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The arts are being forced out of the education system

ByJae-In Lee

Mar 17, 2015
Image courtesy of David (wikimedia)

The arts subjects that encourage creativity and innovation are systematically being removed from the British education system. The current government’s focus on STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – stymies arts subjects in schools, due to the students’ and teachers’ perception of elite universities favouring more ‘traditional’ subjects, such as the sciences. It also has to do with misleading league tables that discourage students to take the subjects within the arts, causing them to believe that taking these in their A-levels may impoverish their employability and university acceptance.

We are currently living in a decade where the world is driven by innovation in science and technology; thus, it is reasonable that the government supports this industry by funding certain firms’ R&D departments, and STEM academics’ research at public universities. However, the issue here is that this compensation from forcing the arts out of education. Some striking statistics include a 50% drop in the GCSE Design & Technology, 23% for drama and 25% for other arts subjects between 2003 and 2013, which results in a respective fall on the number of arts teachers in school and withdrawal of many arts subjects. The UK government’s isolated approach for STEM-focused curricula prevents students from enjoying an education that fosters creativity and innovation, therefore, impeding potential talent acquisition and development within the industry.

The unfortunate phenomenon is not only an issue of a downward trend in students taking arts subjects at school. Even in higher education, there has been a 46% drop in craft related courses in the past five years that caused a rise in staff-to-student ratios, and a fall in hours of practice. Careers within the arts however, especially film and theatre, are ironically becoming an increasingly competitive field, arguably even more so than careers in finance or journalism let alone scientific research. Despite the relegation of the arts compared to the science and humanities – the ‘traditional subjects’ – the arts are an entirely different field that requires and attracts a different set of skills. Therefore, it is imperative to provide an informative education for students wanting to pursue a career in the field, and this could only be achieved by learning the subject academically early on.

The IB Diploma, a rigorous academic curriculum taught in many international schools as pre-university qualifications, is theoretically a good idea to foster this. It allows students to choose six subjects in each category including ‘The Arts’, such as music, film, theatre and fine arts, which highlight an emphasis on the cultural context of the art being studied, and expressing themselves via the diverse and dynamic nature of the arts within its relevant genres. However, even the IB Diploma gives students the option to replace the arts subject with an additional science or a language, which defeats the whole purpose of providing a well-rounded education. It is a shame that most students do opt out of studying an arts subject, due to the fear that it may limit their options when applying to university.

Britain is proud for its fashion, theatre, film and TV, and classical music that are internationally recognised as world class. Why then are we preventing the potential artists from achieving their objectives and as a result, sharing their work that we, in fact, will probably enjoy on a daily basis? Forging a bleak future is the last thing we want, and this needs to be prevented by creating opportunities to study the arts within education. It is about time that the government encourages diversity and allocates fairer funding towards the arts.

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