Why effective school education needs to incorporate arts and creativity

The application of these Artistic Competencies is not limited to the Arts only, they can be applied to many different areas of our lives.

We live in a Creative Economy in the 21st Century.
We live in a Creative Economy in the 21st Century.

By Radhika Zahedi

We live in a Creative Economy in the 21st Century

We are in a creative economy. Not an industrial economy, not just an information economy, but a CREATIVE economy. With the 21st Century digital revolution and advances in technology machines can do all our repetitive, programmable work. With information freely available. What technology still cannot do as well as humans is be creative. For example, make a movie that inspires you Or produce art or write a poem that touches your heart. Or compose a song that brings out the strongest emotions. Or create an advertisement that persuades you to do something. These Creative skills are the ones that our world values today.

What do we mean by Creativity and ‘The Arts’?

Before we talk about the role of Arts in Education, it is important to understand what ‘Art’ means. ‘The Arts’ are a rich and comprehensive subject area in itself and not just a supplementary or co-curricular program as many have assumed over the years in Education. that includes Visual Arts – drawing, painting, printing, material arts, sculpture, pottery,  etc.; as well as performing arts like Music – vocals, instruments, ensembles etc; Drama and Theatre arts; Dance. And in today’s age we also have to consider the Media Arts – film, graphic design and technology in the arts. 

Further, engaging with the arts develops specific Artistic Competencies or skills in students that are transferable to other areas of our lives. The Arts develop Artistic Competences like Creating; Producing/ Performing/ Presenting; Responding/ Engaging with the arts; and Connecting with Art (Personal stories, styles, history, culture etc.). To draw parallels to this in other subject areas, ‘English Language’ Competencies might include Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening and ‘Maths’ Competencies include Conceptual Thinking, Number Fluency, Reasoning and Problem Solving. The application of these Artistic Competencies is not limited to the Arts only, they can be applied to many different areas of our lives.

The significant role of Arts in Education

Why should we include the Arts in Education? The first reason, as we discussed in the previous section, is that Arts Education builds very important Artistic Competencies in students – Creating, Presenting/ Performing/ Producing, Respond and Connecting with the Arts. These are essential competencies that can be applied in many areas of our lives.

The Arts serve as means for the following life-long goals:

  1. Powerful Communication: Our students can use Arts as a tool for powerful communication throughout their lives. We have used movies, plays, songs, poetry, photographs etc. to send out powerful messages with great impact throughout history. For example, powerful documentaries have had a deep impact on me and often inspired me to action.
  2. Creative Personal Fulfilment: The Arts serve as a tool that can bring about great fulfilment in itself. Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi famously describes this as the state of ‘Flow’ – when an individual is fully immersed in an activity and experiences a feeling of complete involvement, focus, inspiration and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Personally, I have experienced this flow while learning dance as a hobby and very often when I am building creative projects that I love at work.
  3. Connecting to History and Culture: Exploring the Arts throughout our lives helps us learn more about history and culture in authentic and interesting ways. For example, my husband enjoys studying and building vintage guitars. Through this process he has learned a tremendous amount of history/ culture – local and international. He learned that some guitars don’t from a certain time period don’t have materials that were not available during the world wars. And how rock culture through the decades impacted the shape of the guitars!
  4. Well-Being: Arts serve as a tool to achieve well-being. We even have a whole field of Art Therapy that has emerged around this that is used for mental health needs, rehabilitation and much more. But even at a simpler level, engaging with an art form we love – as experts or amateurs – can bring us well-being. For me, pulling out a few Canvases and some paints during the pandemic (after 20 years) was a source of tremendous calm and joy.
  5. Community Engagement: We have been using the Arts to engage the community for ages. We come together for theatre, for music concerts. We invite the community to view our arts exhibitions. We come together to sing and dance. We celebrate together with music. We can connect with people around the world over a shared interest in some art form at events or in online communities.

What can schools do to make this happen?

For a rich, impactful Arts education Educators must do two things:

  1. Recognize the potential of Arts Education and build a shared vision around it: Recognize that the Arts is a core subject area that has tremendous value for a student. Recognize that building Artistic competencies are even more important today in our Creative Economy. Once educators recognize the value of arts education, they must invest in building a shared understanding and appreciation of this value with other stakeholders – School leaders, parents and students themselves. 
  1. Bring in rich curriculum and disciplinary expertise:  Build an understanding of what a comprehensive Arts Education Curriculum looks like – the disciplinary areas, the artistic competences and the life-long goals of Arts Education. Too often the curriculum is implemented just as a series of disconnected, fun but shallow activities. Art is a disciplinary area that requires disciplinary expertise and training. Within the Arts there are a wide range of areas of study – Visual Arts, Music, Dance, Drama, Media Arts; and within each of these a wide range of artistic knowledge and skills. A powerful curriculum must capture this. Also, Arts teams within schools are often small teams that work in silos. To keep upgrading themselves it is useful for them to connect with other Arts Educators to exchange ideas and further their disciplinary knowledge as educators.
  1. Take a Systems Approach to implementation: A powerful arts program cannot be implemented effectively in a school by one passionate Arts teacher. It requires time to be allocated to it, teacher expertise, resources  and a rich curriculum – systems level changes that will need to be prioritised. It will need to have opportunities to influence the school culture beyond its standalone arts classes – at school events, assemblies, school communications and celebrations.

For its important role in the 21st Century and in life-long success, Arts Education should be an essential part of a student’s experience. It is imperative that we switch our view from ‘Arts as an extracurricular activity’ to ‘Arts as a core, essential competencies’ if we are to deliver a relevant and holistic education to your children.

The author is school director at The Green Acres Academy.

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