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From Imagination to Innovation: Why the Arts Are Essential in the AI Era

Artificial intelligence

More than twenty years ago, the educational reformist Sir Ken Robinson shone a bright and powerful light on the importance of creativity in education with the publication of his book “Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative”. Robinson argued that creativity is as important as literacy and should be treated with the same status in education. He challenged the traditional system, which he believed was too focused on conformity and standardisation and made a case for a more personalised approach to learning that encourages creativity and innovation.

A good hundred years before Sir Ken was calling for reform, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, a Swiss educator, was emphasizing the importance of arts and creativity in education, rightly believing that they were crucial for developing children’s emotional and social well-being, as well as their cognitive abilities. I am incredibly sympathetic to the positions of both Robinson and Pestalozzi, as a child who excelled in the arts in my schooling and yet struggled with the conformist and standardized nature of education. I’m personally baffled as to why many schools still fail to understand the value of an arts-rich curriculum.

Creativity in learning

A little over a decade ago, I was honored to be invited to be the project lead for a national campaign fronted by Sir Ken that touched on points similar to those raised in his first book. Back then and now, twenty two years after the publication of ‘Out of Our Minds’, there is still very much a need to raise awareness of the importance of arts engagement within education and arguably a need to shine even brighter and more powerful lights on the skills that are engendered in young people who have regular engagement with the arts in their curriculum.

Today, globally, it’s still only a minority of schools who recognise the importance of an arts-rich education and who understand the important skills that arts and cultural education nurture; empathy, collaboration, acquiescence to name but a few.

Educators bear a significant responsibility to equip students with the knowledge and skills required to navigate our ever-changing world. We would be foolish to not recognise that the current state of humanity is increasingly defined by the assimilation of powerful AI tools, accessible language models, and other technological advancements that are becoming more commonplace in most job sectors. This burgeoning development presents pressing and timely questions for the education sector, not least of all, how schools should respond. Specifically, if we recognize the need to develop skills that AI has not yet replicated, such as emotional intelligence, creative thinking, and empathy, then doesn’t it become imperative to reassess the role of the arts within our schools? Indeed, the arts offer a unique opportunity to cultivate these essential human abilities. So why, especially now, are we still demonstrably guilty of sleepwalking them out of the curriculum?


During the Industrial Revolution, education became focused on preparing children for factory work, which led to the arts being undervalued and arguably sidelined in favor of traditional academic subjects. As we enter a new revolution with AI becoming increasingly prominent in society and the workforce, for many, the emphasis on academic results will naturally and inevitably diminish, as employees focus on recruiting staff who excel in areas where humans still have the edge.

As it is, AI can confidently perform tasks that require memorisation, repetition, analysis, and data-based decision making, but struggles with creativity, empathy, collaboration, and critical thinking. As it becomes more prevalent, I would argue that schools must increase their focus more towards developing complex cognitive and socio-emotional skills in their students. Critical thinking, creativity, adaptability, and emotional intelligence are already important, but they are going to be even more essential for success in a world where machines can replicate basic cognitive functions at an ever more mind boggling pace.

Creative thinking is crucial to prepare students for a future driven by technology and reliant on human collaboration. I’m sure Robinson and Pestalozzi would have agreed, that at this point in time, the sensible and obvious thing for schools is to reevaluate their relationship with the arts as a crucial step in adjusting to the reality of the AI revolution. We require an emergency exit from traditional teaching methods, not just those that emphasise memorisation and rote learning but those that are obsessed with compartmentalising and standardising. As Robinson and many others have pointed out, the focus of education must be student-centered and the approaches must encourage exploration and experimentation.

As we strive towards a future where machines will doubtlessly surpass us in many aspects, let us not forget the essence of our humanity that sets us apart. We must encourage our schools to focus on nurturing the creative spark within each student, instilling in them a love for the arts, and equipping them with the tools to communicate, connect and empathise. We must be mindful that we have a duty of care to our children and young people and a responsibility to create learning environments that foster creativity and encourage students to think outside the box. By doing so now, we can help shape a future in which innovation, empathy, and imagination are valued as highly as technological proficiency, and in which the human spirit continues to thrive and evolve, aided by AI, rather than replaced by it.

Alex Soulsby FRSA
Creative Director Prem International School

Alex tweets at @soulsbyalex

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