Teaching creative thinking in schools - PISA 2021 will offer some clues

written by: Sarah Bouchie


Results matter. Not just for the information they provide, but also for the action which they trigger. Today’s publication of the PISA 2018 results will provide much food for thought for policymakers across the world on the state of their education systems. Testing more than half a million 15-year-olds across OECD countries, the PISA results are recognised as an influential indicator of an education system’s performance. Indeed, after absorbing the results and implications, governments often use this information to consider which reforms, policies and outcomes might be needed to deliver stronger results in future years.

From our discussions with policymakers across the globe, we know that dozens of countries are already looking well beyond the traditional PISA fields of mathematics, science and reading. In particular, policymakers are also keen to understand how their education systems are developing learners’ 21st century skills, such as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and communication.

In only three years’ time, in December 2022, the results of the PISA 2021 Assessment of Creative Thinking will be published. Designed in response to OECD member states’ desire to better understand how to measure this critical skill, the assessment will offer some clues on the journey towards helping governments better understand how to empower and enable their education systems in developing creative learners. Both controversial and imperfect, PISA 2021 will nevertheless advance the debate in three unique ways: 

  • Policymakers will know what it is - As with many skills, there are many differing interpretations of what creative thinking is and how it can be measured. Drawing upon the expertise of some of the world’s most established experts, the assessment creates a common definition of creative thinking, and a means to assess it, recognised by multiple member states and education systems. This is a first.
  • Policymakers will know what works – Policymakers, parents, teachers and learners will all be better equipped to understand how their education systems are faring, and Ministries of Education in participating countries will benefit from data and insight on what works (and doesn’t) in developing this skill in their learners. Critically, they will also be better positioned to draw upon insights and lessons from others.
  • Policymakers will take action – Given the increased demand for and attention on 21st century skills, particularly creative thinking, this new information will almost certainly be used by Ministries of Education across the globe to inform and trigger education systems reform towards skills development. Many are already thinking ahead - we at the LEGO Foundation have already seen increasing numbers of education systems seeking guidance and insight on how to reform to enhance creativity within their classrooms.

As advocates for creativity and already contributing to this important debate, we have identified a handful of early adopter countries who have taken significant steps, at scale, towards educational reforms to promote creativity skills. Many see Play as a critical way to enhance learning and skill development. We look forward to sharing their fascinating and inspiring lessons with leading education policy-makers, practitioners and creativity experts from around the world, at our forthcoming 2020 LEGO® Idea Conference. We hope that these efforts, the PISA 2021 results, and the work of many other creativity advocates across the globe, will increase global attention on the role and importance of this critical skill, and ultimately assist education systems in realising the potential of each child to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners.

Sarah Bouchie is the Vice-President for Global Programmes at The LEGO Foundation