Monday, April 07, 2008

Creativity in a new economy

What do you want to grow up to be? Give a few years back and everyone in this little dot would want to either be a lawyer, doctor, or engineer. Move a few years forward and the last one changes to something more biotech-related.

How much has changed? How much can be changed? How much should be changed?

There is certain relevance in a particular link shown by a friend on creativity in our society and its relation to education.

Within the school itself, focus is placed on specific areas where students are expected to do well - a holistic education is given, no doubt, but how far does it cater to the needs of the student? There will always be a duality of comparison and individuality - or perhaps it is just that the way certain schools are run people get the impression that there is consumer sovereignty (should there be?) in such a corporation.

It is no surprise that if the best students are put through a test, the results would prove to be among the best. As long as the test is capable enough to discriminate between people of differing skill levels, it should be an expected result that the best would end up the best in any given exam capable of distinguishing between the good, the bad and the muggers. For any school aiming to prove itself to be up there as far as academic achievements are concerned, getting the best students are the natural way to go - on occasion being even more important than getting the best teachers.

How far does this fit in with the mission statement and intentions of such a education system, however? As discriminatory as it might feel, it's sound logic that a school of the best would have the mindset of the best - general superiority. It's a natural phenomenon that occurs in any case of extreme meritocracy (Purely armchair theory, of course. Humans aren't that hopeless) which needs to be prevented by the second course of action - getting good teachers.

Now the contradiction in intentions is evident between the corporation that wants fame and the idealistic policymaker at the very top which dictated how things -should've- been done, due to the fact that good teachers tended to side between one category or the other, and also due to the fact that good teachers that fit in both categories tended to be in severe scarcity AND happen to be bad in other categories, in the end scoring the trademark phrase of The Apprentice.

...'cept they're not really apprentices, of course.

While it is quite obvious that idealistic policymakers do not tend to actually run the education system hands-on, it is nonetheless of note that the extent at which their counterparts exist is shockingly huge. To a school which intends to score well in statistics, they will do so - even if they can only do so by survivorship bias. Such a mentality is rather unforgiving on anyone who's a late bloomer - being forced to drop subjects you love because you're not good at them, being forced to take subjects you hate because you're good at them (Who knows? Maybe it's just that you can mug.)

Of course, there's the saying that prevention is always better than stopping. And that's what happens here and there. People can't take researches on things they would not be as learnt on - the effort is not worth it, even if you would make that effort because you know, you like it. Is it so mentally inconceivable that someone likes a subject he doesn't do well at? Perhaps it is instead that your preconception of the criterion to like a subject has been skewed by meritocracy!

The fear goes further. The rate at which university degrees are hitting the market are soaring high, and where now-Bachelor's Degree holders in Life Sciences were once led to believe that the end-point of a Bachelor's would net them a good and interesting job in researching, instead they now find themselves being stuck to washing test tubes while PhD holders do their diligent work. Perhaps in the future something past the Post-Doctoral Degree can be created. Perhaps people will get a PhD at the end of 5 years. Perhaps everyone will have at least a Master's by then.

All this leads somewhere. Would a child that stopped drawing at 8 be able to draw as well at 16 as one who consistently practised? It's a matter of talent, some say. But isn't it just as much a matter of mindset? A person sent through a math course in university and forced to excel in it after failing H1/SL math might very well lose his talent in writing - purely because he gets wired to think in a way so strongly that he has forgotten how to think like a writer. What if this goes on to age 21? What if this goes on to age 30? 40?

There is a certain focus that starts from young and ends at old. What you do at 8 affects what you do at 16. One single choice at the start of your first year in Secondary School may very well affect your mindset towards any similar choice six years down the road at the endpath of JC. Sometimes it's not so pronounced, like going into GEP for 3 years and getting kicked out after that. Sometimes it's rather big, like failing to get deferment to train for the Olympics and instead going for NS. Sometimes it's just downright absurd.

It's a vastly humourous thought and an equally frightening one when a teacher makes a comparison between any school with the one from Dead Poet's Society. It is also one that can be very easily sympathized with.

Have we geared people too much down a straight path? Is it the fault of the school or the fault of the government? Is it purely an issue of life? After all, in any developed culture with a structurized education system there tends to be a hierarchy of subjects in terms of importance. It is clear who are the victims. Who is then the scapegoat?

In any case, blaming the right party is not of any severe importance. It is instead an act of stepping up - against conformity and societal norms - that can get something done. An amusing equation from a contact's PM comes into mind:

Life - Dreams = Job.

Why is this so? Have we developed into a society where the words 'Dream' and 'Job' can never come together anymore?

There is a danger to a knowledge-based society - knowledge exists in niches. Where there is a demand for a given knowledge there will be a supply for it - even if it is inefficient as far as pure utility in any given job is concerned. Such an economy, after all, cannot be built upon authors. Not in any place on Earth for the next few years, at the very least.

What can be done? What should be done?

Likely, neither question can be answered satisfactorily. Yet one thing is clear. There is certain danger in engineering people to suit you.

And there is even more danger in engineering people to suit your prediction of the future.

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