Free Essay

Are the Arts Important in Education?

In: Social Issues

Submitted By charligo
Words 5441
Pages 22

1. Introduction

British fashion, publishing, theatre, film and TV, literature, visual arts and music are internationally respected and renowned for their prestige. People from America to Asia dance to our music, read our books, purchase our art and wear our designer’s latest creations, with London being recognised as the world’s most influential city by Forbes in 2014. The creative sector represents 5 percent of the British economy which is valued at around £76.9 billion and provides more than 1.7 million jobs, as reported by Warwick university. These industries have an impact on us as individuals and adds to our rich heritage by contributing to our British culture. Our arts are constantly being shaped by new trends and our consumer choices are influenced by clever marketing and visual branding. The arts also improve the enjoyment of the environments which we live and work and shape the way in which we are perceived by others around the globe, whilst also contributing to how we view the world. However, the Arts have been left to suffer within the UK educational system in order to accommodate the severe budget cuts and restrictions being hauled at schools and colleges. With more time and focus being placed on academic subjects such as science and mathematics, there is an implication that they are more important. Subjects are placed within a hierarchy with the Arts taking the largest hit, as more measureable subjects are favoured so that schools can achieve governmental targets.
Alternatively we are faced with a global responsibility in the wake of rapid climate change, with other humanitarian crises such as the West African Ebola outbreak and the South American Zika virus that can only be resolved through STEM (science; technology; engineering; mathematics). In September 2015 the UN General Assembly established the sustainable development goals for 2030 with “transforming our world” as their main agenda. In addition, the demand for medical research and more junior doctors has become an issue for the NHS, who are undergoing continuous strikes as the shortage is causing doctors to overwork so that hospitals can remain staffed. In order for society to function, it is clear that we need more STEM individuals. Without them, public health services such as the NHS will regress and ignoring climate change will impose more of a threat on our wellbeing than budget cutting the Arts. With that considered I shall be exploring whether the focus on STEM subjects in education is in fact justified, despite not being welcome; or whether that the negligence of the Arts is another example of a government's blinkered view on the needs of human beings.

2. The Arts

2.1 What are the Arts?
The arts involve the various branches of creative activity where self-expression and imagination are applied through the means of visual form - whether that’s through a painting, performance or a piece of literature. The arts constitute an essential part to our global and national culture, as they enrich us intrinsically by fulfilling us emotionally and improving our enjoyment in the spaces which we work and live. Over the course of almost five decades, David Bowie helped transform the very face of popular culture in a career marked by constant innovation and experimentation. He left behind a legacy that helped provide millions of misfits and ‘weirdos’ a voice and influenced musicians as varied as the famous rock band Pulp to Madonna and Kanye West. The unfortunate passing of David Bowie helps remind us of the power and value of the Arts, with tributes spilling out all over social media in respect to both his work and life. The arts are a fundamental aspect that helps inspire a sense of individuality, as they provide opportunities for self-expression and creativity which are especially important given the cut-throat nature that is taught within our schools. Students allow a set of letter grades to define their self-worth, with a C devaluing them to ‘stupid’ or ‘mediocre’ and a night of studying worth depraving themselves of sleep. The focus on academic subjects inspires anxiety and apprehension for those who do not excel in those areas - with students who are talented in the Arts overshadowed by those with better academic and exam-sitting potential. Students are disillusioned that not getting an A in maths or science will break their future and their self-esteem is taken hostage by the threat of not being smart enough.
2.2 Opinions on the Arts
The Secretary of Education, Nicky Morgan, states that “pupils are ‘held back’ by overemphasis on arts” with comments by the public including “I’d rather have my kids learning how to do some mathematics or speak in a foreign language before they were awarded a GCSE in pretending to be a tree blowing in the wind” and “The arts are far too overrated. If less students are doing arty subjects and more are doing maths and the sciences then that is surely a good thing.” Subjects are given a value with a negative stigma surrounding the Arts as officials such as Nicky Morgan enforce the idea that they stunt the chances for an individual's success. Parents naturally want the best for their child and hearing statements such as the one by the Secretary of Education will further enforce the idea that the Arts are disadvantageous. Students are no longer encouraged to select courses based on their preferences or strengths, as many feel pressured into choosing a language or a science because the media tells them that will guarantee them success and shall benefit their future in the long run. Whilst STEM subjects are vital to allow society to progress, without the Arts we would be a hollow population without variety or individuality - though the undisputable demand for more STEM individuals should not come at the expense of the Arts. Students must be encouraged to select courses based on their strengths, as that is what will facilitate their success; not follow a universal route that will not necessarily guarantee them a university placement or job because their struggle and dispassion for selecting the wrong subjects will ultimately reflect in their grades. If you exclude the Arts from schools you essentially disregard the people who are born with a more creative mindset. Schools should be about nurturing a child’s talents and skills and helping them realize what they are good at so that you can prepare them for their job of choice in the future. Excluding the Arts can be seen as a form of discrimination against artists and students/people who are more creatively inclined as it deprives a child of much needed skills and culture, which in my opinion should be seen as an actual form of unfair discrimination.
When conducting my questionnaire, I decided to involve students and teachers alike to consider the statement provided by Secretary Morgan and reflect on it with their own opinions and beliefs. Nick Broughton, Subject Leader for Art & Design at Wolfreton School stated that “I totally disagree. Overemphasis on the Arts (which is the opposite of what is actually happening in society, with Arts budgets, projects and education being cut) can only lead to more of the voting public questioning the logic of governmental policies. It is no wonder she would state such a thing.” When looking at statistics provided by the Cultural Learning Alliance, there has been a decline of 14 percent in the number of arts GCSE entries from 720,438 in 2010, to 618,440 in 2015. Drama saw a 13 percent decline in students taking the course along with music who had a 6 percent decline, compared to mathematics (3.4%), engineering (37.4%) and science (5.5%) which all saw a percentage rise in 2015. It’s hard to see the ‘overemphasis’ on the Arts when students are being steered away from the subject due to the introduction of the English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) (A*-C in English, maths, science, history/geography and a language) with the National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) reporting that the EBacc had reduced opportunities for students choosing art due to less time being allocated to the subject. They also revealed that 50 percent of art and design teachers have to fund their own subject-specific training because schools simply cannot afford to cover the costs for their CPD. Up to 79 percent of all art teachers reported that their workload had increased in the last five years, which makes me question whether we should shift our worry from this false ‘overemphasis’ on the Arts onto the more concerning topic of them being cut from our schools and education.
Whilst I agree with the statement provided by subject leader Nick Broughton, one must not forget the natural bias of his response. He is someone who experiences the government's narrow approach to the Arts from the start of his day, straight through to the final bell at 3:10 pm. As an arts student myself, I find myself relating to his frustration as the department has to struggle through the year with a lack of quality materials, whilst the sciences appear to have an inexhaustible budget to endlessly replace the equipment that student’s carelessly break. Students will ruin good paintbrushes or musical equipment and the Arts individuals will have to cope with the broken gear throughout the year as the Arts department cannot afford to replace them. Students in Science, however, will be able to smash test tubes, waste and spill chemicals with no repercussions and Language students are flown away to foreign countries to help enrich their learning. It should be expected that myself and Mr Broughton will be enraged by the government’s unappreciation of the Arts and I was intrigued to see whether this was a similar feeling shared across the rest of the school. I decided to seek answers and opinions from teachers involved in more academic subjects as Science and English, with one response concluding that “Society needs balance - too much focus on the Arts or too much focus on STEM subjects will deprive society of the variety and diversity it should pride itself on. Her statement is both inflammatory and demoralising by inciting panic amongst parents and despair amongst students.” Furthermore, subject leader of Biology at Wolfreton School argued that “I don't agree with Nicky Morgan about anything at any level - she and her predecessor Mr Gove's changes to education have moved us backwards about 20 years.”
There is an overwhelming majority arguing against Secretary Morgan’s statement with 90 percent of the responses both disagreeing that pupils are held back whilst also agreeing that the Arts’ constitute an importance within our education. The English Baccalaureate was implemented, however, in order for students to attain an ‘outstanding’ status if succeeding in a select list of subjects that secondary schools must provide in their GCSE curriculum. Key elements of the Ebacc were outlined in a Conservative Party manifesto pledge for “secondary school pupils to take GCSEs in English, Maths, Science, A Language and History or Geography” whilst the Arts were excluded from the running. There is a contradiction between the feelings of the government compared to the public, as is suggested through the data collected by my questionnaire, yet the Arts are continually being undermined by ludicrous concepts of subject hierarchy that places subjects according to their ‘worth’ and ‘value’. The EBacc creates an environment where students are influenced into choosing more academically focused courses whilst ignoring the more important facts of whether they enjoy that specific area or even excel in it enough to warrant them success. The media, government, parents and academic institutes exert pressure for those specialising into Arts subjects, both at GCSE and A Level, and by advocating that they are not important implies that they provide no valuable skills to help an individual develop and progress for whatever they decide to go on to do. It explains the growing belief that schools are becoming poorer in quality, with a rising number of pupils being home educated. The exclusion of the Arts has created a system where more focus is being placed on how much knowledge you can parrot-back and regurgitate to your teachers and examiners, instead of how you can be a self-thinking, confident and productive member of society. Education relies more on an effective memory than actual problem solving and interpretation skills.
2.3 Skills the Arts provide
When asked whether the Arts provide students with skills that are useful for the workplace, the responses came back had an absolute majority with 100 percent saying yes. Some responses included that the Arts allow “thoughtfulness, communication, [and] an alternative way to express ideas” with a general agreement that they help foster an individual’s “creativity, patience, attention to detail [and] determination.” The Arts encourage individuals to think laterally and creatively and to problem solve in an original, innovate and imaginative way. In a system that is getting progressively harder, the outlet for self expression and creative freedom is invaluable and helps students to destress and assert their thoughts and feelings in a visual way. Unlike learning how to use chemical equations, or learning how to understand mathematical surds and algebraic problems, these qualities taught by the Arts are not exclusively bound to one specific area but rather help an individual use their body and mind to advance and get better at everything else. The sheer opportunity for pupils to develop their skills, qualities and confidence helps create more well-rounded individuals - but at the same time it also creates a generation of free thinkers who will begin to question, test, challenge and probe. As stated above, Nick Broughton comments that an “Overemphasis on the Arts ... can only lead to more of the voting public questioning the logic of governmental policies.” Arguably, any Arts course in the country will be producing free thinkers who will challenge the government and their policies which suggests that the ruling elite view the Arts as dangerous and self-destructive rather than unimportant and their attempt to quash them from our education is to prevent any backlash that would arise from a population of creative thinkers.


3.1 What are STEM subjects?
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - which act as the foundations of the industrial and corporate sector. Manufacturing, oil and gas extraction and utilities all constitute a great proportion of the UK industrial sector and it accounts for just 14 percent of the British economy - as compared to the 41 percent contribution back in 1948. Unlike the Creative Economy which stands out by providing more than 1.7 million jobs and £76.9 billion of revenue, the UK faces chronic skills shortages in the areas involving science, technology, engineering and mathematics as our industries have become starved of specialist and qualified workers, thus more focus has been placed onto STEM especially within education in order to satisfy the void of STEM workers.
3.2 STEM within education
Disciplines such as the sciences and maths open more doors for pupils than many subjects traditionally favoured by academic all-rounders, according to Secretary Nicky Morgan. It is easy to lay claims that her statement on the Arts is irresponsible and irrational, though when considering the facts it is plausible to see how STEM disciplines do lead to more opportunities after education as the demand for more STEM graduates has led to a greater demand for young people taking these “harder” subjects by both employers and top performing universities. Young people with STEM qualifications are in demand in the job market therefore Secretary Morgan should not be criticised for making comments on what the reality is.
Furthermore, the gender gap in the STEM industries is a current issue that is being addressed which offers more of a welcoming environment for girls to also endeavour into whatever field they like. Russell Group universities even came up with the definition of facilitating subjects which they stated are:

“advanced level subjects [that] are more frequently required for entry to degree courses than others. We call these subjects ‘facilitating’ because choosing them at advanced level leaves open a wide range of options for university study.”

Facilitating subjects include: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Maths and Further Maths, Geography, History, English Literature and modern or classical languages. By 2015 51.2 percent of all A-Level entries were now choosing facilitating subjects, as Geography saw a rise of 4,188 and Maths remained the most popular subject (10.9% of all entries) and saw an increase of 3,895 more students entering into the course. However, other subjects, such as the Arts, saw a sharp decline.
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary at the Association of School and College Leaders, said that: “The funding crisis is reducing the subject choice for youngsters. That explains the pickup in facilitating subjects. If youngsters can’t do the minority subjects because schools can't offer them, they have to pick another subject.” Whilst the country may need more STEM graduates, forcing pupils into the area by not providing other subjects for them to choose, ignores the fact that they may not posses the necessary aptitude for the rigorous and challenging nature which these courses possess. Education is the acquirement of a body of knowledge to help an individual attain the necessary understandings and skills for the area or field which they want to pursue later on in life. By systematically enforcing the idea that all pupils must go through school learning a specific set of subjects in order to satisfy the demand for more STEM based jobs misrepresents what free education is all about, as diversity is discouraged and students are steered towards one career path. The country may need more mathematicians, engineers and scientists, but such an argument misunderstands the fundamental basis of what education is and what it stands for.
Jo Heywood, Headmistress at Heathfield school, Ascot said that, “the sort of student who excels at the sciences, especially in the curriculum’s current form, needs to be a resilient learner who is prepared to try and try again and not be discouraged.” The jump between A-Level and GCSE is difficult and there is a vast difference between the nature and depth of their curriculums. The unavailability of select courses and by not having that range for pupils to choose from creates a situation where they are forced into selecting a science or maths simply because they were the most available and often are considered the safest route. These are more often than not the students who lack the necessary capabilities and resilience which are needed in order to succeed within these subjects. Although the Arts may provide a more broad selection of transferable skills, whether that’s in other subjects or in workspace, what must not be forgotten is that they too are very selective in the type of pupil who will succeed and are not such an “easy” alternative to choosing a STEM as many believe. Like taking a science, the student who cannot withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions or simply lack the necessary aptitude and skill required for the Arts, will also fail. Happiness in their choices should be considered more important than forcing individuals into STEM areas and schools should be encouraging pupils to study the subjects that they enjoy and are skilled in rather than place value and importance on different subjects within schools.
3.3 Skills STEM provide
Information technology, healthcare and nursing, engineering and accountancy and finance have all been listed as the sectors that are in the most demand within the UK, as reported by experts . The UK faces chronic skills shortages in areas including STEM which has naturally left a high demand for young people to follow into these areas. Technology is fast-moving with plenty of chances of promotion, and the demand for IT professionals has surged over the past years with a rise of 6 percent of jobs advertised in the IT sector as reported by jobs listing website Adzuna. Furthermore, nurses and doctors have always been in high request and employers especially are looking to hire accountancy graduates in order to fill the shortage in qualified employees. One of the contributions to the UK's global position as the sixth largest manufacturer is STEM skills. They do not only contribute to that but also help provide a tenth of the world's scientific research with the engineering industry contributing around £455.6 billion to Gross Domestic Product (GPD) in 2014.
By choosing a STEM subject at school students are expected to develop a critical awareness of current social and environmental issues, analytical, evaluative and synoptic skills, some mathematical and scientific understanding and also the ability to breakdown and understand complex ideas. Prospects, a company offering students and graduates expert advice and guidance, listed the following six skills that employers most want: good communication; effective leadership and management; planning and research skills; teamwork and interpersonal skills; self-management; relevant work experience. It is clear that - like the Arts - STEM subjects help provide pupils with the opportunities to develop skills that are transferable for the workplace and whatever endeavors they choose to pursue after school and education. This counter-argument is insightful as it allows us to properly realize why there has become such a bias and clear preference for STEM subjects as opposed to the ones making up the Arts, which in fact does justify statements such as those made by Secretary Morgan and other governmental officials.
3.4 Opinions on STEM
This bias towards STEM subjects as opposed to the Arts is furtherly represented by a report done by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), a non-profit organisation allegedly operating independent from government or political bias. They state that “children with strong maths skills at age 10 earn significantly more in their 30s.” This suggests that employers value mathematic skills above all others as evidence shows that they are willing to pay 7.3 percent more to an individual at the age of 30 who scored in the top 15% of maths score at the age of 10, against someone with identical skill yet only scoring average in maths. Whilst they lay claim that they operate independent of political party or vested interest, many have criticised the institute for their clear Tory support and anti-Labour front. Richard Murphy, a chartered accountant and political economist, goes as far to comment on the IFS’ credibility, stating that “I really don’t mind bias: I am biased, after all. I really do object to those who claim they’re unbiased and are treated as such in the media when that is blatantly untrue.” Whilst the IFS’ statement in regards to mathematics in schools may be true, their use of language is misleading as phrases such as “significantly more” exaggerates their point by provoking ideas of vast differences in the salaries between identical employees with one having scored higher in maths at the age of 10. The actual difference is £2100 and whilst it’s a higher figure it can be argued that it is not a recognisable difference. A person’s happiness is far more important than a potential pay gap between an arts and a science graduate and it’s a shallow thought to believe that money equals happiness.
When conducting my research the results I found within my questionnaire provides insight to how students and teachers alike view the value of STEM in comparison to the Arts. When asked, “Do you think the Arts are more important, or have equal importance to STEM subjects?” the results came back as 54.5 percent saying yes, with the remaining 45.5 percent saying no. Those agreeing with the statement and believed that the Arts are equal to STEM said “They are equally as important because they give a range of specialist areas - if everyone did STEM subjects there would be no range and there would be a lack of employees to arts careers.” along with, “Without flair, creativity and innovative thinking you simply produce a population who are very intelligent at doing the same things all the time.”Alternatively, some of those who disagreed stated that “as a scientist these subjects develop medicine/technology/society but I can see the value of arts as a relaxation.” and also “STEM subjects are far superior. They give the necessary skills that are the foundation to success in later life. The arts can be added in at a later stage in a child's education as their own independent subjects.”
3.5 STEM and Society
We must consider global context in relation to the presence of STEM in order to understand their importance and the benefits which they provide for our national and international society. Starting March 2014, the outbreak of the Ebola virus devastated the impoverished states of West Africa in countries such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Worldwide, there have been over 28,000 cases along with 11,316 deaths as reported by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The virus causes serious illness which is often fatal and an individual infected will usually shown signs of symptoms such as a fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, a sore throat, and intense muscle weakness. The average fatality rate is considered to be around 50 percent, which has fluctuated between 25 percent to 90 percent in past outbreaks. Trials were being fast-tracked on a timescale of weeks and months compared to the usual production rate of years and decades in order to complete a functioning vaccine to help train the immune system to fight back against the disease. Progress was being made at an unprecedented scale and the roles of doctors and scientists helped thousands of people keep their lives. They were at the forefront of the battle against this terrible disease and their significance in our fight against it shows just how invaluable STEM individuals are in order for society to progress. Other individuals such as engineers and mathematicians were also important in the struggle against the Ebola outbreak, as the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) sent their first plane from Ghana to the Ebola zone carrying only poles and canvas to construct temporary warehouses - rather than medical equipment or protective clothing that the medics needed. Before peacekeeper troops and doctors could even be deployed out to the impoverished areas, time had to be spent constructing camps and wards in order to ensure the safety of both the infected and the workers providing aid. We are now seeing a repeat with the current threat of the Zika virus. On February 1, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) because of clusters of microcephaly and other neurological disorders in some areas affected by Zika, as reported by the CDC. The most common symptoms of Zika are fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes) with other more common symptoms such as muscle pain and headaches. The incubation period for Zika virus to develop is currently not known, nor is there a vaccine or specific medication to treat Zika infections. Experts admit “significant uncertainty” about how the disease spreads, what symptoms it causes, or just which parts of the population face the greatest danger and the level of alarm and fear has become extremely high. People with STEM skills can make a big contribution to many of the big challenges facing society today.


4.1 The addition of the Arts (Global economy, Ebacc, Voyager)
As our society continues to progress, so does our culture as we evolve and change into a more competitive creative economy. Creativity as a skill has become invaluable and cherished among employers and CEOs as design strategy has become more important than ever due the product proliferation we experience in our consumer market. The oversaturation caused by the thousands of new and similar products generated each year results in an environment where it is harder to differentiate items and ultimately stand out against the mass competition across the globe. According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, 30,000 new consumer products are made and launched each year - and only 5 percent of those actually succeed. Aesthetics and innovation then become an integral part of a company or product’s success, as it will be the visual appeal that will create desire and favorability, when compared to other products. Unlike manufacturing, which has become standardised by machines that have replaced human workers and moved to countries such as China for the low cost, designers are not doing things that are routinised which is why they are becoming more and more important to our economy. More than 3.3 billion people use the internet and businesses are having to adjust and acclimatise to the new digital age, or be left behind and outcompeted. Businesses need more designers of all types as society becomes more complex, which is why there cannot be just a focus on STEM on its own. It is clear that both STEM and the Arts are important - both in education and in the workspace - yet schools and the government should learn to implement them both together rather create a system where one is excluded for the other. The English Baccalaureate (Ebacc) should aim to include the Arts rather than leave them out simply because the Government deam the unnecessary or worthless. Undermining them is an illogical and short-sighted approach which only creates stress and worry for pupils who are more creatively talented, rather than academically.
Immigrants come to our country for our rich and popular culture, with NASA even using a blend between science and art in order to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials, should the Voyager ever find them.
4.2 Conclusion
The Arts and creativity in general are a fundamental aspect of our human nature and are linked to every other subject and aspect of life. To think creatively and laterally is something invaluable and should be cherished and appreciated given the nature and sheer competitiveness of our global economy. To stand out and succeed we need clever, appealing and innovative aesthetics which has made the role of a designer all the more important as businesses become more digital and need differentiating out from the crowd. However, the government have restricted Arts’ budget and cut back on Arts’ focus as though they are not important nor necessary within education. Instead subjects have been placed within a hierarchy with the Arts being undermined by those which will ‘improve’ academic standards.
Whilst it is easy to lay claims that the systematic implementation of the Ebacc is the result of a government misrepresenting the needs of human beings, the shift in focus onto STEM can be justified through the demand for more graduates entering into these fields. If there is a higher chance a student will be able to find a job after graduation, then naturally more focus will be placed onto them. Hypothetically, STEM should still be considered just as important even if there was no clear demand for more STEM jobs in the market. Taking one of these subjects provides an individual with skills such as critical awareness of current social and environmental issues, analytical, evaluative and synoptic skills and also the ability to breakdown and understand complex ideas. People with STEM skills can make a big contribution to many of the big challenges facing society today such as those I explored like the West-African Ebola Virus and also the Zika Virus.
Similarly to the Arts, we need STEM in order for society to progress and so there should be a balance rather than a routinised path for pupils to follow. Through the introduction of the Ebacc and severe budget cuts and restrictions to the Arts departments and projects, it was implied that they are not important within education as other subjects were placed with more value and deemed more beneficial for a pupil’s success. Happiness in their choices should be encouraged, as that is what will facilitate a student's success as all subjects are important within education. By creating a disbalance through placing a false idea that some are more important truly misrepresents the idea of what free education is and what it is all about. Students should cherish what they enjoy, whether that is through the satisfaction of a correct answer to a challenging pure maths problem, understanding how the universe works, playing a difficult piece by Mozart or finishing reading a Russian epic. The best students to leave a school are well rounded individuals whatever they specialise in in later life.…...

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