AER 2019: Chennai

Marginalization of Arts Education in Schools 

The marginalisation of arts education at the school and higher education level has been a big concern for many years. Arts education in the schools and at the higher education share certain general grievances which are the reason for this crisis. These are related to a lack of administrative will to appoint competent faculty, filling the vacant positions by revising the eligibility criteria, periodically updating the curriculum, and adapting to newer learning environments. Nevertheless, it is also important to highlight that art education at the school level faces its own problems due to certain specific reasons. One important factor for this crisis could be traced as an art historical problem, and the second important reason is the gap between policy framing and its implementation. The art historical problem relates to the lack of proper research about arts education at the school level. The second problem is related to aspects such as the dismissive attitude of schools in allotting prescribed time for art classes on a weekly basis, in appointing competent art teachers, and in paying them the prescribed salary. We should also notice that the second problem arises despite the fact that there are so many important national and state level guidelines, frameworks, and reports. The root cause for this marginalisation would be that arts education at the school level is still not seen as a core subject. At the higher education level, it still exists as independent graduate and postgraduate programmes, such as BFA and MFA. This marginalisation of arts especially its dismissal as a subject which we don’t have to take seriously is an outcome of a sustained mindset and unfortunately this has ossified into the system which resists any attempt to bring in radical changes. 

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Arts is considered non-essential in schools

The speakers at the AER Chennai deliberated on this particular problem and our first speaker, Dr. Ashrafi Bhagat, who is also an art historian and curator, had a very important insight to offer. She said that schools treat art as “non-essential”. This is a very important aspect to the problem. We have been addressing the infrastructural problems, lack of policies, lack of vision, etc. all this while but at the school level itself the arts are not welcome. More than being not welcome, they are considered non-essential. It is almost like somebody exists but we all ignore that existence. And this is hugely problematic because we have not fully explored the educational and behavioural benefits of arts education. We talk about the necessity of creativity and imagination but we never care to formalise it as part of the schooling system. In her presentation, Dr. Bhagat listed out the benefits of having a systematic visual arts curriculum at the school level by talking about the development of motor skills, critical thinking, analytical skills, visual thinking, kinesthetic skills, etc. Taking a cue from Dr. Bhagat’s presentation we need to strategise how do we introduce the benefits of arts education to the schools who reduce it as a leisurely activity.

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The economic potential of arts education

Apart from these benefits, the schools also do not realise the rapidly evolving technological, economic and environmental shift. On one hand, there is an increased move towards automation and greater reliance on algorithms to sort out many tasks. The economic shifts and the future is quite uncertain as the ups and downs in the economy is also dependent on the political stability. Nevertheless, with a positive outlook experts believe that the newer economic shifts will foreground newer models for work which requires flexibility, creativity, critical thinking, and imagination. Historically, we do have a subject which inculcates all these attitudes but we have always sidelined it. Shantanu Prakash (Founder, Learning Leadership Foundation), who is a renowned entrepreneur and visionary at the field of education, has a radical proposition in this regard. He believes that in order for schools to integrate arts as a core subject in the curriculum they have to understand its economic potential which lies in the immediate future. Prakash talked in detail about the Art1st’s flagship teacher training and curriculum development programme called the Art Education Program (AEP) and the kind of improvements it brought in the education level. The improvements he talked about referred to the enrichment of a vibrant cultural environment in the school. I feel that what Art1st is doing is also related to bringing in radical changes in learning environments. A significant shift  has to be brought in this area across schools in two levels – in classrooms and also in teacher training programmes. 

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Integrated approach to teaching, learning and research 

In-service teacher training, especially of the art teachers at the school level has been a neglected area. How could we suggest changes to make this more effective? Also, what are the newer models of training which could be used to bring in an integrated approach to learning and creativity? How could we make teaching, learning and research more dynamic, research and practice-oriented? These are some important questions which we need to think about. There are interesting models available to follow. Anupama Gowda’s (Co-Founder and CCO, Workbench Projects) presented two interesting projects: 

Fab Educators Program: https://youtu.be/pSnSrOcofq0

Halasuru Traverses: https://youtu.be/c94xN7xx9Kw

These projects are perfect examples of an integrated learning experience where science, arts and technology meet together at newer spaces to create newer meanings. 

Anupama mentioned about the importance of Arts (A) in STEM (Science, Technology, Mathematics) and make it STEAM. She talked about how “knowledge building strategies generate space for creative response through the thoughtful arrangement of experiences. Knowledge building requires negotiation of preconceived notions or perceptions. For STEM education to be successful the argument is not to add Arts to STEM. It is about learning to encompass an escalation from data to information to wisdom, while developing in learners a sense of agency.”

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Taking together all these insights I would like to add that for an integrated model of arts to succeed at the school level it needs to embrace a trans-disciplinary approach. This is not the burden of arts but the task is for all the subjects to evolve, to integrate and to infuse creativity and innovation. It is such a coincidence that all these discussions and reflections were taking place in Chennai, which had one of the earliest art colleges of this country. The colonial art institute was not interested in developing the creativity or imagination, rather it wanted to train students to contribute to the design industry of its time. They imparted rigid skill-based practices which still percolates into our views on art education. It is mimetic and not creative. To move ahead we need to dispel the foundations and it is not an easy task but also not impossible.

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Written by Premjish Achari, Director-Outreach, Art1st Foundation

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