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Creativity, Education and the Changemakers of Tomorrow

Mary Mazzoni headshotWords by Mary Mazzoni

Adobe Sponsored Series

Creativity & Social Innovation
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We all know the job market is changing, but you may be surprised to learn how much. A recent study from the U.S. Department of Labor concluded that the future of young people will center around solving problems that haven't been identified, using tools that haven't been invented yet, in careers that don't yet exist. In fact, an estimated 65 percent of teens and 20-somethings will ultimately work in careers that don't exist today.

That's a pretty staggering statistic, and it begs the question: How are we preparing young people to become the problem-solvers and changemakers of tomorrow?

If you ask software giant Adobe, it's all about creativity -- a stance that makes a ton of sense if you think about it: Problem-solving and creativity naturally go hand-in-hand, after all.

Yet, when it comes to the public education system -- particularly in the United States -- "creativity is in crisis." That's the message Adobe hopes to share through its Adobe Youth Voices program, a global initiative that brings media-making experiences to young people. Lauren Stevenson, director of the program, elaborated in an recent interview with TriplePundit:

"The No Child Left Behind legislation has led to a pretty reductive curriculum in our schools, and young people have... learned how to give the 'right answer.' The curriculum has been a lot less focused on imagination, on problem-solving and on critical thinking," she told 3p.

"I think that's the intent behind the new Common Core standard. But young people who are a product of schools that used that No Child Left Behind curriculum have had a pretty narrow experience, where creativity really hasn't been part of the classroom ... You can see it in the lack of arts education, but it's also in the way literacy and mathematics are taught."

Adobe began the Adobe Youth Voices program nine years ago to address this gap. Through the program, it provides training and curriculum to educators, particularly those in underserved districts or educational settings "where there is not yet capacity for youth media-making opportunities," Stevenson said.

Adobe works with 12 partners around the world to deliver the program, which also puts the company's suite of creative tools in the hands of young people -- most of whom are trying out Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign for the first time. The program is being implemented in 60 countries at more than 800 sites, ranging from school classrooms to youth organizations in community-based settings. Since its inception, the program has brought its curriculum to around 15,000 educators and nearly a quarter of a million students.

While giving young people the tools and training to express themselves is a feat in and of itself, the AYV program doesn't stop there. Its curriculum is focused on not only digital media-making, but also "helping young people create with purpose" and "create media that has impact on the critical issues in our lives and our communities," Stevenson told us.

Educating for social change

It's often said that knowledge is power, and the power that comes with unleashing a young person's imagination and directing it toward social change is clear: Four AYV participants recently presented their work at the Ashoka Future Forum, while others made their big debut at the Sundance Film Festival. After creating an acclaimed short film, "International Boulevard," which documents sex trafficking in Oakland, California, AYV graduate Rebecca Dharmapalan (pictured above) now sits as chair of Oakland's Youth Commission.

Adobe also commits $1 million in scholarship funding annually for students who excel at the AYV program but don't have the money to attend college, awarding 75 four-year scholarships to date. The program also recognizes exceptional projects with the annual Adobe Youth Voices Award, giving students a national platform for their ideas.

While each of these young people have a different story to tell -- some speak to gender and social inequality, others about the environment and how we relate to our surroundings -- it's clear that the empowerment realized through knowing and owning one's own voice is a driving force throughout.

"In terms of preparing young people for a successful future, creativity is absolutely critical because young people are going to need to not just respond to new possibilities, but also create them," Stevenson said.

Creativity 2.0

Jose Vadi, who serves as creative youth development lead for Adobe, knows this struggle with inner voice and confidence firsthand. After moving from his hometown of Los Angeles to attend the University of California, Berkeley, Vadi felt like a fish out of water.

That's when he found the Bay Area literacy nonprofit Youth Speaks, a producer of local and national youth poetry slams, festivals and reading series. Vadi thrived and quickly moved into a mentorship role -- taking over local English classes once or twice a week with his own original curriculum and even teaching the power of the spoken word at detention centers. Through this work Vadi realized the power of peer-to-peer youth engagement, creativity and personal vulnerability.  He's carried that through his career from a director role at Youth Speaks to several digital projects before finding his way to Adobe.

The marriage of digital technology and traditional artistic medium are now at the core of Vadi's work. When it comes to self-expression, engaging youth around not only past-era standards like writing, painting or photography, but also modern digital technology will only become more paramount, Vadi said.

"I don't even think it's a question anymore," said Vadi, who joined the Adobe team in April. "I think young people are answering that for us on a daily basis through their work. If you look online today, particularly in the creative community of young people … a lot of the cutting-edge digital forms are being shaped and curated by young people themselves."

That's not to say all young people have the tools with which to do this, another factor Adobe hopes to address with its program: "It's an equity issue definitely -- all young people deserve opportunities and support to develop their creative capacity, and right now that's not a reality in a lot of communities."

Overcoming inequity

It's already difficult as a young person to recognize your own voice and develop the confidence to share it with others. These challenges only become more pronounced if you're from an area where school districts teeter on the brink of bankruptcy and opportunities are few and far between.

"It's really unfortunate," Vadi added. "We should always be able to afford expanding the creativity and potential of young people. Period ... At the same time I understand a lot of the constraints that schools face."

Of course, waiting for the system to change itself has proven to be an unreliable solution. Therein lies the potential of community-based programs like Youth Speaks and company-aided initiatives like Adobe Youth Voices, which can operate outside the normal confines of the public school system.

"Adobe can alleviate some of the burden in terms of resources, in terms of tools, in terms of teaching how to use those tools ... and help to be a middle man that doesn't add another cog to the daily experiences of educators and school districts," Vadi explains.

As Vadi's own experience shows, inspiring one young person can have a ripple effect that reaches hundred if not thousands more -- a point Stevenson underscored at the close of our conversation.

"Opportunities like the ones that are presented in [AYV curriculum] are really pivotal for transforming our education system and young people's preparation for their futures," she said. "We need young people coming up who can lead, who can envision the world to be different than it is, and can make it so."

Image courtesy of Adobe

Mary Mazzoni headshotMary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni, Senior Editor, has written for TriplePundit since 2013. She is also Managing Editor of CR Magazine and the Editor of 3p’s Sponsored Series. Mazzoni’s recent work can be found in Conscious CompanyAlterNet and VICE’s Motherboard. She is based in Philadelphia.

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