[VIEWPOINT]Creativity vs. book-learning

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[VIEWPOINT]Creativity vs. book-learning

Here’s a joke I heard recently. A reporter asked an Indian and a Singaporean, “What is your opinion about eating beef?” The Indian, a Hindu, responded, “What is beef?” The Singaporean responded, “What is an opinion?”
Singapore developed its economy with effective, comprehensive policy planning, but the country is also known for its tight government censorship.
If the same question were posed to students in Korea, we might get similar answers to those of Singaporeans.
A friend of mine had a daughter while he and his wife were living in the United States, and brought her back to Korea when the child was in the first grade. In her Korean class, the girl was given a test. In the word pairing section, she got a question wrong. She had paired a turtle with “fast,” but the correct answer was “slow.” The girl insisted her answer was also right, and her theory also made sense. The girl had a red-eared slider at home, and the turtle was apparently faster than other aquatic creatures living in the fish tank. So she thought a turtle was an agile animal, not a slow crawler.
My friend did not know what to say when she mentioned the Ninja Turtles, four cartoon superheroes. But my friend had to tell her daughter that she was not entirely wrong, but from now on, a turtle should be paired with “slow,” at least on tests, to get the correct answer.
For those children who grow up reading Aesop’s Fables and learning the concept of a turtle from “The Hare and the Tortoise,” pairing a turtle with “slow” would be natural.
But what is fast or slow is always relative, and a turtle has many characteristics other than being slow. Many other words can be used to describe a turtle. The point of education is not to have all students produce one generally accepted answer.
What is more important is the process by which the students think and express their opinions freely, test and evaluate different ideas, find possible errors in their opinions and correct them to reach the right conclusion.
We have all heard of the many success stories of Korean students. Children who are taken abroad while in elementary or middle school have generally excellent results at school. But when they move on to higher levels of education, we hear less often that Korean students maintain their outstanding performances.
Perhaps what they had learned in Korea when they were young did not help them much in college and beyond.
There are several factors that can slow the accomplishment of students studying abroad as they get older, and we cannot deny that the educational system in Korea has certainly failed to build the creativity of our students.
Creative education remains an empty slogan because each teacher is assigned so many students in each class. Also, teachers have to cover a certain amount of material in the textbooks designated by the official curriculum in a set amount of time. Another obstacle to creative education is the evaluation system that makes objectivity the priority.
Many people misunderstand the concept of creativity. They might think creativity is the spontaneous, outrageous ideas that Don Quixote would think of. But in fact, creative thinking is only possible based on a stock of substantial knowledge and clear, logical grounds. Creative thinking is not a wild and nonsensical idea that lacks content and validity. In order to enhance creative thinking capabilities, learning fundamental concepts that become the basic ingredients of the thinking process is a prerequisite.
Creativity in education can be implemented in nearly all curriculums and fields. For example, mathematics is considered to be a field of objective study in search of the eternal truth. The subject might seem distant from creativity, but the history of mathematics has been a series of creative ideas that modified existing theories and came up with new ones.
Students should think beyond the bold-faced formulas and algorithms in the mathematics textbooks. Instead of mechanically applying the formulas, encouraging students to come up with more imaginative, more efficient methods to solve the problems can be a beginning of creative education.
The teachers should let students make their own guesses, evaluate the new methods, and produce a better way on their own.
That is so true that it sounds banal. But the educational level of the next generation is the most important factor that will determine the future of our country.
For the sake of our future, encouraging creativity must be the main agenda of the Korean education system.

* The writer is a professor of mathematics at Hongik University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Kyung-mee
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