanding, the perpetual curiosity and discovery, the boldness of ideas, the natural inclination to experiment. Young people are relentless movers and noise-makers and sadly we get trained into stillness.”

Alex believes that every young person is creative and every young person is a maker. “What children thrive in are safe and creative contexts that provide them with provocations to express, explore, connect, and invent,” she says.

“When children are given the platform to be experts of their experience and are charged with agency, not only do they flourish as individuals but their voice becomes a pivotal contribution to the social and cultural landscapes to which they belong.

“If we want to raise young people who are connected, empathetic, accountable and socially responsible global citizens, we have to provide environments where they can flex these muscles.”

While wonderful out of school programs like The House of Muchness are a great start, we need Australia’s education system to get on board so that all children have access to different styles of learning. But with our schools so focused on ensuring we beat China in the next global test, it sure makes diversity a bit difficult.

*As told to Lucy Clark for her book Beautiful Failures, (Ebury Australia, $33).