Forging a new culture of learning for a digital age

First published on November 2011.

As the UK’s first City of Culture in 2013, Derry-Londonderry’s vision for 2013 is inspired by the fusion between art and learning pioneered by Derry’s sixth-century founder, St Columba, whose monastic order created the Book of Kells. Derry’s year-long cultural programme will explore the role of creativity within education in an endeavour to forge a new culture of learning for a digital age.

In 2013, the city has a chance to show exactly how, from primary school to third level the curriculum can be taught through creativity and the creative application of digital technology – how writing a song or composing a poem for podcasting, taking a digital photograph or making a video, drawing a digital comic book or animating a story, can revitalise subjects that are currently failing to engage many young people.

The aim is to galvanise schools to become hubs of creativity at the heart of their local communities, opening their doors after hours for arts-based learning programmes catering for young adults, parents, the unemployed and senior citizens. This will allow the city to tackle underachievement directly; provide a second chance for those who have never benefited from a creative curriculum; and get all sections of the community involved in creating art, learning digital skills, publishing their own images, poems, video and music on the web, and sharing their stories with communities around the globe.

Almost a decade ago, the first of Northern Ireland’s three Creative Learning Centres was opened by the Nerve Centre along Derry’s historic walls. Training teachers in digital skills and pedagogies that open up new pathways to learning for young people of all levels of ability, the Creative Learning Centre promotes models of hands-on learning that:

  • Fully exploit the potential of creativity to link together different areas of the curriculum and offer young people a holistic learning experience
  • develop generic, transferable skills in a variety of areas of the creative industries
  • bridge the divide between school and the home.

All of this has been made possible by the new skills-based curriculum introduced into Northern Ireland in 2007 by CCEA (Council for Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment). This more open and flexible curriculum is based upon ‘the need to focus on the development of skills and to approach learning in a more connected way… Employers want young people with cross-disciplinary skills, who can work together and apply knowledge.’ (CCEA’s Pathways strategy document).

CCEA has also recognised the need to work closely with organisations such as the Nerve Centre to develop new vocational qualifications that challenge both teachers and young people to be creative in the classroom. The Moving Image Arts GCSE was launched by CCEA in 2003 as a new digital qualification offering access to the same high level of creative practice in filmmaking that students of art & design and music have come to expect. The subject combines the making of short films and animations with the study of film theory, assessed through a unique online examination.

Film and the moving image also have an important role to play in promoting knowledge and understanding about the past in a society emerging from conflict. For one of the major challenges presently facing Northern Ireland is how to remove the barriers to engagement with divided history and identities that exist within a largely segregated education sector.

A partnership between the Nerve Centre, the British Council and CCEA has recently secured major funding from the EU Peace III Programme to support Teaching Divided Histories – an international conflict education project that seeks to give teachers the confidence, skills and the specific kinds of resourcing and support that will enable them to explore contentious history and identity in the classroom.

Over the next three years, the project partners will work closely with a core group of teachers and educators from post-conflict or fragile countries to develop and pilot a range of learning programmes that use film, digital photography, animation, comic books and podcasting to enable young people to explore common experiences of violence and peace building. The teachers will be trained in a range of creative and critical skills so that they can help students in the study of history and conflict and offer them stimulating ways to interrogate myths and challenge sectarian stereotypes.

In 2013, Derry-Londonderry will offer an international platform to showcase these new models of curriculum development and to make connections with all of those groups and individuals across the world who are working to redefine the role of education in the 21st century.

Creative Commons LicenceCreativity Money Love: Learning for the 21st Century by Creative & Cultural Skills is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Illustrations by Paul Davis -