Fostering creativity through introducing design thinking to South African education

Global engineering and infrastructure advisory company Aurecon is embedding itself in the design world of South Africa and partnering with a number of schools and tertiary institutions to make design thinking part of the curriculum. The company is offering workshops, and providing trained design-thinking facilitators who can help learners take this way of innovating further.

“Being able to approach a challenge without preconceived ideas or a rigid set of rules is a skill that needs to be cultivated while people are still young. Aurecon is helping students learn techniques to enable them to keep imagining what could be possible, navigate uncertainties and explore creative innovations while they learn other skills,” says Aurecon Director of Innovation & Transformation, Africa, Abbas Jamie.

From a young age, students learn that they’re either technically minded or creative. Engineers are trained to be analytical thinkers, which can lead to a loss of creativity over the years. If you want to make a meaningful change on the African continent, then creativity and technical ability needs to be combined for innovation, which is why Aurecon is becoming a driving force behind bringing design thinking to schools and universities.

“One of the building blocks of innovation is creativity. We need to add an ‘A’ for Art and Design to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) abbreviation and start promoting STEAM. To come up with really creative and innovative solutions needs a complete paradigm shift. We want to communicate the message that students can be creative even if they love mathematics. In fact, being creative will make you a better engineer,” says Jamie.

Cape Town is leading the way with design-led thinking

In November 2017, Cape Town was named Africa’s first UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) City of Design, joining a total of 31 other design cities in UNESCO’s global Creative Cities Network. The aim of the network is to foster international cooperation with and between cities committed to investing in creativity as a driver for sustainable urban development, social inclusion and cultural vibrancy.

Aurecon was part of the design workshop that was held by the City of Cape Town to apply to become a UNESCO City of Design. The creative bidding process included conceptualising different ways that Cape Town could inspire creativity. The Open Design Cape Town (ODCT) festival was one of three projects submitted and Aurecon facilitated the strategy and planning of the event.

“We believe that investing human capital with creative confidence and skills in a design-led innovation approach are the keys to creating a future-ready, inclusive and sustainable city. Developing a human-centred innovation mindset and culture will enable the City of Cape Town to strategically leverage its creative industries to realise the sector’s potential for socio-economic growth and development, and to take advantage of the opportunities that the UNESCO designation brings,” said the Director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking at UCT, Richard Perez.

The ODCT festival is now another annual event that has embedded itself in the Cape Town calendar. This year the festival again hosted Designing Careers, Open Design’s dedicated high school programme where the youth learn more about the impact and power of design, innovation and social entrepreneurship and gain further knowledge of various career opportunities for creatives.  As part of the Designing Careers programme for high schools, ODCT2017 hosted the first international Design School, IED Istituto Europeo di Design SPA, which represented 11 campuses from Italy, Spain and Brazil.

“Our participation in this year’s Cape Town Open Design Festival was a great experience for Aurecon and many of our clients who attended the event at the city hall as well as our open day in Century City. We were also privileged to be invited as one of the speakers at the inaugural International STEAM Symposium in Africa, which was significant in the history of education in South Africa and on the African continent. This is a much needed platform and, in collaboration with the Council for Quality Assurance and Further Education and Training (Umalusi), will help to drive a more holistic education system so that the future generation can be empowered with 21st century skills,” says Jamie.

“As engineering consultants and advisors, design thinking is already a part of how we approach every problem and project. It’s time that we harness and cultivate these skills at school level because great design, creativity and innovation doesn’t happen in isolation. It needs to be a part of the way we learn and grow,” adds Jamie.

Design thinking in primary schools

Aurecon was approached by the global award-winning design thinking education movement, Design for Change (DFC) South Africa and eduSoil, to attend the Change Maker Catalyst Lab workshop on 28 October 2017.  The objective of the workshop was to identify school groups that could be mentored over the next two months. Aurecon was asked to mentor 12 students and 2 teachers at the Diepsloot Primary School in Gauteng and will be doing a few hours a month until the schools’ project is finalised.

The workshop was developed by 2015 Global Teacher Prize finalist Kiran Bir Sethi, who started to rethink the traditional learning environment at her Riverside Day School in Ahmedabad, India. Her design-led-thinking approach uses the design framework of feeling, imagination, action, and sharing to empower students and help them strive for positive and meaningful change in communities. Other Gauteng schools who attended the Change Maker Catalyst Lab include Ikaneng Primary School, Musengavhadzimu Primary School, Crawford Fourways Preparatory School, Fordsburg Primary School, Diepsloot Primary School, Unity College and St Stithians College.

“Aurecon is taking a leading role in design thinking within the engineering environment in Africa and I believe we can play an important part in bringing this approach into the education sphere in South Africa,” says Amelia Visagie, Aurecon Senior Consultant Communication & Stakeholder Engagement.

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