“A creative mind is an open mind.” These are the words of our founder, Dr Charles CHEN Yidan, setting the tone for our conference co-hosted with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris.  

The conference centered on building resilient, future-oriented systems that foster creative thinking in students, teachers, and policymakers. It gathered bright minds across research, practice, and policymaking from 28 countries, including representatives from UNESCO, the World Bank, GPE, VVOB, Stanford University, and Arizona State University. 

Charles emphasized the importance of research and data as a foundation for transformation: “Innovation is the process that takes us from imagination to action […] To take those steps successfully, we need evidence to inform us — which in turn sparks fresh thinking.” 

This vision guided two days of insightful discussions, exploring how education systems can evolve to cultivate creativity — and why it’s time they do so. 

Pioneering the measurement of creativity 

Andreas Schleicher from the OECD shared insights from the latest PISA Volume III report: Creative Minds, Creative Schools, which measured creative thinking for the first time. He revealed that high-performing education systems like Singapore, Korea, and Finland excel in creative thinking tasks. But significant disparities remain, particularly between students from different socio-economic backgrounds and between genders, with girls outperforming boys across all types of creative thinking tasks. 

Professor Todd Lubart likened the effort of measuring creativity to "putting a flag on the moon", suggesting that while it's a new endeavor with much to discover, this first step will inform data and research for generations to come. 

Rethinking assessments and teaching practices 

The conference raised thought-provoking questions about current assessments. Are they designed to foster creative thinking? Does our system prime certain kinds of results, yielding quantifiable, linear answers? There was a consensus on the need for assessments that encourage deeper, more imaginative thinking – and capture the creativity we aim to cultivate. 

This theme also extended to teaching practices. 2020 Yidan Prize laureate Professor Carl Wieman shared that, in STEM learning, creative thinking means constructing solutions iteratively. Teachers can implement practices like project-based learning to encourage students to explore problems from different angles and come up with their own ideas. 

2023 Yidan Prize laureate Professor Michelene Chi stressed the value of hands-on, active learning approaches that engage students, stimulate curiosity, and create a space for innovation.  

Both Maria Hyler, Director of EdPrepLab, and Professor Makito Yurita highlighted the necessity of modeling what we desire for students: “We want the same type of rich, deep learning for teachers as we want for their students,” said Maria. “If creativity and creative thinking are what we want for our students, we need to design learning experiences for teachers that inspire this.”  

Building a collaborative research culture 

Fostering creativity in the classroom starts with engaging teachers in research. They need support from schools to debate research insights collectively, and then embed evidence within their teaching and learning processes. This collaborative approach to research is vital for fostering an environment where evidence informs practice effectively. 

Panelists described research as static, linear, too far removed from policy itself, and often used in a fragmented, monodisciplinary way. How can we build on what we know and what others have delivered to create a more cohesive and useful knowledge base? 

2021 Yidan Prize laureate Professor Eric Hanushek and Chief Research Officer of NCEE Tracey Burns shared the importance of engaging policymakers with relevant, actionable evidence. The Africa Fellows in Education Program, for example, fosters a network of policy analysts across sub-Saharan Africa, strengthening research capacity and evidence-based policy-making in the continent.  

The ensuing panel discussion yielded a critical question: “Is research really being used to improve student learning? And if not – why?” There is an undeniable need for dynamic, interdisciplinary approaches that connect research, policy, and practice more effectively.  

From conference to classroom 

As expert facilitators led interactive group discussions, the conference transformed into a dynamic classroom. Attendees were encouraged to define clear steps for effective change and identify key takeaways to implement in their own contexts. This hands-on approach mirrored the active learning strategies advocated throughout. 

Speakers underscored the need for an educational ecosystem where creativity, evidence, and innovation work together to prepare students for future challenges and opportunities. By fostering creative thinking, rethinking assessments, engaging both students and teachers in deep learning, and supporting collaborative research and evidence-informed policymaking, we can build a more resilient and adaptable education system. 

As we move forward, the insights and strategies discussed will serve as a foundation for building an education system that truly prepares students for the complexities of the future. 

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