Why art education is the need of the hour?

It must be understood that education, irrespective of its form or style, is
not a static entity, rather it evolves and must respond to the challenges of its time.

By Naman Jain,

The purpose of education is to create a responsible citizenry of the future who know how to realise their full potential while creating value for themselves as individuals as well as the constituents of a society. In the last few decades, education has been confused with marks and in many ways limited to what is strictly academic instruction.

However, there is enough evidence to establish that a well-rounded, holistic individual must be exposed to different kinds of stimuli as part of their education to ensure complete and comprehensive cognitive development. The human brain, rightly called the power centre of the body, is a fascinating organ in that it can perform such diverse functions such as problem-solving, generating emotional responses and coordinating with other sense organs, among others. Therefore, curriculum and learning are designed don’t just to fulfil social goals such as earning a livelihood but also for the right physical and cognitive development. At the same time, it must be understood that education, irrespective of its form or style, is not a static entity, rather it evolves and must respond to the challenges of its time.

According to Dr. Tony Wagner, author of From The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Dont Teach The New Survival Skills Our Children Need – And What We Can Do About It and co-director of Harvard’s Change Leadership Group, there is a “global achievement gap” in what the schools are offering and in what the students need to thrive in the future. He identifies these key skills as “critical thinking and problem-solving, collaboration across networks and leading by influence, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurialism, effective oral and written communication, accessing and analyzing information as well as curiosity and imagination.” He suggests that the new generation banks heavily on the internet for all their needs which means that they are seeking instant gratification in every activity – including education.

This means that not only does our vision of the future must account for these changes in student behaviour but even the tools of the present should reflect these. Certainly, there cannot be a quick-fix solution or an instant magician’s wand that can impart all these skills in our students. But the good news is that a field as diverse and creative as arts can help impart most of these above-mentioned skills. As an umbrella term, arts encompasses a wide variety of activities that are classified so because of the nature of their creative output. These include but are not restricted to painting and drawing, film and music, writing, performance art and drama, among others. To begin with, practical arts help to develop motor skills, critical thinking skills and a general ability to think out of the box. Given that the nature of this kind of learning is not output-oriented but instead to empower students with the idea of understanding a process, it acts as a cognitive stimulant. The breadth of freedom and flexibility that arts as a medium offer helps students broaden their horizons in a way that formulaic learning would never be able to achieve.

More specifically, in the current scenario, arts education also serves certain other functions such as accounting for classroom diversity. There have been reports of students suffering from mental health problems that go beyond exam stress but often lack redressal mechanisms or are unable to articulate their concerns. Scientifically, art therapy is also used to treat and managed mental health problems. Activities such as journaling, clay play and colouring are employed by mental health professionals to offer an outlet for self-expression to treat various psychological problems. It is one of the ways of ensuring that young people who may not have a n outlet for their feelings do not have any pent-up emotions which may trigger any negative responses such as self-harm.

The other advantage of integrating arts education in the curriculum as a pedagogical tool instead of making it a mere, lowly subject is that it helps neurodivergent students understand better. As is well-known, different students have different learning styles which also affects learning outcomes. But using a lecture method or a written-word heavy style makes it difficult for those with learning disabilities to engage with course material. Using art as a pedagogical tool is like offering education in another medium. If a student is struggling to explain a concept in words and is failed in the exam because of that reason, it is assumed that the child has been unable to learn a new concept. But if they are allowed to express what they are learning through art, we may be pleasantly surprised to discover that more students are absorbing what is being delivered in the classroom than we think do.

Building on these thoughts, one would do well to go back in time and remember how the Delhi government launched a happiness curriculum in 2018. The purpose of the initiative was to include an element of social-emotional learning in our classrooms so that students could better identify and respond to their emotions. Developing interpersonal skills is a key requirement for the future and arts education is an ideal vehicle for the same.

Finally, what one learns culminates in what one creates or produces. Given that there is now a shift towards a knowledge economy, there will be ample career opportunities in the field of arts in the future. By incorporating these elements in our teaching and learning early on, we are preparing our students for several career options that may seem unviable at the moment but are set to dominate the future. The advantage of an arts education is that it empowers students not to just spew rote facts but to think independently and lead a creative thinking process on their own. Goes without saying that whatever be the job descriptions of the future, these specific skills will always stand our students in good stead.

(Mr. Naman Jain is a young educator, education policy expert and Director Silverline Prestige School, Ghaziabad. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited)

Anita Shire

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