The Importance of Arts in the School Curriculum

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Introduction

The purpose of the school education is not merely endowing a person with knowledge and a set of skills that one can put to pragmatic use in further life. Apart from that – undoubtedly necessary – component, the ultimate goal of educating schoolchildren is helping their development as persons addressing as many facets of their potential as possible. Devising a school curriculum depends to a significant degree on identifying the subjects to be taught and the emphasis put on each of them to ensure that pupils receive harmonious and wholesome education. Art subjects or simply arts are an integral part of a well-devised and multi-faceted curriculum designed to develop the pupils’ talents, skills and abilities to the greatest extent. It may lack the immediate practical applicability at first sight when compared to science subjects. Moreover, government programs may also neglect arts in favour of more practice-oriented subjects, as will be shown below. However, despite the thinly-veiled hierarchy of school subjects, arts deserve promotion in classrooms due to the personal, social and political benefits as well as the positive impact on both pupils and teachers.

Definition of Terms

For the purpose of this paper, “Arts” is used as an umbrella term covering a range of creative disciplines that can be taught at schools. Green, Trundle and Shaheen (2018) point out that one may separate arts into three groups depending on the medium used and the role of the artist: visual, literary and performing. In the context of school education, visual arts are mainly painting and sculpture, performing arts include music, dance, and drama, and literary arts encompass the entire range of written artistic expression from fiction to poetry. However, insofar as school education is concerned, literary arts mostly belong to the domain of Language and Literature. Thus, the term “Arts,” as used in this paper, refers to visual and performing arts as creative disciplines within the framework of school education.

Status of Arts in Schools

The debates concerning the relative importance of one of another subject in the school curriculum are not new, and arts may often be viewed as less important when compared to other subjects. One of the reasons why is that creative education is, by its very nature, is not as quantifiable and presentable in an easy-to-perceive form as science, math, or physical education. Apart from that, there is a strong tradition of perceiving arts as a domain of intuition and creativity and, as a consequence, a direct opposite of science with its emphasis on linear logic and rational thinking. Green, Trundle and Shaheen (2018) note that, despite sharing many similarities, arts and science are often juxtaposed as opposites. As a result, educators and policymakers may begin perceiving the issue as art vs. science and neglect creative education in favour of more practically-oriented subjects.

This tendency connects directly to the third reason: education is ultimately a political issue. Since it is paramount for the development of the nation’s human capital, it is a crucial political concern, and policymakers hold the final authority when deciding the relative importance of subjects to the curriculum. Fleming (2012) rightfully notes that the arguments for and against arts in the school curriculum always depend on the current political situation and the immediate goals of the ruling party. As a consequence, arts are always in potential danger of marginalisation at schools, as they are rarely seen as conducive to the economic growth of competitive success on the international market. Fleming (2012) offers Great Britain in the 1980s as an example of the policymakers neglecting creative education in favour of basic skills, which perceived as crucial for economic success. Thus, the arts will rarely enjoy the same political support as science because they lack a straightforward connection to the usual political goals of economic growth and competitiveness.

A current example of arts being viewed as inferior to other subjects at schools is English Baccalaureate (EBacc) – an indicator of school performance first introduced in 2011. As noted by the Department for Education (2015), EBacc focuses on measuring performance in core academic subjects, which include English, Maths, Science, Languages and Humanities. Evidently enough, arts are not included in the list, which is a clear indication that the Department for Education does not view them as core subjects essential for effective school education.

One may object that, while not including the arts, EBacc does not ignore or neglect them either. Indeed, there are occasional references to arts as a part of the curriculum in the consultation on EBacc implementation issued by the Department for Education (2015). At one point, the document explicitly claims that, apart from the subjects included in EBacc, every child should benefit from a “high-quality arts and cultural education throughout their time at school” (Department for Education, 2015, p. 18). Moreover, the Department for Education (2015) posits that the proportion of pupils taking at least one course has increased by 4% in the first four years of EBacc implementation. These claims may lead the reader to think that, despite its evident focus on math and science, EBacc still endorses a holistic approach to education and still views arts as essential for pupils.

However, upon closer inspection, EBacc’s neglect for arts becomes evident. The EBacc consultation by the Department for Education (2015) states explicitly that creative education is only viewed as “an addition to the EBacc” (p. 9). Moreover, the document explicitly admits that only “most” – hence, not all – pupils will have the time to study arts in curriculum formed with EBacc in mind (Department for Education, 2015, p. 9). Thus, EBacc – and, by extension, the Department for Education that crafted it – still views creative education as secondary when compared to other subjects. Even though the Department for Education does not directly attempt to marginalise arts in the curriculum, EBacc as a measurement standard clearly indicates that it views arts as relatively unimportant. The informal hierarchy of school subjects with math and science on top and creative education near the bottom is not openly acknowledged, but still pervades EBacc with its emphasis on subjects other than arts.

Reasons to Promote Arts in Schools

As mentioned above, arts are often at the danger of being marginalised in schools due to the difficulties in quantifying creative education, the intellectual habit of juxtaposing arts and science, and the lack of evident connection with pragmatic political goals, such as economic growth. However, there are still plentiful reasons to promote creative education in schools, as it brings multiple benefits to all parties involved. Arts, as a part of school education, deserve to be promoted because they benefit pupils and teachers individually, contribute to the desired socio-economic outcomes of the education and have positive political implications.

Personal Benefits of Arts Education

One obvious benefit of promoting arts as a part of the school curriculum is the positive impact it has on the pupils’ creativity. As noted by Fleming (2012), some of the most prominent arguments on favour or arts education focus on this point: it develops the pupils’ minds as well as personal qualities and contributes to improving imagination and creativity. Instead of linear patterns of thought usually promoted by the school-level math and science, arts push the pupils to find new ways of solving a given task. Diaz and McKenna (2017) point out that arts promote critical thinking by encouraging and developing the ability to look at the subject from different perspectives, including those that are not immediately apparent. Thus, arts education is particularly crucial for encouraging pupils to find multiple possible ways of dealing with a given task instead of always sticking to the old and familiar ways. This effect is the first but far from the last personal benefits of arts education.

While creative education, as shown above, is undoubtedly useful for pupils, it also has considerable positive implications for the educators. Despite being essential for ingenious thinking, creativity is often underappreciated in contemporary educational settings, and this assessment includes the teachers’ ability to teach for it. Kaplan (2019) posits that creativity is essential for elevating teacher understanding and developing more effective learning designs. Integrating arts into the curriculum more closely may prove to be an efficient way of encouraging the teachers to teach for creativity and helping them to develop the necessary skills. In particular, Diaz and McKenna (2017) explain that the teachers who either teach arts or integrate them into their work can develop the appreciation of different perspectives in their pupils more efficiently. Moreover, less standardised nature of teaching arts pushes educators to “uncover new directions for learning and design new methods for teaching” (Diaz and McKenna, 2017, p. 22). Thus, closer integration of arts into the curriculum has the benefit of providing inventive teachers who will be better able to teach their wards to acknowledge and appreciate different perspectives on any given matter.

Apart from the purely scholarly competencies, such as the ability to assess a certain issue from multiple perspectives, arts education also has a positive effect on the schoolchildren’s emotional development. Fleming (2012) names educating the emotions among other benefits usually listed as the reasons to promote creative education in school settings. This claim is not baseless, as arts – and performing arts in particular – present an effective outlet for the children to express their emotions and learn to control rather than be controlled by them. Rusu (2017) states that expressing feelings through art is crucial for children to become more empathic and increase the level of their emotional education. Developing a larger spectrum of reactions to different emotional situations is also among the benefits of promoting arts as a part of the school curriculum. To put it shortly, creative education leaves a positive impact not only on how the schoolchildren think but also on how they feel about themselves and the world around them.

However, creative education is also conducive to feeling better in a far more literal way, as it is known to promote physical and mental health. In his speech as a Secretary for Health and Social Care, Hancock (2018) insists that arts education contributes to the people’s well-being in a medical sense. It should be apparent more physical arts, such as singing or dancing, benefit muscle tone and the performance of the cardiovascular system, but the health benefits of the arts education go beyond that. Jamaludin and Tahar (2020) prove that, when used as a therapeutic intervention among pupils with learning disabilities, the fine arts may cause a notable improvement in motor skills. Their results demonstrate that the advantages of teaching arts in schools are not limited to purely educational, as pupils may enhance their knowledge of the world and their physical health at the same time.

Although benefits for physical health inherent in arts education are notable in itself, they are not the only ones. Hancock (2018) also opines that arts are conducive to better mental health as well as the physical one. One may question the validity of the source and partially attribute this position to his bias as a former Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, but this opinion is far from unfounded. For instance, Jensen and Bonde (2018) confirm that participating in a broad spectrum of artistic activities may be an efficient non-medical intervention for people with mental health problems. As such, the importance of arts transcends purely educational concerns and also relates to an important goal of improving mental health – yet another reason to promote them as a part of the school curriculum.

To summarize, promoting arts education in schools offers numerous personal benefits for pupils and teachers alike. First of all, creative education increases the pupil’s ability to see any given issue from multiple perspectives and also enhances creativity and inventiveness. Additionally, it also requires educators to broaden their spectrum of pedagogic tools, therefore producing more capable professionals. Apart from that, arts are also valuable for schoolchildren’s emotional education, since the artistic expression is often a pathway to greater empathy and a broader range of emotional reactions. Finally, education in arts also provides scientifically proven benefits to physical and mental health alike, which is a significant advantage in and of itself.

Socio-Economic Benefits of Arts Education

Apart from benefitting schoolchildren and teachers – as pupils, professionals, of people with mental or physical health problems – arts education also benefits society as a whole. Fleming (2012) notes that justifying arts as a part of the curriculum often requires pointing out their contribution to desirable social outcomes. One obvious benefit of arts education in schools is the fact that it provides future artists that will continue their cultural efforts beyond educational settings. Thus, creative education in schools allows a greater range of potential artists to uncover and develop their abilities and, as such, sets the ground for a more artistically developed society.

However, educating artists is only viable as long as there are those interested in arts, and creative education in schools is useful in this respect as well. By teaching pupils to understand and appreciate the value of the artistic expression, it broadens the demographic interested in art as spectators rather than creators. This fact gives Fleming (2012) the right to state that, apart from creating future artists, creative education also provides future audiences. This synergy has immediate economic implications: while artists provide supply, the audience ensures a steady demand. Fleming (2012) is right to note that art can contribute to the economy significantly, as did the Creative Partnership program in the 2010s. Arts education in schools may create a virtuous cycle of artists and audiences promoting supply and demand for artworks, which will not only create a more vibrant society but also benefit the economy along the way.

When discussing the social benefits of using British culture as a soft power asset, it is also advisable to address the difference between high and low culture. High art refers to the constellation of complex artworks that require considerable knowledge to understand in their cultural context and, as such, are considered the prerogative of the educated minority (Shariatinia, 2016). Low or popular art refers to the artworks that do not require specific knowledge or education to comprehend and represent cultural products preferred by the majority (Shariatinia, 2016). The issue of teaching arts in schools inevitably invokes the questions of whether and to which extent it should focus on either part of this dichotomy. However, historically speaking, the division into high and low art emerged in full in the 19th century, when the rapid formation of new painting styles created a crisis in art understanding (Shariatinia, 2016). Therefore, the reason this dichotomy came to be in the first place is that the general public lacked sufficient artistic knowledge to analyse the new cultural developments. Hence, providing a comprehensive arts education will mitigate the chasm between high and low art.

Political Benefits of Arts Education

While personal and socio-economic benefits of creative education are considerable, they do not exhaust the list of positive effects because promoting arts in schools coincides with numerous political goals. To begin with, the Culture White Paper issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2016) declares the accessibility of cultural education for every pupil a political priority. The document explicitly states that, since a person’s relationship with culture should begin in the early stages of life, schools are critical in ensuring that a younger generation receives sufficient cultural education. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2016) lists the knowledge of art history and great works of art as an important educational outcome, as are the experiences in expressing oneself through art. Thus, promoting arts as a part of the school curriculum is a political goal in itself – likely because the government recognises the relative marginalisation of creative education in school settings.

Apart from literally being a policy goal, encouraging arts education in schools may also indirectly contribute to other desired political outcomes. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2016) states that reflecting the diversity of Great Britain should be a prioritised task when implementing cultural policies. It specifically states that allowing fuller participation in culture for young people from minorities or suffering from health disparities is essential. Implementing arts as a part of school education is a crucial part of ensuring diversity in culture. A properly organized arts curriculum will ensure that a diverse population of pupils has the opportunity to try themselves in varying artistic endeavours. Receiving experience in artistic expression as a part of their school education will show them that arts are a domain where they can succeed and even prosper. As one can see, enhancing creative education in schools is directly conducive to the goal of promoting diversity in culture, which makes it even more important for a political standpoint.

Supporting arts education means supporting the nation’s culture as a whole, and culture is a vital political asset in its own right. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2016) points out that it is essential to enhance the international image of Great Britain, to secure foreign investments and promote tourism. Apart from that, the British Council works with more than 100 countries, using culture and education as a means to promote Great Britain’s cultural exports overseas. Popularising the British culture and education abroad is an essential component of utilising soft power to strengthen the country’s international standing and improve its use of soft power. A consistently promoted image of Great Britain as a leader in multiple art-related areas and a go-to destination for high-quality arts education is a valuable contribution to the country’s will contribute positively to the country’s reputation. Naturally, maintaining the prestige of Britain’s cultural exports requires paying corresponding attention to arts education, beginning at the school level. Therefore, promoting arts education in schools is ultimately conducive to the more effective utilization of culture as a soft power asset.

To summarize, promoting arts education relates directly to several political goals explicitly stated in official documents issued by the government agencies. To begin with, promoting arts education is a declared policy goal in and of itself. More than that, enhanced creative education will contribute to the greater will improve the artistic achievements of pupils from minorities and with disabilities, thus corresponding to the policy goal of promoting diversity. Finally, since Great Britain’s cultural exports are an important soft power asset, promoting arts education will ensure that British culture will stay influential in the future.

Arts Supporting other Areas of the Curriculum

Apart from their value in itself, which has been elaborated in the previous paragraphs, arts may also be useful for supporting other subjects present ion the curriculum. As mentioned above, educators often view arts and science as the direct opposites of each other, but it is not necessarily the case, as the two share significant commonalities as well. For example, Green, Trundle and Shaheen (2018) note that the skill of observation of positively crucial in arts, as only a person with sufficient observation skills may fully appreciate the technical intricacies of a given artwork. Yet there is no denying that observation powers are just as critical in science as well, and scientists have to sharpen their observation skills as rigorously as any artist. Green, Trundle and Shaheen (2018) point out that, historically speaking, scientists often studied arts as a part of their education precisely because it allowed them to develop keen powers of observation. Therefore, there are no critical obstacles to using arts in support of other areas of curriculum, as the skills promoted through creative education partially overlap with those required in other disciplines.

Introducing arts to teaching other subjects is called arts integration and may follow one of four possible styles. The simplest one is the subservient style, where arts appear to make the subject more interesting to the learners and play a decidedly subordinate role to the content of the primary subject (Green, Trundle & Shaheen, 2018). Another option is the affective style, where students receive the arts but do not interact with them directly, which may be useful to analyse the disposition of the class (Green, Trundle & Shaheen, 2018). Social integration style focuses on the social rather than educational functions of school and prompts pupils to create art for performances of community events, which is why it is not particularly helpful in this regard. Finally, coequal style, also known as cognitive integration style, uses arts similarly to subservient style but involves active perception and critical evaluation on the students’ part, thus engaging cognitive functions of a higher order. Hence, using arts to support other areas of the curriculum is plausible due to the overlapping skills they develop and also pedagogically possible due to the existence of art integration styles.

Conclusion

As one can see, there are plentiful reasons to encourage and promote arts education in schools as well as use arts to support other areas of the curriculum. While the government’s approach to education does not necessarily marginalise arts openly, it still tends to overlook them on favour of other subjects. This approach is all the more puzzling because arts education has multiple benefits for everyone involved: it promotes creativity and inventiveness, ensures better emotional education for the schoolchildren, and improves mental and physical health simultaneously. In socio-economic terms, promoting creative education nurtures future artists and audiences to enhance the arts economy and also mitigates the gap between high and low art. Finally, arts education in schools is a stated political objective in and of itself and also corresponds to the objectives of promoting diversity and enhancing Britain’s soft power on the international stage. Additionally, arts may also be used in different ways to support other areas of the curriculum. With this in mind, one can safely assume that arts should be promoted as a part of school education.

Reference List

Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2016). Culture White Paper. Web.

Department for Education (2015). Consultation on implementing the English Baccalaureate. Web.

Diaz, J. and McKenna, M. B. (2017). ‘Using the creative process as pedagogy’, In Diaz, J. and McKenna, M. B. (eds.), Preparing Educators for Arts Integration: Placing Creativity at the Center of Learning, Cheltenham, AU: Hawker Brownlow Education, pp. 19-28.

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Green, K., Trundle, K. C. and Shaheen, M. (2018). ‘Integrating the arts into science teaching and learning: A literature review. Journal for Learning through the Arts, 14(1). Web.

Hancock, M. (2018). The power of the arts and social activities to improve the nation’s health. Web.

Jamaludin, N. and Tahar, M.M.B. (2020). ‘Implications of therapeutic art in learning numbers using fine motor skills among students with learning disability’, In Bakar, A.Y.A., Tahar, M.M. and Yasin, M.H.M. (eds.), Develop Inclusive Teaching and Learning in School Environment. Jakarta: Redwhite Press, pp. 115 – 122.

Jensen, A. and Bonde, L. O. (2018). ‘The use of arts interventions for mental health and wellbeing in health settings’, Perspectives in Public Health, 138(7), 175791391877260.

Kaplan, D. E. (2019). ‘Creativity in education: Teaching for creativity development’, Psychology, 10, 140-147.

Rusu, M. (2017). Emotional development through art expressions. Review of Artistic Education, 14, pp. 227-238.

Shariatinia, Z. (2016). ‘Investigation of high and low art from the perspective of pragmatism philosophy’, Pacific Science Review B: Humanities and Social Sciences, 2(2), pp. 70-74.

Symeonidou, S. (2018). ‘Disability, the arts and the curriculum: Is there common ground?’, European Journal of Special Needs Education, 34(1), pp. 50-65.

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ChalkyPapers. 2022. "The Importance of Arts in the School Curriculum." July 4, 2022. https://chalkypapers.com/the-importance-of-arts-in-the-school-curriculum/.

1. ChalkyPapers. "The Importance of Arts in the School Curriculum." July 4, 2022. https://chalkypapers.com/the-importance-of-arts-in-the-school-curriculum/.


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ChalkyPapers. "The Importance of Arts in the School Curriculum." July 4, 2022. https://chalkypapers.com/the-importance-of-arts-in-the-school-curriculum/.