By Jamila Gavin, novelist, Arvon tutor and Advisory Group member for the Teachers as Writers project
Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
How do today’s children discover themselves and the world when everything has to be calculated, tested and evaluated? Where is our next Isaac Newton, lying under a tree, seeing the apple drop, and that sudden imaginative leap of realisation that there was such a thing as gravity? Are children given the space and time to explore, ponder and even be bored?
Politicians pursue higher and higher attainment in education but downplay the arts: music and drama are non-existent in many schools. So where does imagination fit? We are urged to admire the Tiger mother and the high achievers of Singapore. As with the Olympics, we want to be top, top, top and bathe vicariously in the incredible achievements of the very few, thinking, “that could be me if I only work hard enough.” In India, with its expanding middle class, children feel they must now get to nearly 100% in their exams if they are to make it into the small number of “top” universities. I had a long conversation with a twelve year old boy on his way back to one of India’s most prestigious schools. I asked him how he liked school, and he said with deep contempt, “I’m sick of it.”
I loved seeing children sitting on the beach by the sea in a recent blog – but hoped that they weren’t then having to collate their experiences; over analyse, articulate and compile their thoughts, for the sole purpose of being marked and assessed. Inspiration is the sister word to Imagination. It may only be 1% of the creative process, but without it……so if those children were on the beach to be inspired, then hooray! That should be our model. Writing is about communication; a tool for every child to give voice to who they are: their ideas; their take on the world. They can tell their stories and communicate their excitement, aspirations, humour, and troubles. I often visit schools where teachers tell me proudly that they have given me their best pupils – and how talented so and so is, but I want to cry out – no – give me your “lowest achievers”; they are the ones who need to find their voice.
Children can be desperately lacking in confidence, with low self esteem, who feel their own lives have no value. So I would put the arts and creativity firmly at the heart of the curriculum. They open doors; bring surprises and, we know, impacts on all their other work. If we, as teachers, can reveal to children, especially those imprisoned within inner city classrooms surrounded by high, barbed-wire fences, that there is an extraordinary world out there, and that the voice of every single one of them is important – no matter how stammering or timid – then we will uncork all their potential, and they will discover it for themselves. Give our children time to dream.