“Creativity is inherent,” Alun Cooper, Prem Tinsulanonda International School’s (Prem) Head of School said, quoting education and creative expert Sir Ken Robinson, whose views Cooper admires. “All children are born creative because they are inquisitive, experimental and enquiring. Children learn so much through the process of play, where they replicate and experiment, very quickly learning how to express themselves in so many different ways. It is this naturally inquisitive and bold nature of children which is often crushed at such a young age. Here at Prem, we have spent the past few years reevaluating our approach to education, refocusing on the importance of creativity, and we are starting to make big changes, starting at the very early years and moving up through the system.”
Education the world over lags behind in terms of reform, and with technological advances changing the current landscape at a pace where the future is impossible to anticipate, it is important to plan for this unknown future by best equipping children with the tools to be able to not only adapt to, but also excel in, any situation.
“When children are young they are open to all possibilities, but then often they get to school, where codes and rules are imposed in both subtle and overt ways undervalueing their individuality and creativity,” explained Cooper. “They then learn very quickly to do what teachers want, because it is natural to want to be praised, so they soon adapt to societal needs and this often stifles creativity. That is why we see the huge importance of making sure that as children move through various age groups, they retain their curiosity and their rights to question, to try new things, irrespective of whether they fail or not. This imbues them with an entrepreneurial spirit in the sense that they are always questioning, seeking and pushing boundaries.”
Companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook say that they value creativity in their leaders above all other characteristics. The next two characteristics they look for are integrity and global thinking, all three values which Prem is integrating into their educational experience.
“We want our graduates to be robust thinkers,” added Cooper. “It is important that from a young age, our kids are encouraged to explore. Unless it’s unsafe, we never want to say no. We instead let them use their emerging language to articulate what they are trying to do. Our teachers are all on board and today when a child misbehaves or does something wrong, we don’t scold them, instead our teachers will discuss and talk to them, and often it is through thought and conversation that the child will self-learn. Many parents want their child to be perfect, whatever that means. We say let your child experiment, because that is where they will grow and discover. We don’t want to be hammering down any nails which stick up; we don’t want our students to colour within the lines.”
To that end, Prem has developed a deeply integrated method of learning which demands a lot from teachers, but through which results are already being seen.
“Creativity at Prem is used as a central lens through which we explore other subjects,” said Alex Soulsby, Artistic Director of Prem’s programme, Artist Residency Thailand. “This is an essential way of approaching education. My role is to give guidance, advice and mentoring to teachers, across curriculum and departments, so that they can use creativity to diversify their teaching practice. It may be a science teacher looking to use art to teach biology, or an IEP teacher who uses art to get kids excited about learning English. I work with Liz Hassall, the curriculum leader in arts and design who is in charge of the management and implementation of the arts subjects; digital design, fine art, music, drama and products design. Our programme Artist Residency Thailand, attracts and invites inspiring artists and practitioners, who have achieved success in their respective fields. They spend time working with our students and staff at Prem, while receiving mentoring and producing their own work”
“The arts policy is embedded into the culture and the psyche of the school where it is used for visual thinking, learning and engaging,” added Hassall. “We use the entire campus as our canvas, putting kids at the centre of their learning in the hopes of fostering lateral thinking, envisioning, critical thinking and honing skills. If students have ownership of their own learning, then it creates an autonomous student agency where you have engaged, enthusiastic and passionate students who self-learn and propel their own education. We pride ourselves in putting models in place which demonstrably achieve creativity as an outcome. This is embedded into the learning rather than being a standalone or fun activity. The message of commitment has come right from the top and is being implemented through the entire school.”
This kind of education requires more consistant engagement from teachers than normal educational models. For instance once a unit of enquiry has been established, whether it is the topic of technology or recycling, teachers come together and approach the subject from all fronts. A cross disciplinary approach where these questions are explored through maths, arts, language or economics.
“There are no wrong answers,” continued Hassall, “and students get to approach a subject from multiple perspectives and skillsets, which enhances their entire understanding of a subject, and gives them insight as to how there are always multiple approaches and perspectives to any subject.”
Again referencing Sir Ken Robinson, Cooper added, “In terms of education, creativity is as important as literacy and should be treated as such. And that is what we are doing here at Prem.”
Since Soulsby set up the Artist Residency Thailand, close to forty artists have spent time at the school working with and inspiring its students and staff. Many students fondly recall the opportunity to play with and learn from Miltos Yerolemou, the Game of Thrones Swordsmaster who spent three swashbuckling residencies with the children. Disney’s former art director Mark Rafter, world renowned philosopher Nigel Warburton and US presidential advisor Paula Di Perna are just some of the people who have joined this programme, each brining unique ways of thinking to challenge and inspire.
Prem’s theatre and music departments are also thriving, with communities of musicians exploding throughout the student body _ classical, jazz, rock and vocals. The school provides jam spaces for rock bands, regular professional guest professors with expertise in various instruments, a large assortment of instruments to borrow, vocal studios as well as organising regular concerts and activities for students to perform.
“Music is a very unique subject in that it is not enquiry based, but it demands skills which require commitment, discipline and dedication,” said music teacher, Dr. Gina Ryan. “It also is about team work and community, making music together means that you have to be sensitive and aware of others around you, pay attention to detail and it is something that you can’t take short cuts on, instead it is a dedication over time, a perseverance which only bears results over time. This is a very unique subject.”
Prem’s drama department is also tuned into the school’s focus on creativity as a learning tool. “The skills we develop in drama are directly transferable to other professions, particularly in the business world,” said drama teacher Borys Mackiburko. “We believe in the passion and purpose of play, where through drama and through play we teach students the skills of creativity, imagination and communication. With drama there is no correct way, so students have to be creative, to problem solve, to collaborate and find effective ways to communicate. If something doesn’t work, then it is up to them to analyse and improve. Kids think that they are playing, but in fact what they are doing is learning. This is surely the best way to educate!”
“The results are there to see,” added Cooper. “A few years back I asked a grade 12 student what she wanted to be and was a little bit disappointed when she told me that she wanted to be a lawyer, because she had shown such interest in environmental studies when she was at school and I didn’t want her to lose that passion. I met her again five years later and she is an environmental lawyer. I believe that that is a direct result of the activities and the deep commitment to environmental activities and awareness she experienced while at school. It was a place that helped her to discover her passion and it gave her space to take control of her future.”
For more information on Prem please visit www.ptis.ac.th.