Joseph Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia University, says the “major challenge facing every university, every teacher, is how to teach creativity.”
During a fireside chat on Tuesday during the 13th annual Columbia China Business Conference, the Nobel laureate economist said there’s “no formula” for teaching creativity. Instead, “it’s more of an apprenticeship system — you can instill it. You can inspire it, but there’s no formula.”
To be sure, he added, schools and teachers can create an environment to foster creativity, critical thinking, and individuality without creating groupthink.
“All of these are really things that are at the center of a successful education in all countries, and I think that’s a common challenge that we all face,” he said.
While China plans to develop 42 of its colleges and universities into world-class institutions by 2050, Stiglitz noted that “a successful education system can’t just provide an elite education.”
“It has to educate an entire society — different education for people with differing skills but it has to address a much broader basis.”
Stiglitz pointed out that the elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. “have not succeeded in bringing out that level of education in the vast part of the country to a level that we would aspire.” That said, the U.S. has been “relatively successful” with its "excellent" state universities.
“I hope we can maintain it if we can get continued support and maintain access to it by lowering the tuition and providing funds for people of ordinary means to go to school,” Stiglitz added.
For China, it’s an even bigger challenge, given its massive population, according to Stiglitz.
“You’ve been very successful at the top. It’s a big challenge to create these quality of universities across the country. And to do that, you’re going to need to give the universities a lot more scope for independence than there's been concern about to which extent there can be.”
Elsewhere, Stiglitz, who graduated from Amherst College, said the U.S. has done well with its small liberal arts colleges, which he argues "cultivate independent, critical, creative thinking.”
“I got a fantastic education, a very critical education,” he said. “These schools have a disproportionate role in creating original, creative people.”
He added that liberal arts colleges are a “luxury good, but I think it’s an important luxury for society.”
Julia La Roche is a correspondent for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.