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There is a queue outside the theatre, and a casual, post-lunch hum. Inside, everyone has shed their coats and there is lively chatter. They’re having to turn people away from this event, but they’re also live broadcasting it on the speakers outside. Debra Adelaide, who is chairing the panel, starts off with no small statement, “It’s hard to imagine a more important topic in a writers’ festival. Without creative nurturing none of us would have found ourselves sitting here today.” She’s drawn everyone in. The panel nod in agreement. This panel consists of three University of Sydney academics from the Faculty of Education and Social Work: Professor Robyn Ewing, and renown children’s author and Adjunct Associate Libby Gleeson, and Honorary Associate Teya Dusseldorp.

Beginning the panel conversation, Professor Ewing said, “creativity can’t be taught, but it’s there in all of us”. This is a launch pad into a discussion of the importance of opening opportunities for children to be creative through play and through exploration. She also argued for the need for a safe and trusting environment, but one in which children can take risks. She was very well spoken.

Libby draws attention to the importance of narrative writing in schools as creative expression. “You don’t write down what you know. You write to find out what you know,” she says. This leads on to Teya talking about the Sydney Story Factory, a non-profit creative writing centre in Redfern set up particularly for children from underprivileged backgrounds. Teya’s organisation, Dusseldorp Skills Forum, has been one of the founding partners in the Factory. She talks about the biggest benefit being the all-round increase of confidence to children who go there.

The effect, then, of stifling creativity is a loss of faith in ability, which can have long-term repercussions. Everyone on the panel acknowledged that their creativity was overwhelmingly fostered, but moments were recalled where they were told they weren’t any good at one thing or other, which they believed had a lasting impact. It is revealed that each one of the panel members were told that they were tone deaf. But, as Libby Gleeson points out “you have to find the things for every child that switch them on.” This brings up the question of whether all creativity should be nurtured, regardless of its merits. Libby Gleeson remarks that “children shouldn’t be told they will be published whenever they write something, but rather they should be writing for themselves.” This is a point Professor Ewing agrees on, saying that creative learning is “about finding who you are, and getting good constructive feedback on the way”.

The panel wraps up with a surprise guest – one of the now-grown-up early attendees of Sydney Story Factory. Her name is Yarrie Bangura, and she is a writer, poet, and is involved in the Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe. When she stands up on the stage she initially looks nervous, but speaks with increasing confidence. “When I came here”, she says, “I had pains in my heart and I didn’t know how to get them out. Counselling wasn’t the answer for me. And then I found the Story Factory, and I started going there every day”. Then she reads out one of her poems, which speaks of changing homes. When she reads it she speaks clearly and powerfully.

There isn’t much time left for questions, but one question is allowed which brings the hour to a neat conclusion. A lady in the front asks if the panel thinks the reason we don’t focus on creative education is because we have difficulty measuring its outcomes, both Robyn and Teya reply that they have been working on this. Outcomes based learning is in fashion, but Robyn says, “Yarrie is the outcome”, which points to the fact we need to be more creative about how we measure creative outcomes.

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