Unlocking Creativity in Rural Kenyan School Children

I have always believed in the intense power of creative thought and expression.  I believe creativity is an essential component of intellect and one that should be stimulated and nurtured.

Kids possess raw creative genius and curiosity. They are natural inventors, constantly repurposing blankets into forts, trashed containers into airplanes, old cardboard boxes into rocket ships. Imagination drives them and consumes their days. Today I saw a teacher mount a fight against that raw creative talent.

Kenyan Child Drawing

I was at Nyangite Primary School where they have 605 students and 5 teachers. This little girl was drawing a picture of her home and approached me to show off her work. I told her she had drawn a beautiful home and asked what the other images in the picture were. She whispered, “ndege,” which means birds. At that moment, the teacher came up and told her they were “scribbles” and that she is “just a baby scribbling”. I almost melted in horror. The girl was ashamed and retreated to hide her paper.

I looked around the classroom and realized the older kids had taken a formulaic approach to drawing birds. The birds they drew were identical. The trees were identical. In that overcrowded classroom, I was witnessing the death of creativity.

This upsets me for many reasons. I believe creative expression fuels intellectual development and maturity. Imagination, curiosity and self expression are powerful reasoning tools. These components lay the foundation for independent thought. They lead to creative and critical thinking which, in turn, lead to problem solving, invention, discovery, leadership and bravery in the face of conformity. Creativity induces generative thoughts and actions. Creativity leads to innovation.

Kenyan Child Drawing

And here I was, watching these incredible innate gifts being intentionally stripped out of the learning environment in favor of a regimented, rote memory approach to learning. Starting with the baby class, the children were conforming, shedding their willingness to take risks and abandoning spontaneous inspiration. When I visited the Standard 7 class, the students were using rulers to draw – so conscious of precision and what is “right” that they were uncomfortable with the thought of freestyle drawing.

In adulthood, creative starvation and discouragement can easily translate into regimented action, closed thinking, conformity, and a tendency to blindly adhere to what is known. These qualities make it very difficult to lift oneself out of poverty.

The community here speaks of their children as the future. They place their hope and destinies in the hands of their children with the hope they will grow into their roles as future leaders of Kuria. We need these children to be equipped with skills that will enable them to have big ideas, the self-confidence to act boldly and the creativity to spur radical positive change. Every one of these kids has the capacity and the drive required to be a contributing member of the community. Let us work to ensure the very skills needed to empower communities out of poverty are not taught out of them.

About Lindsey Kneuven

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