South Asia’s Creative Stifling and How to Get Out of it
by Puja Sarkar, Press & Written Media Team
The myth that creativity is reserved for a select group of people has a long history. Creativity was regarded as a divine gift by the Ancient Chinese and Romans. In the mid-nineteenth century, creativity was considered as a gift reserved for the exceptionally gifted, romantically indulgent and mentally-ill artist. In the 1920s, science began to view creativity as a sequence of human processes. After World War II and during the Cold War, the race for innovative solutions to maintain technological advancements became more intense. The first calls for STEM in education and its accompanying creativity were made during this time. Since then, creativity has molded its way into every sphere of life, increasing in impact and importance. Over the decades, it has found a home in a variety of social institutions, including modern-day education.
Today, creativity has a significantly active role in leading the way to success. Varying context to context, creativity has numerous definitions and can mean different things to different people. For instance, the ability to conceptualize new, imaginative ideas and bring them to reality is one definition. Creativity can also entail imagination, self-expression, and innovation. Everyone’s creative potential is not the same and there are some people who are more naturally creative than others. Nevertheless, it is still a skill which ought to be fostered, especially for students. However, in some situations, students are not able to exert or develop their creativity to the fullest extent. In the South Asian education system, creativity is systematically stifled. Oftentimes, students are driven to achieve the highest academic accolade possible for an array of reasons including societal pressure, associations of respect with particular subjects, family lineage, etc.
Aside from regional culture, Asian classrooms are result-oriented and in most places, STEM fields are considered more prestigious and more respected. So, students face immense pressure to excel academically in these fields. This excellence is often achieved through memorization of textual facts rather than understanding and creative implementation. It comes as no surprise that, in these classroom environments, there is little time or space for creativity. Additionally, creativity is repressed even more with standardized examinations and studying in a strict curriculum. As a result, South Asian students end up lacking imagination, curiosity and creative problem-solving skills throughout their entire high school years.
This in turn becomes a challenge to overcome when South Asian high schoolers would want to apply to colleges in the States or other western countries, since they lack the creativity and self-realization which would make them stand out in the application process.
So, the question arises — how do students in such situations develop creativity on their own?
Here are some basic tips to get started:
The environment we are in has a lot to with our creative thinking. Now, while it may not be possible for everyone to travel to different countries and have multicultural experiences, social media is the next best thing. When introduced to a new culture or community, you learn about their traditions and belief systems. For self-development, stepping out of what is familiar to you allows you to broaden your mental horizon and be exposed to new ideologies and ways of living. Acquiring this knowledge, passively or actively, directly or indirectly, not only puts your own culture into perspective but also exposes you to new ideas, thoughts and narratives and in turn, garners creativity.
When it comes to reading books, there is a widespread belief that nonfiction is more effective in developing skills than fiction. Fiction is often associated with escapism and is considered a waste of time. It transports us to a fantastical universe that has little to do with reality. Fiction can be entertaining, but can it actually help us grow and understand the world?
Nonfiction, without a doubt, is a doorway to facts and knowledge. Fiction, on the other hand, can act as a gateway into tapping into one’s creativity. According to research conducted at the University of Toronto, fiction readers tend to be more open-minded and think more creatively than nonfiction readers. The research shows that fiction readers benefit by reading fictional tales, as it aids them in decision-making and developing better judgment.
Fiction literature has the ability to leave a lasting impression on us and influence our perspectives. It allows our minds to imagine thoughts and conceptualize ideas that we might not have otherwise. We become more open-minded and less prone to quick judgments by thinking about things through the eyes of the characters in the fiction book. Additionally, it allows us to peep into other people’s minds and study how they solve difficulties (i.e., helps us empathize). In this way, fiction helps us perceive life in multiple, creative ways.
As much as writing is about communicating ideas in academic and nonacademic settings, it is also about self-reflection. It can be done in two ways; public and personal.
Public writing could include joining writing circles, entering writing competitions or any public forum. When you vocalize your thoughts and ideas, it leaves you open to a multitude of constructive and creative criticism. It pushes you to not only backup your claims with evidence, but also think about opposing arguments. It brings to light many issues which you might have been unfamiliar with. Plus. It is a great way to practice articulating your thoughts and get creative with how you say things.
Personal writing can be equivalent to writing a journal. By opting for this kind of writing it brings you closer to creative clarity, especially as you begin to recognize the fears, doubts, or ideas that are easily overlooked or dismissed. Not to mention, this is the kind of writing which allows you to be your most authentic self on paper in a relatable way — something which would is a great skill to have for your college application.
It might be worth actively practicing creativity for both personal and academic development. In the South Asian narrative, there is a strict education regime to break out of and a lot of unlearning to do in terms of self-development. However, scheduling in time for cultural research, books clubs and personal reading would cultivate the habit of exercising one’s creativity.
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