Creativity in the Australian education system
Now, I’m not going to say that the Australian education system is perfect, because it is not, but I will highlight how the current system encourages uniqueness, individuality and creativity in its students. After which, I will suggest ways in which similar, or better, ideas could be implemented in Vietnam and Australia in order to help prepare students for a globalised future.
The Australian education system generally follows a three-tier model and includes primary education, followed by secondary education and tertiary education. There is typically the option for students to attend private or public institutions, single- or mixed-sexed schools, and religious or non-religious schools. Australian students spend a compulsory 11-13 years in the school system, beginning at the approximate age of 4 or 5 and completing their education at 17 or 18 years old [depending on which state or territory they live in]. At their completion, students receive a High School Certificate [as known as a Year 12 Certificate] and, if they opted to take that particular route, an Australian Tertiary Admission Ranking [ATAR] score, which assists them with getting into tertiary institutions. After completing their basic education, they have a choice. They can enrol in a university or other higher education course, complete an apprenticeship, or cease studying and find employment.
Whilst there are a lot of similarities amongst the states and territories of Australia’s education systems, there are also a number of differences. For instance, I grew up in the Australian Capital Territory [ACT] and thus completed all of my schooling there. As you can see below, the ACT follows a slightly different system to the rest of the country. I started Kindergarten when I was four years old [turning five in that April] and completed primary school in year 6. From here, I went to a high school for years 7 through to 10, followed by a college for years 11 and 12. My education was solely public, which when
I went to university, I saw was
a rarity as most people in my cohort had attended at least one private school during their schooling. After year 12, I deferred starting my degree at the Australian National University to take a gap year, a common practice amongst Australian students. In
that year, I worked full time which
helped me fund a trip to Europe and save some money before starting my three year degree. My experience is just one of many Australian students and, consequently, it is important to keep this in mind when reading this review as other students may have had different experiences.
Despite its great number of differences, the Australian education system does consistently help
develop creative, analytical and laterally thinking individuals. It aims to promote excellence and equity as well as encouraging young Australians to become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens (Australian Curriculum, 2014). It is a system that encourages curiosity and a passion for learning in its students, preferring that over high intelligence scores. Similarly, it also encourages responsibility and maturity in its students, getting them to be active in their own education through the encouragement and expecting of independent study, both at school and at home. Another way that students are given this opportunity to be responsible and mature is through such initiatives such as their school’s student representative’s council (SRC) and other programs which encourage student voice.
Generally, Australian students are heavily involved in their own learning, frequently given the opportunity to choose what they want to learn about and how they want to do it. I recall in years 7 to 12, each English class I did, the assessment often consisted of an essay, a speech and some form of creative response. In all of these forms of assessment, we were encouraged to think for ourselves and to think ‘outside of the box’. This could be done by how we argued our point in our essay, how we choose to make our speech memorable, or in what way we would respond creatively to the topic or text. This kind of involvement helps foster individuality, as students are often given a broad spectrum of options and choices. Likewise, if the option involves the whole class, these decisions are often made using class polls, which helps promote individual voice and diplomacy in the students.
Diplomacy and individuality helps
maintain and develop an individual’s emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ is the ability to understand and express not only one's emotions, but also the emotions of those around them. It is a beneficial commodity to possess as it helps individuals relate better with one’s peers, colleagues, and other
around them (Segal and Smith, 2015). EQ consists of four attributes; self-awareness (perceiving), self-management (reasoning), social awareness (understanding), and relationship management (Segal and Smith, 2015). It is a fundamental tool often neglected by education systems, as it is thought that it develops adequately on its own. However, it can be encouraged and sustained by certain situations that may arise in the classroom, such as through class discussions and other circumstances where diplomacy, patience and fairness are required. Thus, as they also promote creativity and individuality, these sorts of activities are often found in classrooms around Australia.
[To read more about emotional intelligence:
Currently, there is no common curriculum across the country. However, each state and territory requires students be taught Maths, English, Science, the Social Sciences [or SOSE], the Arts, Health and Physical Education, Languages, and Technology. Here, Social Sciences include subjects such as Geography and History, and the Arts can include anything from Media studies to Visual Art to Textiles and Fashion. Again, there are differences amongst the states as to what year level each
of these topics is compulsory til
. For example, in the ACT, it was highly recommended but
not a requirement for me to study English and Maths in years 11 and 12. Similarly, the languages offered varies between states and schools with, for example, Japanese, French, and Indonesian being offered at my high school.
Still, whilst there are differences in the specifics, the general curriculum of most Australian schools focuses on comprehension and encouraging students to make sense of what they read and learn. It involves looking beyond what is said by the text or in discussions. In other words, it is about interpreting, integrating, critiquing, inferring, analysing, connecting and evaluating ideas in texts and discussions. This can be done in a number of ways such
as through class discussions and creative or reflective responses. In these situations or tasks, students are made to make logical connections, draw on other relative or related information in order to think more deeply about what is being said, for instance, in the text. It is the development of this critical and deeper thinking that helps foster creativity and individual thought in students. Whilst I never knew these were the strategies my teachers were using, in reflection, I can recall times where such techniques were used.
The Super Six strategy
One particular teaching strategy that focuses on comprehension and student engagement used in Australian schools is the Super Six strategy
. Using this strategy, six skills are taught through actively processing and making sense of the text, a process that is both intentional and thoughtful. These skills are connecting
, predicting, questioning, monitoring, summarising and visualising (NSW Department of Education and Training [NSW DET], 2010). It is about making real life associations and cross connections with the text or topic in order to learn. It is believed that these skills help students to critique and to create, helping them to develop their creativity and innovation. They create problem solving scenarios and tasks which require them to generate and critically evaluate their ideas and solutions.
The creative arts
Beyond just thinking creatively, the creative arts, such as music and visual art, are also great outlets for children to show their creativity and individuality. The Australian education system fosters this by encouraging students to enrol in dance, music, art and other creative art classes. In my experience, it was never a requirement that you took an art or music class, but it was highly encouraged. Still, in order to make sure we did not just stick with what we were good at and challenged ourselves, in high school, myself and my peers were made to take at least one semester [approx 18 weeks] of a different art, music, dance, or technology class over our first 2 years at the school. For example, in year 7 and 8, I was enrolled in woodwork, cooking, dance and art classes. For
my last two years at the high school [i.e. years
9 and 10], I got to choose which elective classes I wished to do, choosing to study both textiles and photography. Still, although creative outlets such as art and music are important to encourage, deep research and fact-finding are just as vital stages in the creative process (Bronson and Merryman, 2010). Thus, while encouraging students to take art-orientated
important, there are numerous other ways to ensure they become divergently
thinking and creative students, all of which need to be reflected in an education system’s curriculum.
Whilst what I learnt and how I learnt it is important, the curriculum was not all that inspired my creative and individual learning. The teachers I remember the best are the ones who inspired my learning with their enthusiasm and interest in the topic. Even if the topic was not the most interesting or was difficult to grasp, if the teacher was enthused, so was I. Moreover, surprisingly, it is these topics I can usually remember the best. In fact, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s (2012) now listed in its standards that effective teachers are a source of inspiration as well as being a ‘dependable and consistent influence on young people’. A teacher should be more than just a ‘transmitter of knowledge’, they need to be a ‘facilitator’ who encourages and inspires students (Veira, 2010). They need to be democratic rather than autocratic, sharing some of the leadership with students, as well as fostering learner autonomy whereby they encourage students to not only learn on their own but to take responsibility for their learning (Veira, 2010). Thus, adopting some of these characteristics can assist a teacher to help students develop into creative and unique individuals. Furthermore, this is an argument for the establishment of student-centred learning approaches, which will be discussed in more detail later on.
But, is it a perfect system?
Whilst the Australian education system has its strengths, not all systems are perfect. Ken Robinson believes that creativity is ‘as important as literacy’, yet currently it is being ‘educated out’ of students by our school systems. Instead, our education systems have ‘mined our minds for a particular commodity’ which will be of no help to us in the future. The points he makes are relevant and real, both in Vietnam, Australia and the rest of the world, so while Australia’s system may be better at promoting creative and individual thought, there are still many flaws in its system.
According the international surveys of world education systems, such as those done by The Programme for International Student Assessment [PISA], in terms of education standards, Australian students are falling behind other nations. In fact, the average 15 year old Australian is about three years behind Chinese students in Maths, and one and a half years behind these same students in literacy skills. We are also the only developed nation where it is not compulsory to study Maths in order to graduate from high school. On a slightly unrelated note, Australian schools are said to maintain existing social inequalities and social stratification (Perry & Lubienski, 2014). This is done in a number of ways including limiting the access of students from lower-income backgrounds to more advanced academic curriculums (Perry & Lubienski, 2014). I always knew I was fortunate enough to attend public schools that were located in middle- to higher-income areas but I did not realise the inequalities that this was sustaining. For that reason, in order to ensure all schools are ‘good schools’, funding needs to be spread equally amongst all of the nation’s schools and not prioritised to those that are performing better than others (Perry & Lubienski, 2014). If this was achieved, it would encourage a fairer system where all students would be given equal opportunities for success.
[To read more about how the Australian education is failing kids:
Currently in Australia, there is a lot of debate over whether the national testing assessment plan [known as NAPLAN testing] is appropriate. Every second year from years 3 to 9, students nationwide complete a variety of tests. However, this national test only assesses their numeracy and literary skills, and not their creative or divergent thinking abilities. Yet, it is difficult to suggest these also be assessed, as it is hard for academics and educators to ascertain whether creativity and divergent thinking can even be assessed easily en masse. Moreover, Australia is trying to implement a national curriculum would see all states and territories teaching the same subjects. It is not known yet known how creative learning will fit into this curriculum. It may fall to the educators and teachers to carry out this form of learning rather than it being a part of the national curriculum. Still, the implementation of a national curriculum will help eliminate diversity and difference between the states and territories.
Bettering the system
As demonstrated, Australia’s education system does help encourage and develop student’s individuality, uniqueness and creativity. Whilst a flawed system with room for improvement, it does use a variety of techniques to ensure students develop into successful learners and strong, independent thinkers. Still, drawing on modern psychological research and general commentaries, more can be done to improve both Australia and Vietnam’s education systems.
The 21st century classroom
As Ken Robinson (2006) highlights, our classrooms are still practicing policies and procedures established in a completely different time period, the Industrial Revolution. In order to update the classroom and system so that it is ready to teach students into the 21st century, there are a few characteristics that need to be ensured across all classrooms. Many of these are already found in both Australian and Vietnam however, more can always be done. Below are the top 10 characteristics of a 21st century classroom, as suggested by one commentator.
[Source: Saxena, 2013]
Another improvement that needs to be addressed in the curriculums of both countries’ systems is the need to identify and teach to student’s learning styles. As psychological studies will support, no two students learn the same way. Thus, educators should be able to recognise this and adapt their teaching styles in accordance with the differing learning styles of the students (Rusbult, 2001).
As we have learnt, divergent and creative thinking requires opportunities to occur that create choice for the student. Restricting their ways of learning stifles these opportunities for choice which, consequently, hinders their development into creative and unique individuals. Robinson, as well as other academics, have previously emphasised the need to understand and capitalise on the natural aptitudes, talents and passions of students, something that can be achieved by changing the way they learn (Australian Curriculum, 2015). For instance, some students may be highly visual, or think best when they are moving, or listening, or reading (see to the right) and thus, will learn better when the teaching reflects these preferences (Australian Curriculum, 2015). Hence, better incorporating learning styles into both the Australian and Vietnamese curriculums would help ensure creativity is cultivated.
[To read more about learning styles and how to implement them in the education system:
Creating a ‘community of inquiry’
A form of ‘authentic’ learning, class discussions that support and develop a ‘community of inquiry’ is a vital commodity to invest in (Australian Curriculum, 2015). Idea sharing is an easy and great way to support and develop student’s thinking and discussion skills (Australian Curriculum, 2015). It also, as previously suggested, fosters patience and diplomacy in the students. This form of critical thinking is too often ignored in schools and, therefore, it would be beneficial to look at ways of implementing it further.
When an individual shares their ideas within a class or amongst one’s peers, they also must listen to their peer’s responses and other ideas. Thus, they must have an acceptance of others’ ideas as well as possess the ability to listen and learn from the ideas of others. In my experience, this sharing of ideas with others did not seem to occur as often as it should have. However, when it did, especially at a university level, it help facilitated discussion whereby people would have to listen, accept and respect another person’s view or idea even if they did not agree. Yet, at the same time, it gave you the opportunity to use your knowledge and comprehension skills to innovatively think of a response or critique of their idea. It became not just about thinking innovatively or broadly but about evaluating your thoughts and ideas, especially in comparison to others. This not only helped individuals develop creative and individual thought, but it also taught them respect, patience and sensitivity. These abilities are all things that are valuable skills to possess as the world becomes more globalised.
Globalisation and creative thinking in the future
Globalisation helps connects the world. It universalises the world socially, economically and culturally whilst also individualising it (UN, 2003). Giddens (1991, as cited in Bourn, 2008) defines globalisation as ‘the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa’. While there is still debates occurring as to whether globalisation is beneficial to the world or not, there is no doubt that it has already bought about countless changes, both good and bad. For instance, in Vietnam, globalisation has increased wages and employment opportunities consequently reducing poverty in the country (UN, 2003). However, there are downsides to globalisation. According to one Australian NGO’s report, more than half of young Australian students are currently getting educated for dying jobs, nearly 60% of these students currently training for occupations that will be affected by automation in the next 10-15 years (Foundation for Young Australians [FYA], 2015). As Friedman (2005) outlines, ‘flatteners’, or events that are causing the world to globalise, are causing companies to outsource and look for innovative employees in countries outside of their own. Hence, encouraging creative and innovative thinking in its students would help Vietnam and Australia in the future, as the world globalises further.
[To read more about Friedman’s ‘The ten sources that flattened the world’:
To create prepared individuals, students need to be flexible in their learning and knowledge as having a diverse range of knowledge and skills will be of great use to them in the future. Friedman (2005) noticed this too, noting that students who had insights in multiple fields or abilities were more well-rounded students. Therefore, as today’s employers expect tomorrow’s employees to have varied skills such as the knowledge of another language, it seems only right for us to educate today’s students to be able to adapt to difficult situations and communicate with different people from different cultural backgrounds (Thanh-Pham, 2010). Yet, as previously highlighted, Australian students are falling behind other nations in terms of their literacy, numeracy and other abilities, with languages another major area of concern. Based on PISA surveys, Australian students are becoming increasingly monolingual with only 8% of NSW students studying a foreign language. In this globalising world, monolingual Australians will be competing for jobs against people who can proficiently speak more than one language.
The five ‘minds’ for the future
In order to address this issue, Australian education system hopes to provide students with the abilities and skills they will need for the unpredictable and globalised future, when it rolls out its national curriculum in the coming years. In the new curriculum, students will learn to develop the skills required to analyse and respond to genuine situations using innovation, imagination and inquiry (Australian Curriculum, 2015). The developers of the new curriculum have said that they will draw on the Gardner’s (2009, as cited in Australian Curriculum) five ‘minds’ for the future. Gardner believes these ‘minds’ define crucial thinking modes for thriving in this rapidly changing world. His five ‘minds’ are:
- The disciplinary mind – has mastered at least one way of thinking - a distinctive mode of cognition that characterizes a specific scholarly discipline, a craft, or a profession;
- The synthesizing mind – refers to the ability to integrate ideas from different disciplines or sources into a coherent whole and to communicate that integration to others;
- The creating mind - puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers;
- The respectful mind - notes and welcomes differences among human individuals and groups, tries to understand these “others”, and seeks to work effectively with them. In a world where we are all interlinked, intolerance or disrespect is no longer a viable option; and
- The ethical mind - ponders the nature of one’s work and the needs and desires of the society in which one lives and conceptualizes how work can serve purposes beyond self-interest and how members of society can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all.
Hence, it is thought that by developing these ‘minds’ in students, this will help them develop the skills and abilities needed to prepare them for globalisation and the unpredictable future.
[To read more about Gardener’s ‘Five minds for the future’:
What Vietnam could do
Thus far, a review of the Australian education system, as well as a brief overview and assessment of what it and other education systems could do in order to better their systems, has been made. From this, a few implementation strategies can be suggested in order to help Vietnam better its education system and encourage creativity and individuality in its students.
Currently, according to the work of a Vietnamese-Australian researcher, there are a few factors that are significantly stifling the creativity and individuality of students in the Vietnamese education system. The first factor he highlights is the limited reading resources made available to Vietnamese students (Thanh-Pham, 2010). Unlike Australian schools, Vietnamese students are often only given information and textbooks that presents only one point of view (Thanh-Pham, 2010). This suppresses creativity and critical thinking in students, as their perspective becomes one-sided and uncritical.
The second factor he highlights, and possibly the biggest, is the class sizes. The large class size, typical of Vietnamese schools, maintains the traditional norm of teacher-centred learning, minimises student involvement and engagement with the text or topic, and prevents the implementation of any class- or student-based learning approaches in the classroom (Thanh-Pham, 2010). Similarly, it ensures that the classroom’s learning environment remains highly restrictive and regimented. In this environment, students are always instructed as to what to do, meaning they become passive, uncritical and reproductive learners rather than expressive, critical and insightful learners [see table below] (Thanh-Pham, 2010). Thus, Thanh-Pham (2010) suggests that student-centred learning approaches be imported from Western education systems in order to combact this, as these kinds of approaches place a stronger emphasize on each student’s individual achievement and offer a better transmission of information. However, idea sharing and student-centred learning may be hard to implement in Vietnam as respect for the teacher is held in high regard, due to the society’s culture. Hence, Vietnamese teachers and students may find it difficult ‘to accept any pedagogical practice that tends to put teachers on a par with their students and detracts from teacher authority’ (Thanh-Pham, 2010).
[To read more about Teacher-centred versus Student-centred approaches:
Still, as Thanh-Pham (2010) highlights, during the last few decades, Vietnam has already implemented a number of changes to its education system. These changes have mostly been imported from Western teaching and learning approaches. For instance, Vietnamese educators are trying to implement more student-centred approaches, which see students working together to teach, learn and share ideas with one another (Thanh-Pham, 2010). Given Vietnamese society is a culturally oriented towards collectivism, enhancing this collectivism seems culturally appropriate (Thanh-Pham, 2010). However, the Western cultures where these learning and teaching approaches would be originating from are individually oriented, questioning whether it is possible and appropriate to use these approaches in the Vietnamese education system. Thus, whilst the idea of students learning, teaching and sharing with one another is an attractive one, whether it is achievable is questionable.
In order for such methods to be implemented, one with a thorough understanding and appreciation for Vietnamese culture and society would have to assess the likelihood, suitability and repercussions of implementing such approaches within each different local context (Thanh-Pham, 2010). Given the cultural differences, care must be taken to identify and address the differing factors between the society the approaches are coming from and the society they are being applied to. For instance, one factor that would need to be considered is the learning differences between Western and Asian students. While Western students use comprehension techniques to relate new information to previously learnt knowledge or personal experiences in order to help make sense of the new information, Asian students seem to better understand information only contained within the text or source, or supplied by the lecturer (Thanh-Pham, 2010). This factor would make it hard to implement changes as it would require teaching the students different ways of learning, which would be unfamiliar and odd to them for some time.
Furthermore, as previously mentioned, the executing of such methods is only effective if teachers and students are willing to accept the changes. Thanh-Pham (2010) highlights that whether or not it is accepted ‘is largely determined by the set of values and beliefs that these teachers and students have been socialised into’. Hence, given their cultural and social background, some teachers and students may not appreciate the changes which would hinder the whole application process, especially if one is implementing Western and individualist ideas into a collectivist society. Yet, this should not deter educators from trying. Whilst it would be difficult, as Thanh-Pham (2010) notes, there is an obvious need for these changes and reforms to occur in Vietnam. Thus, educators need to be encouraged to try new methods as the only way to know whether something will fail is to try it and, after all, trial and error is all a part of creative thinking and independent learning.
As has been demonstrated in this review, there are numerous ways to ensure students become divergently thinking and creative learners, all of which need to be reflected in an education system’s curriculum. But, as also seen, figuring out the best and most appropriate approach to fostering creativity and individuality will be culturally, socially and individually different. Whilst suggestions can be made, such as moving towards a more student-centred learning environment, adapting teaching to the learning styles of students, and creating ‘communities of inquiry’ to better prepare them for the 21st century, no one solution will be able to fix all of the education system’s problems. Thus, the best approach to helping students think and be creative and independent may be to provide them with diversity and options in what they can study and learn, as well as challenging the norms currently in place, and encouraging the implementation of more right-hemisphere and student-centred learning techniques that will help students progress as individuals into the uncertain and globalised future. These small steps will help encourage changes in the future whilst simultaneously fostering creativity, uniqueness and individuality in the young students of today.
Armstrong, L. (2012), How Learning Works, available at:
Australian Curriculum (2014), Student Diversity, available at:
Australian Curriculum (2015), Critical and Creative Thinking, available at:
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (2012), The crucial role of the teacher, available at:
Bourn, D. (2008), Young people, identity and living in a global society, available at:
Bronson, P. & Merryman, A. (2010), The Creativity Crisis, available at:
Entrepreneurial Insight Magazine (2015), Idea Generation: Divergent vs. Convergent Thinking
Foundation for Young Australians (2015), The New Work Order: Ensuring young Australians have skills and experience for the jobs of the future, not the past, available at:
Friedman, T.L. (2005), The World is Flat, book report/summary available at:
NSW Department of Education and Training (2010), Teaching comprehension strategies, available at:
Perry, L. & Lubienski, C. (2014), Australian schools: engines of inequality, available at:
Saxena, S. (2013), Top 10 Characteristics of a 21st Century Classroom, available at:
Segal, J. & Smith, M. (2015), Emotional Intelligence (EQ), available at:
Sterling-Honig, A. (2015), How to promote creative thinking:
Robinson, K. (2006), Video: Do schools kill creativity?, available at:
Taylor, M. (2012), The Difference Between Convergent and Divergent Thinking, available at:
Thanh-Pham, T.H. (2010), Implementing a Student-Centred Learning Approach at Vietnamese Higher Education Institutions: Barriers under Layers of Casual Layered Analysis (CLA), available at:
United Nations (UN) (2003), Young People in a Globalizing World, report available at:
Viera, I. (2010), Roles of Teachers in the 21st Century, available at:
Further reading and viewing on creative thinking:
***RSA Animate + Ken Robinson – Video: Changing Education Paradigms
John Hunter – Video: Teaching with the World Peace Game
(how critically thinking can promote creative thinking)
Lyn Yates – Report: State Differences and Australia’s Curriculum Dilemmas
Adobe - Barriers to creativity in education
National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education - All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education
Eva Ujlakyne Szuca – Report: The role of teachers in the 21st century
Robin Ewing - The Arts and Australian Education: Realising potential