The doctoral thesis focused on creativity in the school environment and studied how students and teachers perceive and experience creativity. A broader framework for studying creativity in the school environment, including cultural factors in the manifestation of creativity, means that the potential for creativity and support in every school or classroom should be considered in a cultural context, which includes, in addition to the culture and climate of the school itself, the wider aspects of the society and cultural space, for example, a tendency towards individualism or collectivism. In addition to taking students' understandings of creativity and its expression into consideration, it is important to understand their motivation to create novelty. From the teachers' side, in addition to the more specific teaching methods which are directed at highlighting creativity, it is important to understand the level of teachers' creative self-efficacy and their understanding of creativity. In other words, by contrasting how teachers and students understand the concept of creativity, we can examine which specific activities and methods are effective for supporting creativity.
Research found that students perceive creativity through four categories: new ideas, uniqueness, self-expression and freedom/autonomy. The most important school climate factors that encourage creativity in students are teachers' support, relationships between students, an open school climate and the freedom to be themselves. All of these factors affect students' internal motivation or the desire to engage in something out of interest and curiosity. Furthermore, the main motivator for Estonian students is the difficulty of the assignment; for Russian students, the most important motivator is studying out of curiosity. There is also an external motivation for Estonian students, to some extent - having their achievements recognised by others makes them engage in more activities and in novel ways.
From the teachers' standpoint, it is important to see students' creative potential; Estonian teachers generally have a strong belief in their students' creative potential. Meanwhile, creative self-efficacy or belief in their own creative abilities among teachers still needs a great deal of strengthening and invigorating. "Many teachers don't believe that they can recognise and support creativity, so in all likelihood they probably won't. Another thing to bear in mind is that motivation is different for everybody. Researchers of creativity have reached the understanding that external motivation, for example, grades, awards, money, is generally inhibitory from the standpoint of creativity - to get a good grade, I will finish my assignment using the tried, true and therefore not novel method. However, this type of factor shouldn't be excluded entirely. First, external 'poking' makes some people act more creatively, and second, if the external motivation is connected to my interests, then that might actually increase the desire to generate new ideas. For example, the parent promises to buy the child a new microscope for good grades, which seems to be an external influencer, but it coincides with the child's interest in biology. In this case, the external motivator will make them make a bigger effort," adds Nemerzhitski.
A number of research findings are worth highlighting according to Stanislav Nemerzhitski. First, when studying students, he compared Estonian students, in schools that used both Estonian and Russian as a medium of instruction, and Russian students, which has not been done before. Second, the research contrasted students' and teachers' viewpoints and placed them in one system. Previous research has focused on the views of either one group or the other. Nemerzhitski's thesis, however, tries to place these two important groups into one research framework.
The research found the difference in defining creativity - for Estonian students, it is mainly related to an element of self-expression and freedom; for Russian students, to novel ideas and uniqueness. "Although very big conclusions can't be drawn from my research and the sample of Russian students, it gives a good idea as to what the thoughts were. Students' understandings and opinions on creativity in Estonian schools that use Russian as a medium of instruction are more similar to those of Russian students," the doctoral student adds. Another difference is, as mentioned previously, the motivation for creative activity - for Estonian students, it is the difficulty of the assignment or the challenge of solving an assignment; for Russian students, it is the curiosity the assignment creates. Somewhat expectedly, Estonian students are significantly more individualistic, valuing autonomy more highly than Russian students, for whom qualities such as national and familial collectivism are more important. These cultural differences help us understand how young people and teachers with different backgrounds approach encouraging and supporting creativity.
The supervisors of the doctoral thesis are Associate Professor Eda Heinla from Tallinn University and Associate Professor Eva Hoff from Lund University. The opponents are Professor Maciej Karwowski from the University of Wroclaw and Professor Erika Löfström from the University of Helsinki.
The doctoral thesis is available in the ETERA digital environment of the Tallinn University Academic Library.