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Blog: Art as an equaliser in education

Art Photograph:( Others )

Delhi, India Feb 11, 2019, 05.40 PM (IST) Written By: Daniel Soucy

I was extremely privileged to attend a government school that offered rigorous and easily accessible opportunities in the Arts. Not only did we take distinct art classes, but art was also occasionally incorporated into our lessons. We wouldn’t just do the math, we would create geometric patterns using the math skills we spent time mastering. I remember particularly using sketch pads to observe my native New Hampshire’s natural environment as part of our environmental science curriculum.

The importance of these sorts of activities in my own education demonstrated to me the benefits of integrating Art into more traditional subjects like Science, Math, Reading and Social Studies. 

In the United States, this integrated approach to teaching Art, as well as more formal Art classes like painting, drawing, dancing and theatre have been widely researched for their impact on student success in other academic and social areas. In fact, a 2009 study by Florida’s Department of education demonstrated that students across a variety of socioeconomic classes that were involved in Art courses achieved higher on standardised tests compared to their peers. 

Furthermore, students in other states and even countries like Missouri and the United Kingdom had lower dropout rates, higher attendance rates, higher academic achievement and even improved social skills when they engaged in the arts. In addition to these improved quantitative results, at-risk students have also expressed feeling more engaged and motivated to learn when placed in arts-based environments,

While I could find minimal published research regarding the impact of Arts education in Indian schools, research summaries from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development point to the wide and varied impact of Art on educational achievement in developed and developing countries.  Furthermore, there have been many public calls and conference supporting increased investment in art in government schools. In addition, research conducted by India’s National Council of Educational Research and Training, as well as recent developments in the national curriculum frameworks have formally highlighted the role that art can play to improve a child’s education.

This movement toward formally recognising art as a more integral aspect of education in India is not only exciting for the academic benefits it can offer but also because art has the unique ability to create more equitable learning environments. In the government school I work in, the students come from a variety of linguistic, cultural and regional backgrounds. In addition, unlike in elite, private schools, resources like projectors, musical instruments, vast libraries of books or labs filled with chemistry equipment are simply not accessible. Furthermore, in an urban environment like Delhi, spacious learning environments for reflection or even inter-student dialogue can be hard to come by.

While each of these factors could present an obstacle to learning, Art can offer a means of levelling the playing field between students of different backgrounds. When one student speaks Hindi and the other Bihari, designing pictures of animal habitats creates a bridge rather than a gap between the two individuals.

When one student’s family has the resources to provide her with internet access and a computer while the other student must sell candy to support her siblings, we cannot ask both students to type or even write an essay and expect the same learning outcomes. While providing every student with the individual attention that they need to learn most effectively would be ideal, unfortunately, in the realm of government education, additional human resources like extra teachers and tutors can be costly. 

However, by providing students with a piece of paper, some colourful dough or a set of coloured pencils, every student can draw their surroundings or create a replica of the heritage sites in their neighbourhood. Not only will they exercise some of their own creative potential, but each student will be able to learn through their own, individualised process. Regardless of their Math skills, both students can feel a sense of achievement when they create and measure something from their own hands. Instead of becoming confused when the teacher says “a triangle has three sides” in a language they do not understand, they can identify differences in a square and a triangle by seeing and touching their own creations.

From this perspective, taking advantage of each student’s unique creativity offers an opportunity to teach the more “testable” lessons like fractions or measurements without fearing that some students may be left behind. Art, more than just a creative outlet, becomes a means of creating more equitable learning environments and ensuring that students are not at a disadvantage merely because they come from a marginal or otherwise different group. Until broader social change occurs in our education systems, there are few options for educating large groups of increasingly diverse students with more potential than curriculum that embrace art in an interdisciplinary manner. 

I may not be training the next generation of Rabindranath Tagore or Leonardo DaVinci but I have seen that even the most simple Art projects can transform learning environments. From drawing maps to designing habitats, Art is one of the most universally accessible forms of education that we have.

I was extremely privileged to attend a government school that offered rigorous and easily accessible opportunities in the Arts. Not only did we take distinct art classes, but art was also occasionally incorporated into our lessons. We wouldn’t just do the math, we would create geometric patterns using the math skills we spent time mastering. I remember particularly using sketch pads to observe my native New Hampshire’s natural environment as part of our environmental science curriculum.

The importance of these sorts of activities in my own education demonstrated to me the benefits of integrating Art into more traditional subjects like Science, Math, Reading and Social Studies. 

In the United States, this integrated approach to teaching art, as well as more formal Art classes like painting, drawing, dancing and theatre have been widely researched for their impact on student success in other academic and social areas. In fact, a 2009 study by Florida’s Department of education demonstrated that students across a variety of socioeconomic classes that were involved in Art courses achieved higher on standardised tests compared to their peers. 

Furthermore, students in other states and even countries like Missouri and the United Kingdom had lower dropout rates, higher attendance rates, higher academic achievement and even improved social skills when they engaged in the arts. In addition to these improved quantitative results, at-risk students have also expressed feeling more engaged and motivated to learn when placed in arts-based environments,

While I could find minimal published research regarding the impact of Arts education in Indian schools, research summaries from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development point to the wide and varied impact of Art on educational achievement in developed and developing countries.  Furthermore, there have been many public calls and conference supporting increased investment in art in government schools. In addition, research conducted by India’s National Council of Educational Research and Training, as well as recent developments in the national curriculum frameworks have formally highlighted the role that art can play to improve a child’s education.

This movement toward formally recognising art as a more integral aspect of education in India is not only exciting for the academic benefits it can offer but also because art has the unique ability to create more equitable learning environments. In the government school I work in, the students come from a variety of linguistic, cultural and regional backgrounds. In addition, unlike in elite, private schools, resources like projectors, musical instruments, vast libraries of books or labs filled with chemistry equipment are simply not accessible. Furthermore, in an urban environment like Delhi, spacious learning environments for reflection or even inter-student dialogue can be hard to come by.

While each of these factors could present an obstacle to learning, Art can offer a means of levelling the playing field between students of different backgrounds. When one student speaks Hindi and the other Bihari, designing pictures of animal habitats creates a bridge rather than a gap between the two individuals.

When one student’s family has the resources to provide her with internet access and a computer while the other student must sell candy to support her siblings, we cannot ask both students to type or even write an essay and expect the same learning outcomes. While providing every student with the individual attention that they need to learn most effectively would be ideal, unfortunately, in the realm of government education, additional human resources like extra teachers and tutors can be costly. 

However, by providing students with a piece of paper, some colourful dough or a set of coloured pencils, every student can draw their surroundings or create a replica of the heritage sites in their neighbourhood. Not only will they exercise some of their own creative potential, but each student will be able to learn through their own, individualised process. Regardless of their Math skills, both students can feel a sense of achievement when they create and measure something from their own hands. Instead of becoming confused when the teacher says “a triangle has three sides” in a language they do not understand, they can identify differences in a square and a triangle by seeing and touching their own creations.

From this perspective, taking advantage of each student’s unique creativity offers an opportunity to teach the more “testable” lessons like fractions or measurements without fearing that some students may be left behind. Art, more than just a creative outlet, becomes a means of creating more equitable learning environments and ensuring that students are not at a disadvantage merely because they come from a marginal or otherwise different group. Until broader social change occurs in our education systems, there are few options for educating large groups of increasingly diverse students with more potential than curriculum that embrace art in an interdisciplinary manner. 

I may not be training the next generation of Rabindranath Tagore or Leonardo DaVinci but I have seen that even the most simple art projects can transform learning environments. From drawing maps to designing habitats, art is one of the most universally accessible forms of education that we have.

 
*A previous version of this article was originally published on February 7th, 2019, by the American India Foundation. 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)

 

 
 

Daniel Soucy

Daniel serves as an AIF Clinton Fellow with the Nizamuddin Urban Renewal Program in New Delhi.

Story highlights

From drawing maps to designing habitats, Art is one of the most universally accessible forms of education that we have.