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The Philippines ranked at the bottom of a global creative thinking test. How do we fix this?

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — The Philippines ranked 61st out of 64 in Creative Thinking in the latest results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED) to evaluate our educational systems. The country’s participants, composed of 15-year-old students, scored an average of 14 points in the Creative Thinking portion, above only Albania, Uzbekistan, and Morocco, whose scores fall in the same range. 

This puts the Philippines well under OCED global average score of 33. Additionally, only 3% of Filipino students were able to reach the average score of those from top-ranking Singapore, indicating severe shortcomings in the former’s educational systems. This is concerning news, given that creativity is widely recognized as society’s single most important resource and is a key component of a country’s sustainable growth.

What is “creative thinking,” exactly?

PISA defines creative thinking as the “capacity to engage productively in the generation, evaluation and improvement of ideas that can result in original and effective solutions, advances in knowledge, and impactful expressions of imagination.” The higher a student scores in this regard, the higher their chances of contributing to society via novel solutions and artistic expressions. 

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This skill is crucial in adapting to a fast-changing world, as it often takes creative thinking to quickly adapt to environmental, societal, and industrial shifts. 

How did we get here?

The Philippines’ score may be concerning, but some may have seen the writing on the wall long before the PISA results came out. Our educational system tends to emphasize creativity only at the preschool level, dramatically shifting to more traditional methods of education such as rote memorization and “right versus wrong” approaches from First Grade onwards. 

The change appears to be primarily driven by economic considerations; it’s a common perception that there’s no money in creativity, which often discourages Filipino children from pursuing careers in creative fields. At the same time, creativity is paradoxically in high demand and consistently devalued through systemic exploitation of Filipino creative talent. Our creatives are often overworked and underpaid, and oppressive systems reward themselves by making this toxicity the only viable option for many creatives to put food on the table.

This perception about there being no money in creativity thus effectively becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and can have the effect of making creative thinking a lesser priority for our policy-makers. 

In fact, in a statement sent to Philstar.com, Pasig City Representative and Chairperson of the House Basic Education Committee Roman Romulo said that these scores showed that we need to improve our competencies in Math, Reading, and Science — areas in which the Philippines also achieved a low rank — rather than directly addressing our Creative Thinking ranking.

“Once we’ve addressed the fundamental competencies, our learners will have confidence. With confidence, creative thinking should flourish,” he said. 

While Rep. Roman is correct in identifying Math, Reading, and Science as key areas of improvement, there is a need to recognize Creative Thinking as a fundamental competency as well. Creativity allows us to channel our other competencies into forward-thinking solutions, as well as into creative expressions that deepen our understanding of the human condition, which in turn gives us greater confidence in who we are and what we can do.

How do we fix this?

Addressing our low Creative Thinking scores starts with the misconception that creativity isn’t a viable way forward, which means shifting our creative industries’ systems toward more sustainable models. When parents can witness their children thriving in creative careers that nurture them not just financially but also physically and psychologically, they become more encouraging of creativity in general.

This also applies to our policy-makers, and thankfully, there are individuals in government working towards that vision. In our conversation with Congressman Toff de Venecia on the adoboTalks Podcast, he illustrated how the Creative Industries Development Act was developed in part to change these discouraging attitudes toward creative careers. By empowering companies to empower their creatives in turn, creativity can indeed become much more economically viable on the macro, micro, and individual levels.

It’s important to note, however, that these policies are pointless if the private sector perpetuates the systemic issues that make our creative industries so exploitative in the first place. We can’t keep sacrificing our creatives’ welfare in the pursuit of profit, and we need to start pivoting towards creative sustainability before we reach a breaking point. Allowing our creatives to thrive in meaningful ways beyond commerce isn’t just a “nice-to-have;” it’s an urgent necessity.

At the same time, we also need to cultivate creativity anywhere and everywhere, be it through storytelling exercises at home to invigorating public spaces with more art. We need to encourage spaces like smaller art markets where the primary goal isn’t to make a return on investment but to foster communities where ideas can grow and develop. 

We need to make both the creation and consumption of creative works more accessible, lowering barriers to entry for creativity through charitable programs and more private and public subsidies.  We need to develop our culture of critique, veering away from access journalism to genuine analysis and evaluation. We need to ensure that our creative education persists through all levels and long after we graduate.

Most importantly, we need our established creatives — those who lead our industries, who win awards both local and international, and who are at the forefront of Filipino creativity — to actively participate in this “creative rehabilitation,” because it’s only through creative thinking that we can solve our creative thinking problem.

Adobo Magazine has declared 2024 to be The Year of Creative Sustainability, a movement to explore and recommend ways to create a more sustainable foundation for our creative industries. Learn more about adobo’s editorial direction for 2024 at this link.

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