Future-proofing our education system for the demands of the 21st century is a significant task. But so too is it an opportunity. Here, Dr Jan Barnes champions creativity as a necessary skill in a modern Wales…


I think it is fair to say that the world as we know it is not only changing, but over recent years has changed almost beyond recognition.

Explosions in technology, particularly digital technology, have meant that we live our lives differently. Social media connects us on a global basis; working practices are flexible. Everything is immediate; everything is connected.

We live within a global network; indeed, innovation means many things we once believed would only ever exist in the movies or in science fiction are becoming fact… driverless cars, artificial intelligence, and video communications with the other side of the world.

To enable us to take this ‘brave new world’ and make a success of it, we need to transform ourselves to be innovative and adaptable to change.

We need to be able to question and challenge our philosophies and be willing to think and react in new and different ways to the opportunities now available to every one of us.

I have always taught my students that as educators, we are educating our next generation to operate and live in a world which is still on the drawing board – a world that is yet to be invented.

The revolution of change has not yet finished, new opportunities are waiting. The world is becoming increasingly entrepreneurial and innovative. This being the case, education has to match that innovation.

To enable us to educate our next generation for these opportunities, I would argue that we need to develop new skills and to me the answer is the EntreComp framework and EntreAssess – for how else do you measure qualities such as creativity and innovation?

In my position as a teacher educator, I have the opportunity to connect with a wide variety of teachers and academics from a variety of subjects, teaching at a variety of stages.

I know some very innovative teachers and I know teachers who only equate entrepreneurial skills with business. Comments like “yes, that’s all well and good, but I teach Geography, or Maths…” abound.

And yes, whilst the EntreComp and EntreAssess focus on three main competencies, they have enabling actions such as dealing with ideas and opportunities, using resources, and getting into action.

Within these three focal points are further competencies which relate to the brave new world I referred to earlier and, I would argue, are crucial in supporting and developing the next generation of learners who can embrace change and live their lives to the full.

Whether you be a teacher of a specialism or whether you have a special interest in a domain of learning, the most important part of your classroom or learning environment should be your learners.

Which one of you doesn’t want an entrepreneurial learner – one who can spot opportunities in life as well as in learning?

They are learners who have vision and are creative; a creative learner is able to generate ideas, use divergent thinking to create opportunities, and look past what those ideas are to what they could become… and learners who can accomplish all this in a sustainable and ethical manner.

Competencies such as this can turn compulsory education into a desire to continue learning throughout life.

How about learners who are able to motivate themselves and others, generating an excitement about learning?

Learners who have a resilience to learn from their mistakes and turn that failure into a positive experience; developing the sort of attitude that enables them to take control of their own learning?

Learners such as this are likely to be able to recreate the learning to suit their own needs.

There is much evidence that collaboration and social interaction can promote learning, indeed the socio-constructivist learning theories are built on that premise.

So how about learners who can successfully collaborate with their peers, planning and taking the initiative in the classroom and in life, and in doing so becoming able to cope with both ambiguity and risk?

If these are the sort of learners we want regardless of discipline, or age, then think about what these learners can contribute as they mature into citizens post-education.

Like many countries across Europe, Wales is undergoing massive curriculum change, a change which is starting in our Foundation Phase and continuing right the way through secondary education, with hopes for impact up to higher education.

One of the aims of our new education is the creation of a curriculum which will support pupils who are ready for the 21st century and all it has to offer.

To do this, the review of our current curriculum and assessment arrangements, Successful Futures, suggests that Wales needs to create a new type of citizen through education and that new citizens of Wales should be:

“Ambitious, capable learners who are ready to learn throughout their lives. Enterprising, creative contributors who are ready to play a full part in life and work. Ethical, informed citizens who are ready to be citizens of Wales and the world.”

I believe this to be an inspiring and exciting aim of Wales and the Welsh curriculum.

I also believe that if you unpick what the review means by “ambitious capable learners; enterprising creative contributors; ethical informed citizens; and healthy, confident individuals” then there is a resonance between developing this ‘Citizen of Wales’ and developing the skills which lie at the heart of the EntreComp and EntreAssess frameworks.

In short, we need to promote a culture of creativity in education; a place where our learners can learn by their mistakes; where they have a resilience which allows them to accept failure as a positive learning experience; and where they have the self-efficacy and self-esteem to make things happen.

An education where motivation turns to excitement.

  • Dr Jan Barnes is a Senior Lecturer in Cross-Curriculum Close-to-Practice Research and Enquiry at Yr Athrofa: Institute of Education, University of Wales Trinity Saint David

1 Comment

  1. I was delighted to read the way in which Dr Barnes has captured the essence of the task ahead. Wales has moved away from it’s insecurities since Devolution and asserts is at an early stage of asserting it’s own contribution to international education, therefore, a refreshing and creative vision is needed to enable this transformation. This endeavour is not for the fainthearted, since the Welsh Education system has emulated the UK wide model in the past and has a delivery model inherited from a ‘statist’ world of an old empire obsessed by class and utilitarian value. The worry is that the shift to creativity is wrongly viewed as a shift from useful skills to artistic skills. However, arguably, the shift is not away from a Utilitarian Educational system towards a more Humanistic approach. The shift is to fostering skills needed for the new age which are humanistic in quality. Entrepreneurship, Co production, Social Entrepreneurship, Embedding Artificial Intelligence require a paradigm shift to a more caring and collaborative society, the emergent disciplines will need excellent ‘people skills’ . With this will come a question as the design of institutions within the education sector. A truly ‘Nietzsche- esque’ dissolution of old institutions is taking place. Nietzsche in ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ saw creativity as both evil and good, in that it destroys to renew. Those institutions that cling to old orthodoxies and are unable to adapt, transform or ‘flow’ with the times face extinction. Therefore, what Dr Barnes describes is both prophetic and central to the survival of any individual, group or collective enterprise involved in education . I am also afraid to add that Nietzsche warned that a state is likely to fail in educating our much needed creatives, since a state broadens and generalises , whereas creativity requires specialism and the development of key talent. Entre Comp offers us a tool that may help state education defy Nietzsche. Finally , When I started my first Management post in Royal Mail in the 1990’s the orthodox was ‘Royal Mail will always be a Universal Service with a monopoly’ at that time Amazon was a rainforest. It was this mindset that encouraged me to leave the organisation after 20 years service, in 2004. People said I was mad but when I saw the birth of online shopping, I knew it was a matter of time that businesses would upstream into the postal network, leaving the organisation with the costly elements. Change has been ruthless and absolute at my former employer. They have had to learn the hard way. Therefore my advice to any educationalist today is read Dr Barnes, take note and future-proof, by developing excellent people skills. They will be essential. The analogy is learning to surf the tsunami.

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