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No-nonsense. Does the UK prize discipline over creativity in education?

01 Sep 2017, by PNS Staff in Due Diligence

The BBC reporting on the Pew Research Centre’s research on public attitudes towards education in 19 countries, describes the UK’s ‘no-nonsense’ approach to education as being akin to countries such as South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, where the expectation is that schools should get on with teaching the basics. But is this what the research says?

The highlight of the research surrounds what some see as the dichotomy between discipline and creativity. The Pew survey asked the following question:

It is more important that the schools in our country teach students…

A)      Basic academic skills and encourage discipline

B)      To be creative and think independently

Of the 19 countries surveyed, the respondents in ‘advanced’ countries were more likely to come down on the side of creativity. Spain, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden were the top scorers at the creativity end of the spectrum.  The UK, in contrast, saw 51% of respondents prioritising discipline and the basics. This sees the UK being comparable with ‘developing’ countries including Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria.

Other findings from the research suggest that in most advanced economies education is an ideological issue, with the ‘left’ more likely to prioritise creativity and independent thinking. The US saw the biggest difference between left and right, with 67% and 34% respectively prioritising creativity. The UK was next with 60% of the left and 29% of the right prioritising creativity. Coupled with this is the finding that the younger generation finds creativity and independent thinking in schools to be more important.

Taking the research at face value, the answer to the initial question is ‘Yes’. However, the question was based on a ranking of importance and was not ‘either/or’. Those that prioritise creativity in schools are unlikely to be calling for a total absence of discipline; and those prioritising the basics and discipline are unlikely to be calling for a ban on independent thought. To infer anything different from the outcomes of the research is a bit of a stretch.

Whether it’s what we see in the ‘strictest school in Britain’ as reported in The Guardian, Michaela Community School in Brent, or in the ‘democratic’ schooling of Summerhill boarding school in Suffolk, most people would say that some discipline is essential for learning to flourish. The real question should perhaps be: which do you think should be prioritised in the UK education system, creativity, or discipline and basic academic skill?

For the full research see here:


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