AER 2019: Bhubaneswar

Assessing the Conditions

There is no doubt that across India, state board education is now committed to the all-round development of the child. This includes the expansion of the child’s knowledge base along with the development of their physical and mental abilities. The curriculums are revisited and are now modeled on the National Curriculum Framework (2005), NCF Teacher Education (2007) and The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009.
There is a greater emphasis on activity-oriented learning emphasising on the aspects of discovery and exploration in a child-centric manner. Nevertheless, when one engages with the ground realities we realise that there is a gap between the vision and implementation. Moreover, the potentials of arts education in the development of children’s creative, cognitive, and motor skills are underestimated and not explored to the full extent.

We are reluctant to agree that arts education could form the bedrock of effective activity-oriented learning because we are conditioned to see art as a non-essential subject. Even a path-breaking initiative such as Activity Based Learning, which has been implemented in primary government schools in various states in India, including the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, has side-lined arts education in transacting and developing learning-oriented activities, use of a variety of learning materials, learning through different modes, engaging each child and contextualising children’s everyday world and community.


Art and the Indian Education System

As mentioned before in different occasions, there is surely a lack of infrastructure at the school level, lack of teaching staff, and a strong resolve from the school management to implement the vision of these frameworks. How do we address this crisis especially when there is a greater demand and expectation from the school and teachers? How do we ensure the implementation of a systematic arts education program to successfully design the activity-based learning? Has the time come to redistribute the responsibilities?

The Indian education system at the school level has made many signs of progress despite numerous disadvantages. The changing education contexts and the global socio-economic-technological shifts make us all rethink about the way our school system is functioning. To trigger a change requires context-sensitive frameworks and larger participation of the communities. As Art1st Foundation has proposed, it means bringing together diverse stakeholders at the local and the macro level. Only such a collective coming together of parents, teachers, management, local government, community leaders, educationists, artists, and policy makers could ensure the successful implementation of an effective arts education in schools.
How many schools have thought about including artists, writers, and pedagogues in their management and PTA’s? Have they looked into the possibilities of engaging them to intervene in the lesson planning to develop activity-oriented learning? Have they been invited to conduct workshops for students and teachers to enrich their knowledge? These are some serious questions for the schools and parents to reflect upon.

What went down at AER Bhubaneswar 2019?

Art1st Foundation’s AER Bhubaneswar 2019 was such an occasion to also reflect on these possibilities. Apart from being an important city which is layered with history through the presence of numerous medieval monuments, rituals, sophisticated living art practices, etc., the capital city and the state at large is known in the art world for many acclaimed artists. But also, like many other states, Odisha and Bhubaneswar lack a systematic art education program at the school level. At the BFA level the curriculum has become redundant and only a strong intervention from the pedagogues, artists, community and policy makers, could bring in a radical change which could dispel the distance. For the past, many year’s artists, writers, academics, etc. from the state are coming together to address this crisis. Many of them have formed organizations and foundations to activate the local art networks and provide platforms for local artists and teachers.

Art Teachers and Art

Jagannath Panda, an internationally acclaimed artist and also the Founder-Chairman of the Utsha Foundation for Contemporary Art was one of the panelists of the AER Bhubaneswar. Jagannath shared his experience of conducting a workshop called the Sanghi Project in the Sanghi Public School, Gujarat. He talked about a statement he posed to the students, which is “We are here for a reason.” He guided the students to reflect upon the statement and made them rethink about their own perceptions about space, ideas of working, and use of materials. He made the students come up with an unconventional idea for an architectural space and made them work collaboratively to develop it as a large-scale mural.
There are two important things which struck me during his presentation. One is that he moved away from the conventional art curriculum systems emphasising on imitation. Secondly, he also demystified the idea of art as an individual activity and made them work together to create something common. I believe that this is the different perspective a practicing artist of good experience can bring to the school level. He could make the students and teachers rethink about their own world and experiences. Students were also able to forego the competitive spirit which is usually associated with the making and displaying of arts at the school level.

This sort of external involvement and participation is very crucial in expanding the stakeholder base for systematising art education. This also offers a renewed perspective for both the parents and teachers about how to conduct art teaching which has immense possibilities to make the child think imaginatively. This revelation begs the question: Is the continuous teacher training system constantly updating itself to enable the teachers to familiarise with these shifts? It brings me to a proposition laid out by Art1st Foundation, which is the necessity to contextualise creativity in our times.


Art Education and breaking barriers

Dr. Nadarajah Manickam, Chair Professor Centre for New Humanities and Compassion Studies, Xavier University, Bhubaneswar, spoke about the necessity of a multi-disciplinary perspective for education. He proposed that only through arts education we could achieve this perspective and break the barriers between disciplines. Have we ever thought about how could we categorise a persona like Leonardo da Vinci who was an artist, architect, writer, scientist, mathematician, etc. His areas of interests were wide and he never differentiated between disciplines. Rather, he explored the knowledge base of all systems of thoughts and found entry points to navigate through all of them. In order to inculcate the spirit of multi-disciplinary learning, we need to introduce this spirit of education in the schools.

Integration is the necessity of our times where arts education opens up the imagination, creativity, collaboration, abstraction, exploration, and discoveries. Is our school system ready for this shift? I think I have repeated this question many times. Maybe it is time we all ask this to ourselves and maybe loudly too. There is also a call towards the shift to creative education from the creative industry. Most of it is done from an economic interest as the forecast about the future employment sector is heavily lenient to creativity and flexibility. As much as jobs are important for the future it should not be the governing principle to design curriculums. The ultimate objective should remain about the overall growth of the child.

Teachers need to be trained too!

The universalisation of arts education requires a different approach to education and life. Most of the teachers who enter the school to teach arts do not see the educational benefits of it. They are far away from the shifts taking place in art history, curation, exhibitions, and art practices. It calls for two important steps which need to be addressed immediately.

This is also what Sonal Sancheti’s discussion centered around. Sonal is an Architect, Founder & Partner, _OPOLIS, Mumbai. She has been at the forefront of designing and executing the construction of numerous important architectural structures across the world including the recently opened Patna Museum. Sonal argued for a high-quality level art teaching staff at the school level which has to be assessed through a rigorous interview process. Also, once in the teachers have to go through a periodical review and be offered a continuous training program. Many countries in the world who excel in the school education follow this diligently and also to bring to your attention they give great importance to arts education in their curriculum. In fact, a country like Finland has a greater percentage of arts education subjects in the curriculum than other disciplines. They orient the students in creativity and imagination which enables them to think differently.


The Limitations of STEM

Exposures cannot be built and sustained by archaic art institutions. Institutions have to embrace a contemporary artistic vision and initiate exhibitions, biennales, and festivals. They have a greater responsibility in disseminating information about up to date arts education. Susmita Mohanty, Spaceship Designer, CEO, Earth2Orbit (E2O) introduced to the audience about the Antarctica Biennale and the bringing together of a wide range of practitioners in that exhibition. She presented certain keywords such as art, muse, expression, beauty, etc. to make the audience rethink about the multiple ways through which these can be understood. Her talk also highlighted the importance of the role of Arts in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). She suggested that these abbreviations are limiting and one should be able to redefine and describe them according to their perspectives. Susmita who was also the ex-Chairman of Mo School offered her insights about the infrastructural changes which were brought in during her tenure.
The speakers at the AER Bhubaneswar offered us valuable insights on to the conditions of arts education in India and the challenges ahead to make it more systematic. Our task should be to unite the diverse stakeholder and not place the burden on the schools and teachers alone. We need a strong vision for advocacy and policy-making which ensures that there is a universalisation of arts education at the school level. The government should ensure a continuous training program for the art teachers and there should be mechanisms for their periodical assessment and reviews. A healthy integrated arts education can only thrive in a school environment where the art teacher is re-casted as an artist-researcher rather than just being a teacher.

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