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Expanding the ‘Art Radius’ in Education

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By ROLI S

“ It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough – it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” These are the words of Steve Jobs while introducing the iPad 2 in 2011. He at that time had advocated the importance of art and humanities and very clearly indicated the fact that technology alone is not enough to yield results. Well, when as a layperson I think about art education in our schools, I cannot but imagine a subject that has taken a back seat because the thrust of all education shifted to livelihood and art education, on the face of it, does not help in achieving it. Especially, as students progress to higher classes, core education subjects take the lead while Arts subjects are relegated to the unwanted background. Only during specific occasions such as Annual Days, Sports Days or any other such event there is some amount of isolated art promotion. There are very few schools that promote art education in higher classes, these days.

Whenever we sit together talking about our schooldays and the subjects that we learnt, all we can remember about art education is drawing a mango with a leaf, drawing our Tricolour, the border of a Sari, or making few a craft pieces out of waste material, etc. Even, today, when I have visited schools as quality controller, I have noticed that the ‘art period’ is not taken seriously by students across all grades and art subject teachers are used mainly for keeping the school corridors and display boards decorated and are sought out only if there is some event like National Days, etc. ‘Art’ is understood and accepted by many in the school environment as something which is not wanted and respected. Even parents feel that indulging in art and art related activities such as making models and performing theatre, etc., is a waste of time. That is why I feel the need to bring out the importance of ‘Art’ in education. An elementary school that treats the arts only as the territory of a few gifted children, or views art only as recreation and entertainment, is one that needs some soul searching. Arts are an essential element of education, just like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Artistic expression in music, poetry, dance, theatre, and in the creation of forms has been an integral part of human growth and development. Since time immemorial, what has survived the ravages of time is mostly art. Cave paintings, potteries, seals, ornaments, etc., found in the excavations tell us about the importance of art since the beginning of human civilisation. So, when Steve Jobs said that, ‘technology alone is not enough—its technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results’ he reiterated the importance of liberal arts in education.

Practicality demands that art be expanded in our schools in such a way that it benefits all. A culturally rich country like India that boasts of its abundant heritage must come forward and give ‘Art’ its due in its schools by following a cross-curricular approach to teaching and learning based on collaboration between the teaching of subjects with the teaching of Art (visual, performing arts, etc.) where art in any of its multiple forms become a primary pathway to learning the subject and also of assessment. For example, facts about forests and water bodies can be learnt by creating a visually appealing travel brochure. Chemistry can be learnt by using poetry. When art is integrated with education, it helps the child apply art-based enquiry, investigation, exploration, critical thinking and creativity for the deeper understanding of concepts and topics. Art integrated learning is experiential learning.The process of learning also becomes joyful. It broadens the mind of the student and enables him/her to see the link between subject and real life. The arts have been an inseparable part of the human journey; indeed, we depend on the arts to carry us toward the fullness of our humanity. We value art because we believe that knowing and practicing art is fundamental to the healthy development of minds and spirits. That is why, in any civilisation – ours included – the arts are inseparable from the very meaning of the term ‘education’. We know from long experience that no one can claim to be truly educated who lacks basic knowledge and skills in the arts and truly appreciates art. A broad education in the arts helps give children a better understanding of their world…We need students who are culturally literate as well as math and science literate.

Thus, the chief purpose of art education for life is to help students understand something about themselves and others and thereby contribute to personal growth, national prosperity, social progress, and a sense of global community. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore has possibly best answered the question, ‘Why is art integration necessary in education?’ when he said in Gitabitan: “When I see the universe through my songs, I recognise it, then only I know it.”

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai.)