Problem still unsolved

19295893399_3ee40fd48c_o.jpgProblem-solving: the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues

The recent news that ‘Just 3 per cent of teenagers believe problem solving skills and creativity are essential attributes to have on their CVs’ is of course no more than a reflection of the lack of emphasis and importance placed on them in our education system. And it goes a long way to explaining why so few politicians and administrators seem quite unable to develop policies and procedures that manage to improve the life of the population. Too many students undertake academic degrees, including subjects like science and engineering, having had next to no experience of the processes and approaches involved in coming up with successful new practical and appropriate ways of doing things.

Where children are exposed to problem-solving and creativity in schools, the experience is usually limited to solving closed problems, where there is a single correct right or wrong answer. Such problems are usually technical in nature, rarely focusing on solving individual or social human problems.

Even in design and technology, where a rapidly diminishing number of students are asked to solve design problems, the understanding of problem-solving skills is given disproportionate emphasis to increasingly acquiring knowledge about materials and production technologies. Few children rise to the challenge of resolving multiple conflicting requirements and coming up with truly creative solutions. And while there is good imaginative work in evidence in many departments of art, drama and music, its value and application is restricted to those lessons and defined studio spaces.

Developing students’ problem-solving and creative abilities is not achieved through a series of disparate activities experienced largely out of context. It involves an extended course of study in which increasingly complex, open-ended and challenging problems are tackled in such a way that the learner starts to identify their own strategies and preferred methodologies for tackling different sorts of problems. This includes being able to deal with problems that require:

• a mixture of creative and logical thinking

• dealing with subjective and objective criteria

• testing and evaluating possible solutions using a variety of modelling techniques

• identifying and understanding human needs and desires

• information finding

• planning over multiple time-scales, collaboration and self-management

• effective communication.

Underlying these skills at a more basic level, successful problem-solving requires a desire to improve the way things are, a sense of curiosity, the drive to explore and develop a multiplicity of possible solutions and willingness to learn from failure.

Until our children start to acquire these skills and they come to be acknowledged in schools and universities as being valuable in life and the workplace it is difficult to be optimistic about our future. We no longer require a steady flow of people to administer and oversee the far-flung corners of our long-lost Empire, but instead a stream of creative problem-solvers to construct our brave new post-Brexit world.

 

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Image credits: Flickr Sacha Chua

 

 

 

 

 

Pass Notes: Art Attack!

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What? Has someone had a Heart Attack? Quickly. Call an ambulance!

No, no, no! Though you might have one after you’ve read the latest NSEAD (National Society for Education in Art and Design) survey. You can download a pdf copy here. It’s the teaching of Art & Design in our schools that’s in critical danger and may not survive much longer.

Ah. But I keep reading that the Department for Education say that the numbers taking Art GCSE have risen by as much as 1%, so all this whining about children not being allowed to take creative subjects at GCSE is really just a lot of fuss about nothing. 

Well, for a start you shouldn’t believe DfE political propaganda statements, just as you’d be advised not to take a headline in the Daily Mail at face value. The problem is that the DfE’s figures don’t include the large numbers of students who previously took BTEC courses in Art & Design, but that now do GCSE instead. When they are added in it’s clear that the overall figure has fallen by thousands, and will continue to do so for many years to come as more and more children are forced to take all the EBacc subjects. And meanwhile entries in all other Arts-based subjects, such as Music, Drama and Dance, have fallen over the past five years.

Oh well, at least children still get plenty of time in primary school to get develop some good skills in drawing and painting.

Not according to the NSEAD survey they don’t. Apparently primary schools are substantially cutting back on Art to spend more time preparing for the National Key Stage 2 tests. And that means children are less well prepared for the standards they are expected to achieve at KS3 when they get to secondary school.

OK, but then there’s three years of regular lessons when they get to Key Stage 3 in Secondary School – a double period a week as I recall.

Ah, those were the days! The survey reveals that in many schools there is much less time allocated for Art at KS3, and in some it’s been made part of a rotational system where it’s only studied for a term each year. And many schools now start their GCSE options in Year 9, so KS3 only lasts for two years. Meanwhile new teacher recruitment is down, so there is evidence of more classes being taught by non-specialists.

I remember when I was at school art was dead good – we used to go on lots of trips to local galleries and museums, and a real-life designer came into school to make things with us. 

Hmm. You didn’t go to an independent school by any chance did you? Because if you did you’re far more likely to have been on trips and had visits from practitioners than if you went to a free-school. And yes, it’s all in the NSEAD survey.

But come on now, be honest, let’s face it, taking an Arts subject isn’t going to help you get a job, is it? I mean, all those years starving in an attic, spending all your money on expensive oil paints. Well that’s what I was told, anyway. 

If that’s what you think, you’ve been badly mis-led! Last year the Creative Industries contributed 81 billion to the economy and employed 2.8 million people. Studying Art & Design doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up being an ‘artist’ – there are a wide range of other opportunities to work in creative areas that need good visual problem-solving and communication skills. And that’s got to be better than doing an over-subscribed academic degree and ending up working a coffee shop.

With the introduction of the EBacc it seems like the country is in the process of throwing away its established global reputation for the excellence in its work in the Creative Industries – something that China and many other countries are now investing heavily in.

Well I have to admit, taking Art GCSE raised my confidence and self-esteem and had a knock-on effect in improving my results in other subjects, and I feel I have had a much broader and richer education that many of my peers did. It gave me an opportunity to think and work in a completely different way, and I’ve been able to apply that to many of the things I do today. It certainly changed my life! Everyone should take Art at school!

Yes, many teachers would agree with you about that. It’s just a shame that in years to come it looks like most children won’t have the opportunity to have same experience you did.

You’re making it all sound rather depressing.

That’s because it is extremely depressing.

So what’s to be done? How can the patient be saved?

There’s one simple remedy – the DfE could back down on the use of using numbers of EBacc subject entries as a measure of school performance in league tables. Another treatment that’s not been tried before would be for headteachers to get together and refuse to administer the DfE’s medicine and just ignore it.

Meanwhile we also need the wider world outside the teaching profession to know that our children are being increasingly denied access to the world of the Creative Arts. Then they need to take action, such as writing to their MP – so please share this post with all your relatives, friends and neighbours (by email/twitter/facebook, etc), particularly if they happen work in the Creative Industries – their support is very important.

So why’s this happening? I thought Nicky Morgan was supposed to be teacher’s friend?

Generally speaking she is. It’s Nick Gibb who is causing the problem, as he’s in charge of curriculum surgery. He’s the one spreading all this EBaccteria nonsense and children will end up having to take subjects they don’t want to do, and being taught by teachers who are inexperienced and not properly qualified. If he’s not careful, Gibb will be the next DfE politician to be branded as being toxic and dumped in the waste disposal bin, as Michael Gove was.

Do say: Apparently Nick Gibb’s background was as a chartered accountant.

Don’t ask: Was painting by numbers Gibb’s favourite activity in Art lessons at school?