Europe’s education systems ‘stifling creative thinking’

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Europe’s higher education reforms are making university graduates less creative, Erik Spiekermann, one of 27 ambassadors of the European Year of Creativity and Innovation, told EURACTIV in an interview.

The Bologna process, which aims to harmonise academic standards and remove barriers to mobility of students and teachers, focuses on results instead of encouraging in-depth study and critical thinking, Spiekermann said. 

“Education is no longer about learning. It’s about achieving and getting the right amount of points. Everything is now results-based, and that is partly to do with the Bologna Process that’s happening across European universities,” he said. 

In a damning appraisal of the university sector, Spiekermann said students are forced to concentrate on getting a set number of points each semester and “ticking boxes” to qualify for degrees. 

“It’s horrible. I teach at two universities and I can see this already. People won’t have time to study because they have too many exams. Things don’t sink in. Students have no time to explore something they might be interested in. That’s totally uncreative. Creativity is not result-based,” he said. 

The criticism will be particularly stinging for the European Commission directorate-general responsible for education and culture, as it oversees both the roll-out of the Bologna Process and the European Year of Creativity and Innovation. 

The creativity ambassador said Europe had become “big and fat and tired and stodgy,” and needed to be reinvigorated. He said there was “an enormous energy” in post-war Europe in the 1950s but that had since dissipated, and pointed to India as an example of a modern emerging power where young people want to learn and to change things. 

Spiekermann, who is part of the unpaid group of creative thinkers which includes artists, scientists, inventors and educators, is currently working on a manifesto for creativity and innovation. 

Early indications suggest education will be among the key focuses and Spiekermann is hoping it will serve as a wake-up call. 

“We’re saying there is a crisis and we need to have the same sort of enthusiasm that people in India have. We’ve got to get that energy back and become eager to learn. Writing exams is not learning, it’s training. Writing exams is a 1970s concept,” he said, adding that there now are sound methods for teaching creative thinking. 

He said the manifesto needs to be “as provocative as possible” in order to stoke a debate on how to rejuvenate Europe’s attitude to creativity. 

To read the interview in full, please click here.  

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