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Creativity to compete globally

/ 12:24 AM February 15, 2017

Why is it that many children prefer to be in an internet café than in a classroom? The internet cafe is fun, and lectures are boring. What should educators do to bring them back?

Have you heard of Nocca, or the New  Orleans Center for Creative Arts? It is a public high school in Louisiana in the United States that has produced such brilliant performers as Harry Connick, Trombone Shorty, Antony Mackie, and Wynton and Bradford Marsalis.

In 2010, Nocca sent 98 percent of its seniors to college. Many of them were accepted at New York University, Juilliard School, University of California, Los Angeles, Cooper Union, and Northwestern University


Another US high school that is producing brilliant students is High Tech High in San Diego, California. Like Nocca, its graduates have been accepted in topnotch colleges and universities.

Why are the students of Nocca and High Tech High outperforming those in standard high schools? Both use an educational infrastructure that promotes creativity among students by having them do and finish projects rather than swallow information from teachers and pass standardized tests.

At Nocca, students are encouraged to persevere and finish their work to the best of their ability under the mentorship of an artist. They spend about five hours a day working on projects or creations that are later judged by their peers and mentors—really a cool process.

In the words of Nocca president and CEO Kyle Wedberg, “Every kid leaves here with an ability to push themselves. We show kids what it takes to make something great.”

In a project-based curriculum, students are exposed to the realities of the creative process. They write poems, play saxophone, or tap dance until their work or performance is ready to be judged. By showing up every day to work, they learn how to persevere—a critical quality that will allow them to move from amateur to mastery status.

As Woody Allen put it, “80 percent of success is showing up.” And students of Nocca are drilled on persistence and daily attendance.

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, pioneered the study of grit or persistence. This work was developed at Nocca for all students from freshmen to seniors. “I’d bet that there isn’t a single successful person who hasn’t depended on grit,” Duckworth remarked.

In her study of persistence, Duckworth found that those with the greatest amount of grit were successful in the National Spelling Bee, finished the boot camp for the US military’s Special Forces, and taught America programs. And in many students, grit is the key ingredient that proved to be a better future predictor than IQ scores.


Nocca and High Tech High are just two of the new waves of education concepts that are spreading in the United States whose goals are to immerse students in the concept of creativity in order for them to become successful in global competition.

Instead of memorizing information to pass a standardized test which is now in question, students should learn how to connect ideas and collaborate with experts throughout the completion of their projects. There is no lesson plan for ingenuity and no textbook for divergent thinking. Students learn better by doing, not by storing spoon-fed information in their memory bank.

Larry Rosenstock, the CEO of High Tech High, said: “There is no test for the future that we can teach to. What we do know, however, is that being able to make new things is still going to be the way to succeed. Creativity is a skill that never goes out of style.”

Is our educational system creative enough to produce students who can compete globally? Let us all motivate our educational leaders to change their mindset toward innovation.
Dr. Leonardo L. Leonidas (nonieleonidas68@ retired in 2008 as assistant clinical professor in pediatrics from Boston’s Tufts University School of Medicine, where he was recognized with a Distinguished Career in Teaching Award in 2009. He is a 1968 graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine and now spends some of his time in the province of Aklan.

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