Creative Education
2013. Vol.4, No.9, 1-4
Published Online September 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Nurturing Creativity: Whose Wisdom Is of Most Worth?
Huzaina Abdul Halim1, Martyn Kingsbury2, Charles Drage2
1University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
2Imperia l Col lege London, London, UK
Received April 2013
Researchers and practitioners interested in creativity have explored the concept at length. Wehner, Csiks-
zentmihalyi and Magyari-Beck (1991) examined 100 doctoral dissertations on creativity and found a “pa-
rochial isolation” of various studies concerning creativity. There were relevant dissertations from psy-
chology, education, business, history, sociology and other fields. However, different fields tended to use
different terms and to focus on different aspects of what seemed to be a basic phenomenon. As instances
of creativity are located in multiple domains and homes, one of the learning outcomes in ‘The Malaysian
Curriculum Specification for English language’ requires that students be able to express themselves crea-
tively and imaginatively. A discussion about what we might call real creativity, and how we might de-
velop pedagogies in fostering this, is long overdue. In this presentation, the researcher will also highlight
on how creativity might be conceptualized and how creativity within education in particular might re-
spond to this rapidly shifting world. I hope then to problematize creativity, and to propose ways in which
pedagogies may be meaningfully developed or resurrected in the twenty-first century education
Keywords: Creativity; Risk-Taking; Motivation; Imagination; Problem-Solving
Creativity has become a major concern in recent years.
Scholars in the arts, psychology, business, education, and sci-
ence are all working to gain a deeper understanding of this
abstract concept. In the literature, there has been an unusual
amount of interest in the genesis of creativity in individuals and
in the characteristics of the creative people. According to Cole
et al. (1999), as our society grows increasingly complex and the
amount of information generated continues to evolve, society’s
problems require more creative solutions. Hence, creativity is
an important component of this additional skill set that our
students need in relation to education and societal growth.
Indeed, creativity is emerging and being recognized as inva-
luable to an organization; and, in some cases, may be critical to
long-term business survival (Driver, 2001). Therefore, creativi-
ty is a skill set that should become important to society, in ac-
tion, not merely lip service. If creativity is not valued, the
chances of it being encouraged or nurtured are bleak, at best.
However, the common mode of teaching in Malaysia currently
is not one that supports or encourages thinking (Ahmad, 1998).
Students are mainly taught through the traditional didactic me-
thod. In this method of teaching, information is deemed to have
transferred from teacher to students through lectures: the mind
is considered passive and absorbs everything (Paul, 1993). Ac-
cording to Mohd Dom (2008), memorization and taking orders
are part of the culture in the east. There is absolute obedience
on teachers’ words, therefore most teachers will not respond
positively to constructive arguments.
Being aware of the alarming trend, The Ministry of Educa-
tion (MOE) is making efforts on changing the local teaching
scene to undo the phenomena that have devel oped ove r the ye ars.
The change in the school curriculum, called the Integrated Pri-
mary School Curriculum (KBSR) for the primary school level
and the Integrated Secondary School Curriculum (KBSM) for
the secondary school level, aims at holistic learning and claims
to be more student-centered. It is also activity-based so that stu-
dents’ creativity is tapped and critical thinking is developed (In-
tegrated Secondary School Curriculum: p. 3). In 2001, The
KBSM revised syllabus was introduced by MOE with the same
objectives in mind; that is to produce a workforce that is not
only technologically competent but also possessing higher or-
der thinking skills in order to meet challenges in the new mil-
lennium. The infusion of CCTS (Critical and Creative Thinking
Skills) was introduced in KBSM (Integrated Curriculum for Sec-
ondary Schools) with the aim of producing individuals who are
intellectually capable of rational, critical and creative thinking.
The emphasis on creativity in Malaysia is also clearly out-
lined in the curriculum specification for English language. It is
stated in the document that students should be able to express
themselves creatively and imaginatively. Thus, teachers are
encouraged to use various stimuli in order to develop learners’
imagination and creativity (Curriculum Specification for Eng-
lish Form 4: p. 21). However, there seems to be a gap between
policy and implementation. The whole focus of teaching and
learning practices is on examinations and grades, with added
emphasis on covering a large amount of the syllabus; teaching
is mostly done to deliver rather than to derive meaning. The
scenario occurs due to several reasons involving the societal,
economic and the political issues. Assuming that language edu-
cational policy has it roles in promoting creativity in the ESL
classroom, it seems appropriate to mention briefly Malaysia’s
language educational policy which has undergone some major
transformation since Malaysia became independent.
Definitions of Creativity
Many attempts have been made to define creativity. Accord-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
ing to Amabile (1996), creativity includes the willingness to
take risks, maintain a high level of self-initiation and to be task-
oriented in striving for excellence. Gardner (1997) has describ-
ed it as “the ability to solve problems and fashion products and
to raise new questions”. The UK National Advisory Commit-
tee’s Report (1999), states that firstly, creativity alway s involv-
es thinking and behaving imaginatively. Second, overall this
imagination activity is purposeful: that is, it is directed to achie-
ve an objective. Third, these processes must generate something
original. Fourth, the outcome must be of value in relation to the
Other definitions of creativity that placed importance on out-
comes are by Prentice (2000) who claimed that the productive
outcomes of creative activity should be originality, value, risk
taking and the capability to cope with uncertainty in situations.
On the other hand, Fawcett (2000) asserted that creativity is a
complicated and broad concept because there is no standard
principle by which we can precisely define it. He also stated
that some people may think creativity is only for arts and it is
the gift or innate ability that cannot be taught.
However, creating means putting elements together to form a
coherent or functional whole; organizing elements into a new
pattern or structure generating, planning, or producing (Ander-
son & Krathwohl, 2001). Lucas (2001) says that it is “a state of
mind in which all intelligences are working together.”
There are many definitions of creativity. As researchers from
various fields focus on different angles, creativity may be de-
scribed from different views and perspectives although it may
refer to the same thing. Wehner, Csikszentmihalyi and Magya-
ri-Beck (1991) examined 100 doctoral dissertations on creativ-
ity and found a “parochial isolation” of various studies con-
cerning creativity. There were relevant dissertations from psy-
chology, education, business, history, sociology and other fields.
However, different fields tended to use different terms and to
focus on different aspects of what seemed to be a basic pheno-
menon. Fisher and Williams (2004) claim that part of the rea-
son for this diversity of definitions is that creativity can be seen
as a property of people (who we are), processes (what we do) or
products (what we make).
In the words of many other researchers, the meaning of crea-
tivity can also be examined by looking at the conceptions given
in different fields of research.
The Study
The aims of this study include examining the various stake-
holders’ (teachers, students, parents, administrators and policy
makers) definition of creativity; examining the similarities and
differences in the stakeholders’ definitions; and examining the
contextual factors which impact the definition and understand-
ing of creativity in the ESL curriculum. The aims suggest that
qualitative research is needed to understand the phenomenon
under investigation.
Another source of information invaluable to this study is
analysis of documents. Such documents may include official
curriculum documents, as well as the published data used in the
literature review. Since qualitative research focuses on process,
meaning and understanding, the product of this research is
richly descriptive. Data in the form of the participants’ own
words, direct citations from documents, excerpts from video-
tapes, and so on are likely to be included in order to amplify the
findings of the study (Mirriam, 1998). Other sources of data
were from: survey form, lesson plans, students’ worksheets and
exercises, textbook, workbooks, school yearly plan, and the
school yearly magazine.
Findings and Discussions
In many ways the teachers are the key stakeholder group as
they have the ultimate responsibility for interpreting and deli-
vering the policy on creativity. They are the policy enactors.
Additionally, most teachers strive to teach creatively and to in-
spire creativity in their pupils as a part of their normal teaching
Data from Teachers
The Survey Form
In general there was no clear consistent shared definition of
creativity, rather, for all three questions, the teachers seemed to
take a multiple definition of creativity. There was slightly more
consistent agreement when the potential definition(s) of crea-
tivity were linked to the context of the student or of teachers
rather than in a more general, open and abstract way.
The teachers’ choices to question one, which asked them for
a general personal definition of creativity were consistent with
them all viewing creativity as concerning the “person” and or
the “process” rather than being about “product” when consi-
dered through the lens of Fisher and William’s (2004) defini-
tion of creativity. The wording of questions two and three
precluded this type of consideration as the possible choices
were all presented as attributes or behaviours and therefore
could only be seen as being about “person” or “process”. None
of these basic questions provided data that could be considered
in terms of big “C” (BCC) or little “c” (LCC) (Craft, 2005)
creati vi ty.
The Interviews
In summary, the interviews with the teachers were much
more revealing than the survey questionnaires in terms of the
teachers’ personal definitions of creativity. The teachers as a
group were fairly clear and confident in their answers and each
teacher tended to express answers that suggested a fairly con-
sistent view. In general, as a group, the definition of creativity
they presented was of a practical and pragmatic LCC-type of
process focused creativity. The teachers tended to link creativi-
ty with novel ideas and an ability to use this to solve “real-
world” problems. This seemed very well aligned with the crea-
tivity presented in the CCTS part of the syllabus. Only two of
the nine teachers differed in any significant way from this view.
All of the teachers saw obstacles to creativity, particularly a
lack of time in the face of large numbers of students, lack of re-
source and often conflicting administrative and other “non-tea-
ching” duties. The very full and rigid syllabus and the pressure
to be exam focused and strategic was also identified as an im-
portant limiting factor.
Teachers’ Lesson Plans
Given the superficial approach taken by the teachers and the
very short-hand, formulaic nature of the content the language
used to describe the activities and expected learning, the plans
revealed nothing about creativity or the opportunities for crea-
tivity in the classes. Nowhere in any of the plans was creativity
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
mentioned or even indirectly referred to. All of the plans were
written from a very teacher-centred approach and listed activi-
ties that the students would do rather than the learning the stu-
dents might achieve or the experience they might gain. In the
text relating to the lessons several phrases seemed connected to
possible opportunities for creativity on the part of the students.
Given the analysis framework was not useful for the lesson
plans, the only potential indicator of possible creativity was the
intended learning activities that the students might undertake.
The text in the plans that referred to teaching and/or learning
activities was examined to look at the levels of intended learn-
ing as described in the revised Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson &
Krathwohl, 2001). The key verbs from the six levels of learning
posited in the taxonomy were identified in the lesson plans and
used to indicate the intended level of thought processes as de-
fined in Bloom’s revised taxonomy. While the level of learning
and thought process does not translate absolutely into creativity
or how the class was taught, it is perhaps in a simple sense an
indicator of the potential for creativity in an academic sense and
may provide a link between creativity as defined in policy and
the curriculum and how this is interpreted and “delivered” by
the teachers.
There is no activity planned that falls under these “higher
level” thinking skills in Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. The ab-
sence of the higher level of thought processes in the lesson
plans do not suggest that teachers do not encourage creativity in
their lessons as the teachers claimed in their interviews that
they do a lot of activities that encourage thinking and that they
recognize, value and encourage creativity in their classrooms.
Rather, it seems that the teachers view completing the lesson
plans as daily administrative routine that needs to be accom-
plished’ is a requirement for all teachers and may actually be
part of the workload that limits creativity.
Students’ Workshee ts
The students’ learning activities were examined by looking at
learning activities and comparing them to the levels of learning
as described in the revised Bloom’s taxonomy (Anderson &
Krathwohl, 2001). The key verbs from the six levels of learning
posited in the taxonomy were identified in the example work-
sheets and used to indicate the intended level of thought
processes as defined in Bloom’s revised taxonomy. As with the
lesson plans, while the level of learning and thought process
expressed in the worksheets does not translate absolutely into
creativity or how the class was taught, it may be a useful indi-
cator of the potential for creativity in an academic sense and
may provide a link between creativity as defined in policy and
the curriculum and how this is interpreted and “delivered” by
the teachers.
The worksheets, like the lesson plans they were related to,
reflected no attempt to promote thinking at the highest level
(which is creativity) in the questions and tasks given to the
students in their lessons. While definitive answers to these
questions are not possible the questions are all worth consider-
ing and are derived from the teachers’ comments in the inter-
views. While the teachers do mention the linguistic ability of
the students as a potential limiter for creativity, not all teachers
see things this way. The fact that all the student examples, from
all teachers were all completely correct suggests that, at least
for these students and these tasks, academic ability was not a
limit. Perhaps therefore there could have been some “extra”
tasks that could have been aimed at creativity. Although it
should be remembered that the perception of an academic li-
miting factor in most or all but the exceptional students may
still discourage teachers from preparing for this “extra” work if
time and resource is an issue. As the students are of different
levels of proficiency and come from various backgrounds, it is
not easy to tap their creativity with a standardized curriculum
which is prescribed for all.
Findings from Other Stakeholders
Overall the groups of students interviewed were remarkably
similar in their definition of creativity. They all associated crea-
tivity with something new and individual and tended to talk
about creativity as a personalized process. That is to say they
seemed to define creativity as a process but often associated
that process with something they or their friends did. There was
no evidence from any of the interviews that anybody in this
stakeholder group defined creativity as an individual trait
(“person”) or as a product. Also the stakeholder group shared
an association between creativity and the arts, particularly art,
music and dance. They certainly tended towards a BCC-type
definition of creativity rather than the more pragmatic LCC-
type. Although this was less clear than their definition of crea-
tivity as a process.
Parents on the other hand associated creativity with some-
thing new and individual and tended to talk about creativity as a
personalized process. That is to say they seemed to define crea-
tivity mostly as a process but often associated that process with
something practical. This was very consistent with the views of
their children who were interviewed separately. There were
some differences however, the parents also to some extent saw
creativity as being associated with “being talented” and also to
do with standing out from others in terms of being “better” or
more noticeable. There was a definite sense that they saw this
as being a good thing or at least to have the potential to lead to
good things. In this sense perhaps they were showing their
concern that their children would be successful in life in terms
of having good jobs and being able to accept everyday chal-
lenges in life.
The administrators viewed creativity as the ability to inno-
vate, to create and to develop something new and original. One
needs to have a lot of ideas in order to be creative. At times
creativity can be seen as something abnormal people do. The
policy-makers tend to give definition that is more “formal” and
frequently referred to the curriculum document. Similarly, the
administrators follow the policy-maker trait where they regu-
larly associate the word “thinking out of the box” to creativity.
While teachers have multiple definitions to represent creativ-
ity, other stakeholders seemed to have restricted view and fo-
cused on certain area when describing it. Teachers’ views may
be influenced by the curriculum document prescribed to them
as well as their own knowledge of creativity. To make the defi-
nitions more complicated, the contextual factors and work bur-
den lead teachers to promote creativity their own way in order
to suit the situation. On the other hand, other stakeholders are
more focused in their views. Although the discussion is only on
one particular word “creativity” it is interesting to see that var-
ious stakeholders define it differently. This scenario evidenced
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
the difficulty to define “creativity”, thus could we identify
whose wisdom is of most worth?
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