“Creativity takes courage,” said Henri Matisse, and his words ring truer than ever today, when schools are letting children down when it comes to providing them an education with the right tech-artistic balance.

South Africa is by no means the only country to fail their students in terms of artistic education. As reported in a study in the International Journal of Arts and Commerce (IJAC), one common phenomenon in schools across the globe “is the marginalisation of arts education, reflected by restricted teaching time allocated to the collective creative and performing arts.”

How are schools diminishing the importance of art in children’s lives?

The IJAC study found that in most South African public schools, children simply do not have enough class time to hone their artistic skills. Moreover, arts education is often assigned to volunteer teachers who may lack the skills and experience needed to teach visual and performing arts to children.

Studies have shown that assigning untrained staff to specific subjects reduces the impact these subjects have on children’s lives. In the long term, this wrests from a child’s motivation to pursue the arts more rigorously, and results in a reduction in the number of arts-centred jobs in South Africa.

Turtlejar Children's Arts education

Seeking solutions

Parents who notice an artistic talent or interest in their children often organise one-on-one classes for them, in an attempt to hone skills which educate on perspective, light, and proportion – all of which take time to perfect.

Private classes are also ideal for those who may not have a natural talent, but who do want to ace the basics of visual or performing arts. Another solution found in some schools is the integration of art subjects into other ones. In the US, interdisciplinary teaching methods are common, since approaching a subject from various cognitive and experiential perspectives can make it easier to assimilate.

In the IJAC study, teachers and students were interviewed, with results showing that both groups prefer practical-oriented rather than purely theoretical work. The researchers recommend that subjects be taught in an interdisciplinary fashion, to enable art to be given more time and importance in the classroom.

They also suggest that visits from arts professionals can help students learn specific techniques (not merely generic or abstract knowledge). Additionally, visits from arts subject advisors can help teachers implement changes to education more efficiently.

Turtlejar Children's Arts education

Why is arts education so important?

Arts education is key not only to those who already have a talent in the visual or performing arts, but to all students. Research conducted by non-profit organisation, The Brookings Institution in the US, has found that “a substantial increase in arts educational experiences have remarkable impacts on students’ academic, social, and emotional outcomes.”

Their findings showed that students who were trained in the arts had significantly less disciplinary problems, better writing scores, and enhanced compassion for others. These students also reported that they enjoyed school more – which increases engagement, motivation, and an interest in pursuing further education.

Arts education can help students become better students – regardless of whether or not they wish to actually specialise in an artistic field. Because art is given less priority at South African schools, both parents and schools can implement changes that can improve the learning experience. These include private tutoring in arts, taking an interdisciplinary approach to education, and inviting specialists in art and education, to hone students’ skills and enhance teachers’ approaches to the implementation of new changes in arts education.