Artificial intelligence: the creative edge - RSA Comment - RSA

Artificial intelligence: the creative edge

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  • Picture of Alex Soulsby
    Alex Soulsby
    Creative Education Director, working with international schools and their communities
  • Education and learning
  • Technology
  • Education
  • Creativity
  • Schools
  • Arts and society

How should schools respond to the AI revolution in the workplace? Alex Soulsby calls for a greater focus on the arts to help students thrive by developing skills involving creativity, critical thinking, adaptability and emotional intelligence.

More than 20 years ago, the educational reformist Sir Ken Robinson shone a bright and powerful light on the importance of creativity in education with the publication of his book Out of our minds: learning to be creative. Robinson argued that creativity is as important as literacy and should be treated with the same status in education. He challenged the traditional system, suggesting that it was too focused on conformity and standardisation, and made a case for a more personalised approach to learning that encourages creativity and innovation.

A good 100 years before Robinson was calling for reform, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, a Swiss educator, was emphasising the importance of arts and creativity in education, rightly believing that they were crucial for developing children's emotional and social wellbeing, as well as their cognitive abilities.

I am incredibly sympathetic to the positions of both Robinson and Pestalozzi, as a child who excelled in the arts in my schooling and yet struggled with the conformist and standardised nature of education. I’m still baffled as to why many schools fail to understand the value of an arts-rich curriculum and why most education systems insist on narrowing our understanding of intelligence to that of academic success.

Arts empowered education

A little over a decade ago, I was honoured to be invited to be project lead for a national campaign fronted by Robinson that touched on points similar to those raised in his book. Back then and now, 22 years after the publication of Out of our minds, there is still a need to raise awareness of the importance of arts engagement within education and, arguably, a need to shine even brighter and more powerful lights on the skills that are engendered in young people who have regular engagement with the arts.

It’s still only a minority of schools that recognise the importance of an arts-rich education and that understand the important skills that arts and cultural education nurture: empathy, collaboration and acquiescence  to name but a few.

Educators are responsible for equipping students with the knowledge and skills required to navigate our ever-changing world. We would be foolish to not recognise that the current state of humanity is increasingly defined by the assimilation of powerful AI tools, accessible language models and other technological advancements that are becoming commonplace in most job sectors.

Sleepwalking arts out of the curriculum

This burgeoning development presents pressing and timely questions for the education sector, not least how schools should respond. Specifically, if we recognise the need to develop skills that AI has not yet replicated, such as emotional intelligence, creative thinking, and empathy, then doesn’t it become imperative to reassess the role of the arts within our schools? Indeed, the arts offer a unique opportunity to cultivate these essential human abilities. So why are we still demonstrably guilty of sleepwalking them out of the curriculum?

During the Industrial Revolution, education became focused on preparing children for factory work, which led to the arts being undervalued and, arguably, sidelined in favour of traditional academic subjects. As we enter a new revolution, with AI becoming increasingly prominent in society and the workforce, for many the emphasis on academic results will naturally and inevitably diminish, as employers focus on recruiting staff who excel in areas where humans still have the edge.

As it is, AI can confidently perform tasks that require memorisation, repetition, analysis and data-based decision-making, but struggles with creativity, empathy, collaboration and critical thinking. As it becomes more prevalent, schools must increase their focus on developing complex cognitive and socio-emotional skills in their students. Critical thinking, creativity, adaptability and emotional intelligence are already important, but they will be essential for success in a world where machines can replicate basic cognitive functions at an ever more mind-boggling pace.

Reality of the AI revolution

Creative thinking is crucial in preparing students for a future driven by technology and reliant on human collaboration. I’m sure Robinson and Pestalozzi would have agreed that, at this point in time, the sensible and obvious thing for schools is to reevaluate their relationship with the arts as a crucial step in adjusting to the reality of the AI revolution.

We require an emergency exit from traditional teaching methods, not just those that emphasise memorisation and rote learning but those that are obsessed with compartmentalising and standardising. As Robinson and many others have pointed out, the focus of education must be student-centred and the approaches must encourage exploration and experimentation.

As we strive towards a future where machines will doubtlessly surpass us in many aspects, let us not forget the essence of our humanity that sets us apart. We must encourage, perhaps even demand, that schools focus on nurturing the creative spark within each student, instilling in them a love of the arts, and equipping them with the tools to communicate, connect and empathise.

We must be mindful that we have a duty of care to our children and young people and a responsibility to create learning environments that foster creativity and encourage students to think outside the box. By doing so now, we can help shape a future in which innovation, empathy and imagination are valued as highly as technological proficiency, and in which the human spirit continues to thrive and evolve, aided by AI, rather than replaced by it.

Alex Soulsby is a creative education specialist and the founder of the developmental learning laboratory, Artist Residency Thailand. He is an advocate for the transformative role of the arts in education and has led projects and initiatives in this area both in the UK and internationally.


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  • In a world driven by the relentless march of technological progress, where the profound capabilities of artificial intelligence unfold like a mesmerizing tapestry, one cannot help but ponder the profound implications it holds for our society, our values, and our very notion of education. In the ethereal realms of creativity, where human ingenuity has long reigned supreme, the advent of artificial intelligence as a creative force poses a tantalizing proposition. The blog article, "Artificial Intelligence: The Creative Edge," artfully explores the emergence of AI as a catalyst for innovative artistic expression, challenging conventional notions of what it means to be creative. Yet, as we delve deeper into this rich tapestry of possibilities, a disquieting thought takes hold, like an unsettling whisper in the corridors of our collective consciousness. Should we not, in the face of this technological revolution, reevaluate all values and embark on a profound journey of reconsidering the very concept of schooling itself? For centuries, our educational systems have served as bastions of knowledge, guiding young minds through the corridors of traditional wisdom. But in a world where the boundaries of knowledge are continually expanded and redefined by the exponential growth of technology, can we afford to cling to the antiquated pillars of our educational institutions? Perhaps it is time, as we gaze toward a future teeming with untapped potential, to dismantle the conventional constructs that confine our children within the walls of schools. Perhaps it is time to envision new scenarios, new paradigms, where the concept of schooling, with its rigid structures and standardized curricula, becomes but a relic of a bygone era. In this audacious journey, we must summon the courage to embrace uncertainty and embrace the boundless possibilities that lie beyond the hallowed halls of traditional education. We must reimagine a future where learning becomes an immersive, lifelong pursuit, seamlessly integrated into the very fabric of our existence. Picture a world where creativity flourishes not within the confines of classroom walls, but in the limitless expanse of a society that nurtures the inherent curiosity of every individual. Imagine a landscape where apprenticeships, mentorships, and experiential learning become the cornerstones of a new educational paradigm, where young minds are free to explore, question, and create without the constraints of a predefined curriculum. Such a future demands that we summon the collective will to challenge the status quo, to question the very foundations upon which our educational systems rest. It beckons us to redefine the roles of educators and learners, to embrace collaboration and multidisciplinary exploration as the catalysts for knowledge acquisition and creative expression. Yet, as we dare to contemplate a future without schools, we must approach this endeavor with caution and a keen sense of responsibility. We must ensure that in our pursuit of progress, we do not inadvertently sacrifice the essential elements of human connection, empathy, and the nourishment of the human spirit. The road ahead is treacherous and fraught with uncertainty, but it is in embracing the unknown, in daring to challenge the established norms, that true transformation lies. Let us summon our collective courage, guided by the unwavering belief in the limitless potential of human ingenuity, as we embark on this momentous journey of reimagining education in a world shaped by the awe-inspiring capabilities of artificial intelligence. For it is in envisioning new horizons, in questioning the foundations upon which we stand, that we may yet uncover a future that transcends the limitations of the present, where the pursuit of knowledge and creativity knows no bounds. And so, as we cast our gaze toward the infinite possibilities that lie ahead, let us embark on this audacious quest to shape a future where education becomes a symphony of boundless imagination, where every individual is empowered to unlock their creative edge and forge their own future in the ever-unfolding landscape.

    • As the author of the original article, I want to express my sincere appreciation for your thought-provoking response. Your reflections on the profound implications of AI for society, values and education really resonate with my own thinking. Apologies for the delay in responding, however, there doesn’t seem to be a notification system for when comments to articles are posted (RSA?), so I’ve only just seen this now. Anyway, I’m really grateful for the time and thought you put into your comment - your insights further inspire me to continue exploring the potential at the intersection of AI and education and the inevitable changes that must take place in order for us to embrace, adapt and evolve

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