CREATIVE TALKS – CREATIVE EDUCATION WITH PAULA TAVARES

AT – This topic couldn’t be discussed with anyone better than you. Thank you for accepting my invitation dear Paula Tavares. I say this because you were the person that had the greatest influence in turning me into a designer. When I was a child I was divided between different creative fields in which I wanted to work on and if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be who I am today. You are one of the finest teachers I had, a renowned entity in education, research and especially in Illustration, that’s why you are the perfect person for this topic. The Portuguese Educational system has its flaws like any other, but like most countries the stages from the first grade until you reach the university have the same basic structure since our grandparents time. I’m not saying it’s wrong or that I could arrange it better, but it’s strange that the structure that once served a society where the industrialized revolution was the major economic circumstance can still serve a society so diverse as ours nowadays. Learning shouldn’t be a place but an activity that adapts itself to our current social context. From your experience as a teacher what would you say are the main flaws of the students that reach university and which flaws are impossible to reverse at such an age? In your opinion what could be a major change in our educational system? Say the first one that comes to mind without thinking of the consequences.

PT – André, I must first begin by thanking you for the compliments. The feeling is mutual. While pursuing an academic life, we find students with outstanding skills, highly interested and curious, making it very easy to be a teacher.
On the issue of the Portuguese education system, more specifically our secondary school, I cannot pronounce myself as an expert. My experience in a secondary education was very brief, while my background in a higher education is much wider. However, I am of the opinion that the systems, whether educational or others, should not be governed in electoral cycles. That is, we should think and plan for the future, structurally, avoiding significant changes every four years.
About how students come to a higher education I can actually construct several considerations. There is this widespread idea, publicized by the media that Portuguese students are poor students in the secondary, or at least substantially lower than foreign students. There is also a general perception that the massification of education has lead to the downfall of the education quality. Like the famous phrase “nothing compares to the good old days” Despite that I have a completely different opinion. I think, in fact, that everyone should have access to education (in particular public education) either at the level of professional education or regular education. The question that remains is how and under what conditions. I don’t think the obligatoriness in prolonging the mandatory school years is the only solution. It would be necessary to create more pragmatic solutions for kids that from early stages demonstrate desinterest in being in school, or do not want to attend the schools we have availiable. By observating as an external member it seems to me that we haven’t done enough to integrate them in the system. However, at higher levels, until the 12th grade, I have had very positive experiences. I can say that I have been fortunate enough to work with students that are, in general, interesting and interested. I worked for five years at the University of Porto – Faculty of Fine Arts, as a teacher of drawing and of the painting classes and I am currently at the Polytechnic Institute of Cávado and Ave since 2007, where I also teach in the Drawing area alongsidewith working in the Direction of the Design Department. From my overall experience, or in percentage terms, I can say that there is good technical preparation, in specific areas, in students coming to higher education. Interestingly enough, it is in the Portuguese language, expression and understanding, a fundamental tool for future designers, where the greatest difficulties are encountered.
Many of our current students are referred to the IPCA by professional and local schools, in this case in the Minho Region, where the preparation is undoubtedly up to the task, particularly in terms of crafts and indeed, as mentioned, at the technical knowledge level. In the other hand the students originated from a regular secondary education respond better to the level of specific knowledge of the theory and history of design, as well as demonstrate a wider general culture. But is supposed to be like that, right?
With this assumption, what I think could be significantly improved would be the working conditions of teachers in primary and secondary school. And ,despite all the setbacks in recent years, they are still dedicated and attentive professionals. It is generally accepted that those who are stable work the best. This is true for both students and teachers.

AT – Schleicher Andreas during a talk said “…in a global economy is no longer national improvement that is the benchmark for success but the best preforming education international” (Schleicher Andreas) There are examples of countries that by changing their educational system, have shown progress in their overall performance and the country felt this improvement economically. I’m talking about Korea, and their budget to invest in education that is similar to Luxemburg but still Koreans data in PISA are quite better and their economical evolution is something outstanding too. So the amount of money a country invests in education is not always related with the performance of their students. I know this is a very wide topic but where I’m trying to get to is, if by investing more in trying to take the best out of the students instead of the current system wouldn’t it work better? Not every person has the same talents and passions so why should we be majorly evaluated by mathematics, language and history until we are 16 years old like we are all the same? Is this an impossible utopia where children are carefully chosen by an educational system taking in consideration their needs while they grow? Or should this be a “job” only for the parents?

PT – I fiercely believe in a public education. Fiercely believe in free and universal education. I believe that investing today in our education will be an investment for the future. Even more, since I’m a mother, I’m concerned about the issues of the education system and the regression of the investment that we have been witnessing today. I am very concerned that we are not learning from past mistakes, I am concerned that plans continue to be broken every time the government changes, at every changing of team. It also concerns me that from every investment made it’s expected an immediate return. Education takes time, a long time, sometimes even a lifetime. I am not aware of the PISA data, so I’d rather not pronounce myself about that. However, I believe that important factors for success up to 16 years include a correct posture and motivation. The second is often achieved with creativity, and when I speak of creativity I’m not referring in the creative areas, but in the implementation of experimental zones for learning, where students participate and don’t just feel like elements of a periodic table. Utopia? Nothing like that, just some space and time to think, something often overlooked in school activities. Evolution occurs when there is time to reflect, and it serves both students and teachers.

AT – The schools and teachers as we know were created in a time where knowledge was only within some people, and those were the ones that passed the information to others in these places. Nowadays information is everywhere and every day is being updated and added so teachers are no longer the only source of information for the young. So even the way teachers teach should be reconsidered, so children stop seeing the professors as individuals that try to teach them boring facts, people that stand no chance against what new technologies can offer. The downside of so much information is that it’s not filtered, making the Internet known for being full of rubbish. So this is a new challenge not only for the policy makers of the system but also for the individuals involved in it. Maybe if teachers were given more freedom on the topics to teach and how to do it, could that be a solution? Or would this become a total teaching anarchy? In theory what should be the posture of a teacher nowadays having in consideration the current educational system?

PT – Indeed, there is no longer an excuse for ‘lack of access’ to information. But the internet is a jungle. If not filtered, as stated, or mediated, it may often become an obstacle. Especially for the younger or less prepared. Today there are tutorials for everything, absolutely everything. And students often think that just by being on the internet it must be true, which is usually incorrect. They often create false ideas to solutions, which makes it hard to refocus and raise the aesthetic sense and/or technique of the work.
But in terms of design let’s focus on a pragmatic case, like a poster proposal, for example. It is very common for students to download images from the internet, whether from image banks or “stealing” it from someone, without credit and without the student himself developing the original photography work for the poster. Unthinkable? Not at all, it’s actually very common. Here the orientation work of a teacher is fundamental. Not only at a technical level, but also at an ethical level.
There is room for everything and for everyone, the amount of available information did not come to remove the function of no one, instead, it increases and highlights the role of moderation and guidance of teachers. Teachers of all levels, including from higher educations are more prepared than ever. In a few years all will have PhDs, in every area. They will all be researchers, some with applied research, others with theoretical research, but prepared. There is, however, the ‘know-how’ to remain updated and curious, respecting the spontaneity and creativity of their students and also learning with them.

AT – As the coordinator of the Design Department at IPCA, how often do you have the freedom to adapt this degree course to your students needs? It must be hard to articulate latent needs that they may not even know they have with what skills they will need it in the future. And even then that future might not be what they predicted. Like Ford once said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Do you also feel the responsibility of creating equilibrium between what is now current in our area and what might be the near future? Our area is one that is constantly changing and involves all kinds of businesses and interests, knowing that what do you think a design student should focus on today to be successful tomorrow?

PT – Design should indeed respond to their needs. Design should be responsible.In the IPCA we teach design as a solution to improve quality of life, combining aesthetic and functional components. These are the premises that we cannot overlook, however, we are always open to change programs and their contents. By the way we do it almost every year, especially in more technical disciplines, where we try to follow the latest trends and tools.
Regarding what the focus might be, I think the design students, as students from other areas, should keep an open mind, be consumers and educators simultaneousl, being creative but also responsible. Being a designer is an unfinished mission. A constant will to learn is needed, often found where or from whom it’s least expected. In order to be multidisciplinary, design requires a constant cultivation, constant restlessness and dissatisfaction. We can always improve something.

AT – Thank you very much for this small talk. I hope we will get the time and opportunity to discuss some different topics in the future. And to finish this I would just like to make a final quick question. When did you knew you wanted to be part of your creative field, or more specifically to be an artist?

PT – Ah! That’s a curious question. At the age of fifteen I explained to my parents that I wanted to be an artist. And that’s it. Obviously I had all of their support. First, I attended a design course (the only one availiable in the country at the time) in the Artistic School of Porto, simply because I loved to draw. Then I attend Visual-Arts Painting in the Fine Arts of Porto and then began the exhibitions and galleries. When I finished the Fine Arts course I stayed there as a Drawing teacher and this led to my academic career where the artist within was just ‘parallel’ and not as the only one or as my main focus. I feel completely fulfilled with the options I’ve been doing, I learned that teaching is a form of learning and that the students achievements at the level of the arts, design, illustration or animation, is equally or more important than my own.
Thank you for the conversation!