The Arts: The Crucial Puzzle Piece in Education

Although some may regard art education as a luxury, simple creative activities are some of the building blocks of child development

For me, growing up in the Philippines meant that I was extremely fortunate to have been taught music 
and dance as early as pre-school. By the time I graduated from high school, I had performed in countless choir concerts and dance performances, acted in and directed full-length play productions, played the bass guitar and the drums 
in my high school rock band and participated in many other performance-related activities.

Clearly then, compared to other curriculums around the world, the arts is given greater importance and students are encouraged to pursue their artistic dreams-whether it is to become an opera singer, a trumpet player or a fashion designer.

Eight years ago, I moved to
Vietnam and my friends here were 
able to quickly and easily recognize my passion for music, dance and theatre. Fast forward to now: It has become increasingly difficult in this day and age to justify funding art-based subjects in schools. Around the world, schools are implementing cost-cutting measures and if subjects must be prioritized, isn’t it much more important to focus on those subjects that translate into workplace skills?

Of course, for me, and many like 
me, the skills I learned in the arts did translate-I studied English and Theatre Arts at Bachelor and Master’s level and have taught these subjects over the last two decades.

And as a high school teacher here
in Vietnam, it has, at times, saddened me to see promising-and occasionally even gifted students-give up on subjects that they have had the amazing luck
to be both talented in and in love
 with because of family pressure to pursue higher education in business or banking.

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But the world needs engineers, computer technicians, financial analysts and manufacturers; so how important can exposure to arts be to our future generations? The answer, of course, 
is very, and for fairly obvious reasons. Firstly, studying the arts is vital in the development of a young person’s critical thinking skills. Now, more than ever, in this post-truth world, the ability to critically analyze the constant flow
 of information that is dumped in our social media, on our TVs and through our devices, is necessary if we are to have any hope of making informed opinions about the world around us. This skill is formed when we immerse ourselves in literature, attempt to divest meaning from music or strain 
to discover underlying themes to 
a play. And make no mistake, the ability to read nuance, understand implications and understand a person’s motivation-all things that are taught
 in a literature or drama arts class-are life skills that any employer would welcome. This leads into the second major benefit of receiving an education with an artistic element: the ability
 to communicate. So much of our
 art, be it spoken, written, danced or played, is an attempt by the artist
 to communicate with the audience. Being able to understand this deep, emotion-based message strengthens a person’s ability to communicate in so many different ways. And it is depth
 of communication, not sheer amount that counts. We live in a complex and, sometimes dangerous world, and being able to communicate important messages is vital if we are to navigate through this life causing only a minimum of grief and anger.

And, if we are to focus on a practical aspect of this argument, we live in an era of mass communication, much of 
it noise. How useful would a skilled communicator be? How much of an asset to any workplace? Anyone who has had to plod through a turgid report, suffer through an almost unintelligible presentation, or read an overly wordy essay would agree that this skill would place highly in many walks of life.

These skills all help to develop an essential characteristic needed for the world’s future leaders-emotional intelligence. There are many admirable traits in a person, but none so important to being a successful manager of people than being able to relate to those people. Of course,
 I am not suggesting that empathy, sympathy or understanding of others is taught only by the arts, or even that it is taught at all, but subjects such as music, drama and literature certainly refine it, and can often provide useful shorthand to young people who may struggle to express their emotions as they grow and develop.

And if we were to look again at the practicalities of developing these traits, then numerous studies have shown that the most successful bosses are those that really take the time to understand their employees, rather than simply seeing them as tools to be used in the service of the company.

And finally, simply, art is innovation. Without learning creativity and developing confidence through trying and failing—something that any grade school poet or university drama club actor goes through—we do not learn how to innovate through that process of trial and error. As Steve Jobs, in launching the iPad 2 put it: “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.”

But perhaps I am being overly indulgent. Even I, as a dyed-in-the-wool, liberal, artsy-fartsy type, would have to admit that the ability to accurately measure, to observe, report and draw conclusions from outcomes, to build and direct others to build and to successfully manage a budget would have to rank higher than an ability to create, appreciate and critique art. Of course, the world cannot run without those core STEM skills, and, come 
the zombie apocalypse, the need for artists will not be high. But do you know what? There won’t be a zombie apocalypse; it’s just an entertaining story, made up by an artist.

BIO: Jennifer Dizon Turner is a Performing Arts Teacher at Saigon Star International School. For 16 years, she has taught Drama, English Language Arts and Performing Arts to students ranging from kindergarten to Year 12 in various schools in the Philippines and Vietnam. Jennifer is also one of the actor-directors of the Saigon Players, a non-project, community theatre group in Saigon,

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8 thoughts on “The Arts: The Crucial Puzzle Piece in Education”

  1. Philippines is really a country that is famous for its world class talents especially in Music. As a teenager who is fond of singing or arts in general, it is really disappointing that people see art just an entertainment and not a passion. They don’t really give support to it. I learned a lot in arts, I learn how to socialize, to be a human. In art, I can show that the world is beautiful and we can put colors on it.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for sharing this article po. It is very informative and persuasive. It made me realize that arts is really an important part of our lives. As a future educator/ counselor, I believe that I should apply arts to real life since it is essential for the child development as it nurtures their innovative mind and art is also use as a treament for bad mental health conditions. Arts is a good field and those who have talent and enjoys it should have the right to pursue their dream job. Art is an effective vehicle of communication that are beyond the capacity of the words. It expresses our emotions in way that it also become related to our self-identity. I would also like to agree that empathy can be developed and further improve with the use of arts because it let us understand another artwork which is full of human emotions, experiences and manner of expressions.

    Reply
  3. I agree, people with such talents and passion for arts usually disregard their future in that field because society’s pressuring them to conform to “academically-inclined-professions” in which, is highly believes to make someone successful. I hope people would stop killing their creativity by following this stigma, since the arts and performance field is as vital as those academically.

    Reply
  4. This is a very well written article that speaks about truth without sounding so biased and opinionated. I remember that time when I told my mom that I want to be a professional dancer and dance for the rest of my life, oh how she easily shrugged off the idea. But when I didn’t get Civil Engineering as my course in college because I realized that I don’t want it, she was so disappointed. That is the scenario that is flashbacking in my head as I am reading this. Well, my mom’s reaction is just another proof how little most of the world think of arts.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your story! Parents always want secure careers for their children, but it’s equally necessary to love what you do!

      Reply
  5. I certainly agree about what you said that, “studying the arts is vital in the development of a young person’s critical thinking skills”. That is exactly connected to quotation of Plato that, “necessity is the mother of invention” and for me in order to invent you have to be creative and it involves critical thinking skills. In fact, based on Renzulli’s Three-Trait Definition theory, creativity is one of the important factors for the development of child’s giftedness. However, it is also true that art is set aside in many situations specially in choosing a course or career path. Many people said that art is just a hobby and not a true career because in reality those only succeed in art are just famous persons which is undeniable truth in today’s world. It takes hardship and so much perseverance just for you to establish your name in the field of art.

    Reply

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