The Significant Creativity Confidence Gap in Singaporean Students

By Ravi Philemon

Image Credit: Red Dot United

The latest PISA study shows that our 15-year-olds have a statistically significant difference with the OECD average when it comes to confidence in being creative.

The skills learned in maths, reading, and science are closely connected, so it’s no surprise that Singapore students topped the charts in PISA’s latest creativity rankings. Congratulations to our students and teachers! Our schools excel at helping students practise and apply maths and science knowledge, and understand what they read. This combination helps them develop strong creative thinking skills, as these abilities support and enhance each other.

In response to the PISA results, our Ministry of Education, Singapore (MOE) said the PISA results over the past 20 years debunk the notion that Singapore students are merely rote learners who cannot apply their knowledge. The MOE reasoned that a rote learner would not be able to perform in the PISA main instruments so strongly cycle after cycle. It emphasised that Singapore students excel in applying their knowledge, disproving the stereotype of rote learning.

However, it is a fact that rote learning supports creative thinking by providing foundational knowledge and strengthening memory pathways, making it easier to access and use information creatively later on. Research shows that this method helps students build a repository of facts that can be creatively applied and connected in complex problem-solving and innovative tasks. Therefore, this result does not necessarily debunk the notion that Singapore students are rote learners. In fact, it may accentuate them.

What I find most disturbing from the study is that despite performing well in the test, 15-year-olds in Singapore did not think of themselves as creative. Just 64 percent of them said they were confident or very confident of being creative, compared with the OECD average of 73 percent. That is a statistically significant difference between the proportion in Singapore and the OECD average.

Our very young people seem to have a self-perception issue. This could prevent Singapore from producing our own global icons like Taylor Swift, Marques Brownlee, or Devin Halbal. If students lack confidence in their creative abilities, they may be less likely to pursue and excel in creative fields, stifling innovation and cultural development. It's crucial to boost their confidence to nurture future innovators and leaders.

Towards this, we may have to incorporate confidence-building into the school curriculum as it is crucial for enhancing students' academic performance, mental health, and social skills. Research shows that Social and Emotional Learning programmes not only significantly improve grades, but they also reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and help students develop resilience and leadership abilities. Schools can foster confidence by focusing on students' strengths, providing positive feedback, and offering leadership opportunities. A more holistic approach not only boosts academic success but also prepares students for future challenges.

PISA 2022 Results:

This first appeared as a post on the Facebook wall of Mr Ravi Philemon on 19 June 2024. Do join in the discussion over there if you have thoughts to share.


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