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On Creativity


Without the possibility of imagining, we cannot change our future, because unless we have the capacity to contemplate and imagine and bring into mind a different scenario, we cannot change where we are now.

Lynette Wallworth

How can we nurture innovation and creativity to rise to the challenges of the 21st century, and allow space for creative thinking? Hear from visionary artists, authors and filmmakers on how they use creative problem solving to meet challenges in their life and work. 

Internationally renowned author and Professor of Education Policy at UNSW Sydney, Pasi Sahlberg’s work looks at the importance of play in learning. 

Emmy award-winning Australian filmmaker Lynette Wallworth works on the cutting-edge of media technology. In 2016, Wallworth was named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers. 
Author and poet Jessie Tu’s debut novel A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing won the 2021 ABIA award for Literary Fiction Book of the Year. 

Artwork: Lynette Wallworth, Coral: Rekindling Venus, 2012

Presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas and UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture.

Transcript | Lynette Wallworth

Ann Mossop: Welcome to the UNSW Centre for Ideas podcast., a place to hear ideas from the world's leading thinkers and UNSW Sydney’s brightest minds. I'm Ann Mossop, Director of the UNSW Centre for Ideas. The conversation you're about to hear, On Creativity, features artist, filmmaker and innovator Lynette Wallworth, speaking with journalist Sarah Dingle, and was recorded live. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Sarah Dingle: Good evening and welcome to On Creativity, presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas, and the Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture. My name is Sarah Dingle, and I'd like to welcome you all tuning in tonight. Firstly, I'd like to acknowledge the Bidjigal and Gadigal People that are the traditional custodians of this land. I would also like to pay my respects to the Elders both past and present, and extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are present here today. It's great to be here with Lynette Wallworth. She's an Emmy winning artist, and filmmaker who consistently works with emerging media technologies. Lynette’s work has been shown at venues from the World Economic Forum in Davos to the Smithsonian. As well as film festivals, including Sundance Tribeca Film Festival, and festivals here in Australia. Lynette is also a UNSW alumna. Lynette, what do you think creativity is? And how does it work?

Lynette Wallworth: I think creativity is the capacity to imagine something that hasn't existed before. So to bring something into being. I guess that's what I think creativity is, is highly linked to the process of imagination.

Sarah Dingle: And did you think you were a creative child? Was creativity something valued in the environment in which you grew up?

Lynette Wallworth: Oh, that's interesting. I was an unsettled child. And so creativity was a way for me to, sort of, utilise or express a, kind of, energetic overload. And so my mom was really great about that, I must say, she gave me the opportunity to think about things in a way that stimulated my imagination. So, like, the simplest thing lying down on the ground, watching clouds, sort of, formless things take shape, and asking me what I was seeing in those clouds. It's like that provocation, to find pattern, where they may not be pattern, and to find in your mind something that isn't clear. That was, I think, the starting ground for me. And the other thing, interestingly, was that my grandmother worked in a cinema in a country town. And she worked as a cleaner, she would go in and take us in at the end of the sessions, to watch the endings of films. So you can imagine what that was like, to sort of see the last five or 10 minutes of a feature film, and then to have to imagine, what was the story that brought us to that point? And at the time, I think it was, I mean, it was a strange, it was a strange experience, but it was like, highly, imaginatively powerful, because it meant I had to think something up that I hadn't seen.

Sarah Dingle: Have you ever gone back as an adult and actually watched those films to find out what the story was, or just hung on to what you had, because it could not possibly be better than that?

Lynette Wallworth: You know, the one that impacted me the most was 2001 A Space Odyssey. And yes, I have watched that. But if you can imagine seeing the end of 2001 A Space Odyssey, with no context. But I can, I can tell you, it's like that thing, which creativity does is that whether there's a new synaptic connection made and you actually almost can feel it in your mind. Like you feel something fusing that wasn't there before. And I can remember that sensation of being in that cinema, and seeing images and my mind, sort of, bringing to two, kind of, leaps of imagination. And that sensation is captivating.

Sarah Dingle: It sounds almost visceral when you…

Lynette Wallworth: I think it… no, I do think it's visceral. And actually, for me, it's visceral. So think about… and we can get attuned to what that feeling is. So think about the first time you've tried a new technology — that's probably a really great way of thinking about it — because as we develop technologies, they change us, they kind of enliven things, they move parts together that weren't there previously. So if you think about the first time you experienced, I don’t know, a VR headset, there's this like spark that's happening, because your mind doesn't quite yet know what's going on and is trying to work out what's going on, before that thing becomes usual. And that point, before something becomes usual, that is the spark of creativity.

Sarah Dingle: Do you think your view of creativity has changed as you've moved from childhood into adulthood and become an artist throughout your career? Or has it always remained that same idea that you had?

Lynette Wallworth: Oh, no, I think it's changed. I mean, I think I value it a lot more than I did. I think there's an interest. I think we devalue imagination and creativity, actually, in childhood. I think we think it's a given for all children. And there's a strange, maybe maybe Western expectation, that creativity will diminish in relation to other skills that we master, and that we, and we diminish its power. And its importance. And I honestly probably believed that when I was younger, and I think that I thought my capacities were less valuable than people who could, you know, were really adept at science or maths or the things that I was, was not so capable of. But as I've moved on in my life, what I see now is that without the possibility of imagining, we cannot change our future. Because unless we have the capacity to contemplate and imagine, and also, sort of, bring into mind a different scenario, we cannot change where we are now. And so I've come to a different position, where I think the power of imagination is amongst the most important things to engender and encourage and hold on to.

Sarah Dingle: We're doing this at a time of course, when a lot of people are feeling completely tapped out because of the lockdown and the pandemic that we're currently facing. Do you have a particular artist or works that you like to read, consume, listen to, tap into, to make you feel more energised creatively? Another, like another… someone who's built another world, perhaps?

Lynette Wallworth: I mean, I… one of my most favourite artists is James Turrell. And I, it's very hard to tap into a James Turrell work sitting here, except in my mind, to go in my mind to the things I've seen of his. Because Turrell works mostly with light. But that contemplation of light, so it’s like there's no other content, in a way, there's just the contemplation of light, which actually, for him, comes from a spiritual tradition that he was raised up in. And I have found that, I find that, an expense, those words are incredibly expensive. And you know, but we can do our own versions of those. So I do, I, I’m a great believer in the practice of heightened aloneness, and in service to imagination, actually. And so, for me, to go into my mind and relive the experience of being in a James Turrell work would be, is a practice that I engage in, just as I do when I'm making a work, where I will come home from like hours and hours and hours of being around the technology that I'm using to try and build a work, and then in the evening, I'll sit in quiet, and just imagine myself moving through the work in my mind. So then I'm sort of holding it inside myself. And that capacity to kind of contemplate, move through something, envision it, feel it, hold on to it and then possibly solve problems via that means. Yeah, that's something I practise and I think that sitting just in the space of light and contemplation is helpful towards that.

Sarah Dingle: Wow. Well, um, when we think about creativity and being creative in our current society, there is a view of creativity as something that belongs to the special few, and it comes out in artistic activity by those special few. What do you think of that? Is creativity something for everyone?

Lynette Wallworth: Oh, yeah. I mean, it's, of course, I absolutely… but maybe not… I'm not saying that everyone has the same capacity, but I am saying everyone has capacity. And part of the way we could think about it is how do I intensify the capacity, my capacity to be creative? And I think the way to do that is by focusing on your own individuality. Because there's a really strong link between the individual thinking, the way I think that no one else may think. And so that kind of pushing of our own selves is very linked, I think, to the power of creativity. So anything that takes us away from, I guess, following in the footsteps of someone else, that any kind of group think, and that moves us towards just our own puzzling thoughtfulness, contemplation, and then, sort of, a solving of something that's intriguing to our minds, that individualistic thought, that will hone your creativity. 

Sarah Dingle: How do you get your students to be more creative? Bearing in mind that creativity is quite hard to teach, how do you bring that out in a person?

Lynette Wallworth: So I mean, I don't teach all the time, but occasionally I do. And I have done workshops where, especially with people, students working, working with technology, wanting to make something, and you know… but coming into those classes, laden with screens, so if you like, take the opposite of what I was saying before, about the capacity to be within your own mind, and your own thoughts. So expanding the capacity of your own thinking. So when students come into a workshop that I'm giving, and they're obsessively looking at their phones, or otherwise, looking at their laptop, whilst talking, for me, I'm missing something that I'm trying to encourage in them. And so I have traditionally set, as a requirement, that people close every screen, and for the first 20 minutes of a workshop like that we all close our eyes and sit in an imaginative space, where we’re walking through the works that we're hoping to make. And I, sort of, set that as a requirement. Because one, I think it's incredibly helpful. And two, I think today, it's not a practice, necessarily. But it's something that once you begin to see how it enlivens what you're able to imagine, it becomes very quickly something that you want to experience over and over again. And, you know, the shorthand of that is, you know, to say to a student, why should I help you make this work if you can't yet imagine what it is?

Sarah Dingle: What kind of responses do you get to that question?

Lynette Wallworth:  You know, what, like, honestly, in the beginning, it's a little bit rough. And people are not necessarily happy Sarah, and I really understand that, because of this strong link between the ability to be inside your own thoughts and contemplate without being informed by a lot of, let's say, exterior stimulation, that capacity that that is where creativity is engendered. And so that's what I'm trying to encourage. I think once people get the hang of it, and I've seen that, they start to love it, but yeah, there's a lot of, bit of grit at the beginning. Yeah, often ends up well, though.

Sarah Dingle: We do have a related Audience Question from Wendy in Sydney. She asks, how is living so much of life, our lives online changed our creative responses or expressions. So not just pure screen addiction, but how is it changing the output?

Lynette Wallworth: I, you know, I think we're in, I think, I think we're in a midway point. At the moment, I think we all dove headfirst into these kinds of conversations, which is Zoom where I can see you, you can see me I can hear you. I would encourage people to think about how it feels when you can't see a person, you can just hear them. I, you know, again, to the point of imagination being a key stone of creativity. If you remove one of the inputs to the senses, you automatically enliven imagination. So if we couldn't see one another, Sarah, I'm suggesting there’d be levels of a conversation that would emerge that don't emerge because we can see one another. And I think the part of what we have to get to is the place of understanding how we restrict, or we become more elegant, more in our decisions about what we're using in terms of technology, because having online presence all the time doesn't necessarily lead to more, sometimes it leads to less. I think the kind of capacity for just listening often creates intimacy. And I think we've got to get better at those sort of decisions. The technology we have now and I work in that technology allows for incredible immersive experiences. And they are profound, but they're not necessarily what we need all of the time. Sometimes what we need is for pieces of that input to be taken away, so that we can engage more creatively in the conversations.

Sarah Dingle: If someone wanted to cultivate their own creativity during this time of lockdowns, what would you recommend?

Lynette Wallworth: I mean, be like James Turrell, look at the sky, lay down on your back, watch the sky. See what happens when you contemplate something that there's no form to, or there's no… which is not… there's no… maybe… I mean, I guess I'm trying to say something about a puzzle.

Sarah Dingle: See the pattern where there is no pattern. 

Lynette Wallworth: Yeah, see the pattern, look for the pattern. Look for the pattern. It's why mathematicians and musicians are so closely aligned. It’s not just the people who can do maths, it's the mathematicians, it's not just the people who can play music, it's the composers. It's the capacity to create pattern, and to find the delight in that, that is, that is really one of the keys. And you feel this, and you talked about the visceral, there's this, like, delightful sensation when you find that pattern that was, like, not apparent to you an hour ago. And that comes from a leap of imagination. Often it comes when you feel in a corner. So in terms of making a work. For me, it happens when I'm working with a technology that should be able to do something, I've been told it's capable, maybe it hasn't been done before. But it's possible, should be possible. And I'm building a work and then I'm stuck. There's like a point where it feels like it can't get any further. That moment, when you’re pushing against what feels like an edge, your mind is taken to a place where if you let it, it will make the leap for you, to a place that no one has mentioned before, because they haven't been there before. And when you have that sensation, it's so satisfying. It's so wonderful. It's like you're in a whole new landscape. And so that comes from a way of thinking. So I really encourage people to, whatever you can to hone your lateral thinking is, kind of, give yourself challenges that feel impossible, because creativity is the thing that sits on the edge of what's possible.

Sarah Dingle: We look forward to taking the leap. Lynette, thank you so much.

Lynette Wallworth: Thanks, Sarah. Good to see you.

Ann Mossop: On Creativity was presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas, and the Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture. Thanks for listening. For more information visit And don't forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Transcript | Pasi Sahlberg

Ann Mossop: Welcome to the UNSW Centre for Ideas podcast, a place to hear ideas from the world's leading thinkers and UNSW Sydney’s brightest minds. I'm Ann Mossop, Director of the UNSW Centre for Ideas. The conversation you're about to hear, On Creativity, features teacher, education activist and play advocate Pasi Sahlberg, speaking with journalist Sarah Dingle, and was recorded live. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Sarah Dingle: Good evening, and welcome to On Creativity, presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas and the Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture. My name is Sarah Dingle, and I'd like to welcome you all tuning in tonight. Firstly, I'd like to acknowledge the Bidjigal and Gadigal people that are the traditional custodians of this land. I would also like to pay my respects to the Elders both past and present, and extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are present here today. It's great to be here with Pasi Sahlberg. Pasi has worked as a teacher, educator and policymaker in Finland. And he's advised education leaders around the world. He's Professor of Education Policy at UNSW Sydney, and the Deputy Director Research of UNSW’s Gonski Institute for Education. He's also the author of many books, including Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland, and his most recent books include, Let the Children Play: How More Play Will Save Our Schools and Help Children Thrive? First of all, Pasi, what do you think creativity is? How does it work?

Pasi Sahlberg: Yeah, thank you, Sarah, good to be with you here. You know, creativity is one of those concepts that people don't have a common universal aspect for. For me, creativity is simply to put your curiosity and imagination in action. So I see the linkage between your power of imagining things, and being curious about things. And then creativity is something that, you know, I do when I use my imagination and curiosity to do something, create some new idea. So that's how I see creativity.

Sarah Dingle: Let's, let's get a bit personal for a second, you grew up on a remote farm in Finland, did you think you were a creative child, and was creativity something fostered when you grew up?

Pasi Sahlberg: If I compare to the lives of my two children here, in Sydney, you know, having a city life, really urban living, to what I had myself in a small village, in northern Finland, I must say that, that environment was extremely creative, in a sense that, you know, there's a lot of nature and very little, kind of, manmade things for you to play with, or do. So everything we did, as children, we had to create, kind of, a design and build ourselves. I didn't understand that time, actually, I often dreamed of, you know, having a little bit more around me. And my city, urban friends and relatives, kind of envied, you know, the things that they didn't need to do, or think about, just use them. But afterwards, now, when I think about my childhood, I understand that that was actually an extremely rich and creative place to grow up within, you know, all these things that enabled many, many things to happen, and kind of invited me to be creative and design things for myself.

Sarah Dingle: And that sort of richly creative environment, was that by design, or was it more by accident? Was it just the culture of the time that children were let loose?

Pasi Sahlberg: It was definitely by the design of the culture at the time. You know, this was a very rural setting where I was growing up and there was…. basically the nature was the only thing that was around them.

Sarah Dingle: Now, in adulthood, in particular, there's a view of creativity as something that belongs to the special few, the elites, and that is expressed purely in artistic endeavour. What do you think of that? Is creativity something for everyone? Or does it only happen in certain settings?

Pasi Sahlberg: No, I think it's a great myth, to believe that creativity would be only for some people, or let alone that only some people would be creative. I think this has been enforced by, partly by our culture's these days, but also education. That is rewarding those who are able to, by their own natural talents to, you know, do more music, or paint, or act, or be creative, and those who are not. And I think that this is one of those things that our education systems should do much better is to not try to categorise people to those who are creative, and those who are not. We are all born in ways that, you know, we have the same types of abilities, we have the same potential, you know, to create and be creative. But we just, just like Sir Ken Robinson said, we are growing out of this creativity, and school systems are just doing more of that. And that's, that's one of those things I really would like to see being changed.

Sarah Dingle: Well, your book, Let the Children Play stresses that creativity is universal in young children. But as we grow up, it seems to get shut down, increasingly shut down. And now we are in a time where children are literally shut down. We are going through extensive lockdowns in many states across Australia. How worried are you by the threat posed by lockdown, to play and to creativity, particularly in children?

Pasi Sahlberg: Yeah, it's a good question, Sarah, because, you know, my thinking is divided. In one way, I'm extremely worried about the play deprivation during the lockdown and this pandemic. Particularly when we live through the times when the playgrounds are closed, and children cannot go to school. And, you know, for families, staying indoors, you know, without resources to do that. But at the same time, you know, this lockdown has also shown to be quite special time in the sense that, you know, when there's much less things for people to do, because of the work has been disrupted, and also schools have been kind of, in a standstill, to, you know, use their creativity and imagination and start to play. You know, I'm not sure, Sarah, how this is going to play out. I think that we're going to see a lot of children that actually have been deprived because of the shortage of opportunities to play. But I'm sure that we're going to also see a lot of families, and we're going to see a lot of children who have been able to thrive because of this time, you know, the kids have much more time to play with themselves. And that's why I think it'd be very important for parents to understand the power of play, and the fact that you know, if your children are not learning all the time, using their online gadgets and devices, that's not necessarily a bad thing, if they're doing something, something good, and play is one of those good things that they could do. 

Sarah Dingle: Well, this is it, there's a real tension between the notion of creativity and anything that comes on a screen basically. And in lockdown, parents are torn between doing their own work, educating their children, and it's just, it's really easy to hand kids a screen. But on the other hand, schools are also using screens to connect with their students. So is this pandemic rewriting screen rules for children?

Pasi Sahlberg: I hope it's not. Because you know, even before pandemic, the amount of time that children and young people spent on screens was through the roof. And what this pandemic, just like you said, has done is to just amplify that, kind of, inactive time that kids have. I hope that what this pandemic will actually do is to help us to rethink, both in the school, the role of technology and the screens. I think it's a great, great, kind of, enabling tool for us, but particularly at home, how should we spend time when we are home? And you're absolutely right, Sarah, that it's so easy to just hand over your smartphone, or devices to give some you know, keep them quiet and so that you can concentrate on your work or are preparing dinner. But I think that you know my own research and research of my colleagues around the world is indicating the same thing that we are having very serious issues right now with the well-being and declining physical health and many other things because of this increased time that we're spending with these devices. But, you know, I tend to think positively, and believe in kind of a power of people's judgement and understanding and consideration with these things that will come stronger and healthier out of this pandemic.

Sarah Dingle: Well, thinking positively then, how should parents approach screentime and lockdown, do you have any tips or advice? Is there a good way through this, somewhere we can all feel a bit less guilty? Use this as an opportunity to foster creativity?

Pasi Sahlberg: Yeah, I think first of all, the parents should not feel guilty. I think we are all in this situation together. We have two young children here. I know exactly what it is, when going gets tough. And, you know, you have to do your work and the kids have to do their own homework and entertain themselves, they cannot go out and see their friends. So this is a very special time. But I think, you know, there are some things that we can do. One of them is, of course, that we should all try to, you know, follow the same rules as parents and children. That we should try to avoid things that kids would kind of understand that this is only for them. And then the parents can, you know, do whatever they want to do with their devices, or social media or TV or those things. Let’s make sure that, you know, these rules and, and new regulations are the same for everyone. Then the other ones…

Sarah Dingle: If I don’t get a screen, you don’t get a screen. 

Pasi Sahlberg: Yeah. Then the other one, the other simple thing that I've been advocating in my book, and in many of the community meetings that I've had, with parents and schools is to simply, you know, turn off your devices and go and play. If you're going to go out to the park or playground, you know, play indoors. And it can be a very empowering and a new experience for many parents, as well as grandparents, whoever happens to be around to play with your own children. And that's probably the best way also to realise this kind of creative nature of all types of different plays, and how easily children you know, get into this mode of imagining things and, you know, being curious about things that you never thought about them being curious. So I think that this time is also a good chance for us parents to, you know, just let go a little bit of our adult lives and sit down with our kids and play with them, that doesn't cost anything, and that can have a really hugely beneficial outcome later on.

Sarah Dingle: Is it also how we will look back on this time? Is that a good yardstick to think about?

Pasi Sahlberg: I think it will be I've met many people, and you know, I'm one of them, who is kind of ashamed to admit, there's so many good things with this pandemic that has happened to me personally, as a father, and husband as well, that I'm sure that, you know, I am going to look at this pandemic, on one hand as a, kind of, a very painful, difficult, complicated period of time. But also, I'm going to see this as a time when I really have to stop, you know, my crazy, busy life of, you know, flying around the world and doing like three things simultaneously, as something where I have to sit down and look around and really see the value that I have in my children and family and, you know, learning new things at home. That's again, where the creativity steps into the picture. That I have learned to cook during these 18 months. And you know, cooking is an extremely creative thing. You know, as soon as soon as you… you have to pass the, kind of, certain thresholds of, you know, looking at the recipe book all the time, but when you realise, kind of, you know, how the meals and how different dishes are prepared and created, it's been a wonderful thing for me to, kind of, realise how creative cooking actually can be. And I'm sure that I'm not alone with this thing, that there are many, many parents and adults will realise. That, you know, I learned to play an instrument, I learned another foreign language, I learned to know my children and my spouse a little bit better, during these two years, or three years, god knows how long this is gonna go. But you know, creativity, anywhere will be a very important chapter in this book of, you know, life in the pandemic, when we will be writing that a little bit later. Not now, but a few years to come.

Sarah Dingle: So we have an audience question here from Beverly Visi in Sydney, particularly about adults. She says, play in adults can help foster new ideas and approaches to some of the world's most complex challenges, like cooking. What can we do to foster this approach to thinking in workplaces?

Pasi Sahlberg: A great question and I think, you know, many workplaces actually has been shifting to this direction. If you visit any of these, these high tech or edutech companies and, you know, see what they do, where they have to, kind of, create new ideas and you know, imagine new things and reimagined issues. That they are very playful places already. And I think that that's what we're going to see in the future as well. I've been advocating a lot, particularly high school principals and teachers to, you know, think about their workplace with  new eyes, now. And just walk around your school, as a workplace and ask yourself, how playful of an environment is this? You know how much our workplace is inviting us to stop and, you know, play a little bit, or use our imagination, or you know how many places there are that really triggers our curiosity to think about things in a new way. So, you know, this is happening, it will take a little bit of time, and that's why it's so important, I think that our education systems and our schools are providing more and more opportunities for all ages of our children to, you know, play and experience this wonderful power of of imagination that we all have.

Sarah Dingle: Can you actually teach creativity?

Pasi Sahlberg: I don't think that you can teach creativity directly. This has been a question in education for many years. And I think that the common conclusion is that it's very difficult to teach creativity. What we can do is to create conditions, you know, provide students and children a space to play. And even more importantly, make sure that students have time to play. And, you know, create and develop these skills and attitudes and habits of mind, minds that are needed in creativity. Teaching creativity is a difficult thing. So the best thing to do is to, often the best thing to do is to, you know, step aside, and let the children play. Because, you know, that's how the creativity triggers. And Sarah, one more thing here, is that, you know, our young people and children have less and less time in their lives, where they can truly feel that they are in control. And when you feel that you have, that you are free to do things, that you control your own thinking and behaviours. You know, that's the space where creativity happens. That's when the curiosity and imagination come in. And those are the conditions for creativity. And just, you know, we ask ourselves that, how often are children – let's take primary school children – you know, how often do they have this feeling that, I am in control, you know, I can do, you know, I can consider and choose what I want to do and how I'm going to do it. Not very often. You know, the schools are fully scheduled for kids day in and day out. And when the children come home, their parents, you know, telling them to do their homework, or go to bed or do these things. So I think that we have kind of stolen away this opportunity from our children, many of them, to have this kind of a feeling that, you know, I'm in control. Not, of course, all the time, but you know, sometimes during the day, and that is that that is the moment when there's real opportunity for creativity to come in, takes place.

Sarah Dingle: Well, if we want to set those creative habits for life, schools have all their time scheduled out, as you just said, and a lot of that scheduling is driving towards NAPLAN, towards standardised testing. You've argued that NAPLAN is actually making schools less likely to fulfil their role as educators. If creativity is so important, should we abandon NAPLAN?

Pasi Sahlberg: I think we should abandon NAPLAN, as it is now, and what it has become. You know, same story with all the standardised assessments around the world. And when they were initially created, the initial idea was completely different. And it's often a kind of a good thing that many people can support. But it's almost always happens that these national assessments, like NAPLAN, they turn out to be something that nobody wanted to be in the beginning. And this is what we are seeing a lot in Australia. That NAPLAN is like the only yardstick, that you know, you know, all the actions in teaching and learning is focusing on. So I'm not saying that we would abolish it altogether and have nothing, I think we need to… everybody understands that we need to have information, you know, how the schools are doing and how the kids are learning. But there are different ways to do that. I definitely think that, you know, the time of this NAPLAN we have had here for the last 12, 13 years is over. And Australia, all Australian families and children deserve much better and much more, kind of, intelligent and creative way of answering the same questions, that you know, how are we doing in education in this country?

Sarah Dingle: If we abandon NAPLAN, and that's no longer the yardstick, how do we measure creativity in schools? How do we know when we're getting it right?

Pasi Sahlberg: Another great guest question, Sarah. I think, you know, I would actually challenge this question, do we always have to measure everything? If the measuring means that, you know, we have these assessments and say that, you know, this is how creative this particular school is, or this is how creative these students are. I think we have to let go, a little bit, of this need for measuring everything. I think we should think much harder about what would be the indications or indicators of, you know, education being a kind of a creative space for children. You know, why not, for example, look at the real artefacts, or kind of, things that the school are creating, or putting forward? Like, you know, it could be a theatre performance for the whole school, it could be an arts exhibition, or it could be a, kind of, a scientific project where the students have invented or created something new. And I think, you know, measuring things, almost always, as I said earlier, leads to unintended practices and habits. And my theory is that if we would begin to measure creativity, many schools here and elsewhere would begin to teach creativity. You know, make sure that, you know, all the kids understand what creativity is, and then start to behave that way. And I'm not sure that this is the most creative way to do this whole thing, I think, you know, measuring, answering this question, how do we know that our education system and our schools are, kind of, advancing this curiosity, imagination, creativity among our chosen children, requires much more creative ways to answer that question that we normally have. So yes, we need… we should have information about that. But measuring it as we normally understand measurement, I would be very careful.

Sarah Dingle: Challenge right up the chain. Thank you Pasi Sahlberg for having a chat today. It's been so interesting. 

Pasi Sahlberg: Thank you, Sarah.

Ann Mossop: On Creativity was presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas, and the Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture. Thanks for listening. For more information, visit, and don't forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Pasi Sahlberg

Pasi Sahlberg

Pasi Sahlberg has worked as a schoolteacher, teacher-educator, researcher, and policymaker in Finland and advised education system leaders around the world. He has served as senior education specialist at the World Bank, lead education expert at the European Training Foundation, director general at the Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture, and visiting professor of practice at Harvard University. He is a recipient of several lifelong service for education awards, including the 2012 Education Award in Finland, the 2014 Robert Owen Award in Scotland, the 2016 Lego Prize, and Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Resident Fellowship in 2017. In 2013 his book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland won the Grawemeyer Award for an idea that has potential to change the world. His most recent books include Let the Children Play: How more play will save our schools and help children thrive, Finnish Lessons 3.0: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland, and In Teachers We Trust: The Finnish Way to World-Class Schools. He is Professor of Education Policy at UNSW Sydney and the Deputy Director (Research) of UNSW’s Gonski Institute for Education. 

Lynette Wallworth

Lynette Wallworth

Lynette Wallworth is an Emmy award-winning artist and filmmaker who consistently works with emerging media technologies. Her immersive installations and films reflect connections between people and the natural world, and explore fragile human states of grace. Wallworth’s work has been shown at the World Economic Forum, Davos, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the American Museum of Natural History, New York, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, the Smithsonian, as well as film festivals including Sundance Film Festival, London Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Sydney Film Festival, and the Adelaide Film Festival. Her works include the interactive video Evolution of Fearlessness; the full dome feature Coral, with accompanying augmented reality work; and VR narrative Collisions, which received a 2017 Emmy award for outstanding new approaches to documentary filmmaking. In 2014, Wallworth’s feature documentary Tender won the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Award for best televised documentary. In 2016, Wallworth was awarded a UNESCO City of Film Award, the Byron Kennedy Award for Innovation and Excellence and Foreign Policy magazine named her as one of the 100 Leading Global Thinkers of the year. Wallworth (DipArt ’81, BAVA (Conv) ’85 is a UNSW alumna and in 2020 was awarded the UNSW Alumni Award for Arts & Culture, in recognition for her acclaimed artwork and films, which reflect on the connections between people and the natural world, have resonated with audiences in Australia and beyond. Wallworth is a UNSW alumni and in 2020 was awarded the UNSW Alumni Award for Arts & Culture, in recognition for her acclaimed artwork and films, which reflect on the connections between people and the natural world. Wallworth, is a UNSW alumna and in 2020 was awarded the UNSW Alumni Award for Arts & Culture, in recognition for her acclaimed artwork and films, which reflect on the connections between people and the natural world.  

Jessie Tu

Jessie Tu

Jessie Tu trained as a classical violinist for more than 15 years. Failing to succeed as a professional musician, she taught music at Kambala, St Ignatius College, MLC Burwood, Kings School, Newington College. She has taught at refugee camps in the Middle East, volunteered with AUSAID in the Solomon Islands, travelled to complete residencies in the US, and now works as a journalist at Women's Agenda. She has won several poetry and writing awards, and her first book of poetry was released in 2018. A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing is her first novel which won the 2020 ABIA award for the Literary Fiction Book of the Year. Jessie Tu completed her Bachelor of Music Education in 2010 with UNSW. Tu, is a UNSW alumna and in 2021 was awarded the UNSW Young Alumni Award.

Image of Sarah Dingle

Sarah Dingle | Chairperson

Sarah Dingle is a dual Walkley Award-winning investigative reporter and presenter with the ABC, working across radio and TV current affairs. She has investigated everything from indigenous affairs and human rights to defence and sport. Her work has also won the Walkley Foundation’s Our Watch award for reporting on violence against women and children, the UN Media Peace Prizes, the Amnesty Media Prizes, the Voiceless Media Prize, and the Australian College of Educators Media prize. Her radio documentaries for the ABC’s Background Briefing have been recognised by the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Australian Sports Commission Awards and the National Press Club. In 2010 she was the ABC's Andrew Olle Scholar. In 2021 she released her first book, Brave New Humans.

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