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Crusade against the arts has no scientific basis

The visual, liberal and performing arts have in recent years received a significant degree of attention from scholars, professionals and policymakers alike.

Yet, despite the significant overall interest in the topic, so far relatively little attention has been paid to it. In 2012, the promotion of sciences was fronted to such an extent that the ministry of Public Service announced an increment in university lecturers’ salaries, giving science teachers a 30 per cent increase while arts teachers received a paltry 10 per cent.

However, a 2005 report by the Rand Corporation (a non-profit global policy think tank which offers research and analysis in the United States) on the visual arts argues that the intrinsic pleasures and stimulation from the arts experience does more than sweeten an individual’s life.

According to the report, they ‘can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing,’ creating the foundation to forge social bonds and community cohesion.

For example, in Uganda, performing arts that encompass music, film, dance and drama have been used to educate the public on health and other social issues affecting communities. In some schools, teachers and learners have composed songs and poems to sensitise the broader community on issues such as HIV/Aids prevention, dangers of domestic violence, child abuse and alcoholism, among others.

The Rand report points out that the arts also offer unique ways of interpreting experiences in the world and that they have a unique tendency to reach their cognitive, symbolic and creative levels.

Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers, commonly referred to as Macintosh computers, acknowledged his arts education background as the primary foundation of his success.

“I decided to take a calligraphy class...” he said. “I learnt about serif and sans-serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great.

It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating. None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me, and we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography.”

The arts: a form of psychotherapy

In the medical field, arts are recognised as a form of psychotherapy. Various arts disciplines, including painting, sculpture, sketching, music and dance have been used to help physically-disadvantaged and emotionally oppressed persons. The aftermath of the political instability which affected northern Uganda in the past two decades is a case in point. Several NGOs have used art and music therapy to reach out to the minds of the traumatised population.

In 2012, Beatrice Lamwaka, an accomplished anthologist (short story writer) started the Arts Therapy Foundation in Gulu to hasten the recovery process of those affected by the war.

“I let people create their own art so that they could feel good about the fact that they can create something, and in that, slowly recover from their trauma,” she explains.

Therapy for the handicapped

Art therapy is also gradually finding space in the education of physically and mentally handicapped children. Intellectual disabilities affect capacities related  to such things as following instructions, understanding complex information, thinking, learning, concentrating, speaking, hearing, walking, using judgment, using memory, reflex actions and performing manual tasks.

At Kampala School for the Physically Handicapped in Mengo, learners are facilitated with art materials and tools to enable them step up their creative and expressive abilities.

For instance, children are given clay to model objects, beads to make necklaces and earrings and water paint to paint their own pictures.

“The aim of this is to equip the pupils with workable skills, boost their confidence and make them all round learners,” says Joy Mwesigwa, the school’s director.

Samuel Kiggundu, a coach and sports director at Makindye Hill Parents School, admits that sports activities such as swimming, floor hockey and running helps such children develop motor skills (movement of different parts of the body) and hand-eye coordination.

“Sport entertains such children and makes them relaxed to grasp non-academic ideas since their problem is grasping academic concepts as fast as ordinary children do,” says Kiggundu.

Strategic importance

In a 2011 Unesco research on the status of arts education in Uganda by Dr Venny Nakazibwe, she notes that the arts play an important role in promoting social and economic development and emphasising social inclusion, cultural diversity and human development.

“The creative arts equip learners with soft skills which enable them express themselves, critically evaluate the world around them and actively engage in the various aspects of human existence,” she notes in her research.

In the UK, a formal inquiry into the role of creativity in education and the economy was instituted in 1995, led by then Professor (now Sir) Ken Robinson. It culminated in the setting up of Creative Partnerships, a programme managed by the Arts Council of England from 2002 to 2011, and funded by the Department of Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) with additional support from the Department for Education and Skills (DfES).

The idea of the Creative partnerships was to embed ‘creative learning’ within schools. It radically overhauled the teaching methods across all subjects by bringing in ‘creative agents’ namely, visual artists, writers, poets, musicians, architects and scientists into schools across the UK.

The major aim of the creative partnerships was to inspire teachers to work in a new way in order to raise the aspirations and achievements of children and young people to open up more opportunities for their future. It covered 2,700 schools and directly benefited over one million children and 90,000 teachers who worked on more than 8,000 projects.

Independent research by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) revealed that the Creative Partnership programme was expected to generate nearly four billion pound sterling net positive benefit for the UK economy.

“As such, arts education is the task of art and cultural institutions, primary and secondary schools, universities and other tertiary institutions, extracurricular arts education and training programmes, including the media,” notes Nakazibwe.

The challenges

However, there is a general view that the arts are for the elite and talented few; some think that the arts are for the ‘academically challenged’ members of society, while many others (including policymakers) publicly admit they do not understand the arts subject-content.

Unlike the visual arts (drawings and painting), other arts like music, dance and poetry are hardly included on the school timetable in many schools.

“Different districts throughout Uganda engage primary schools (both government and private) in music (vocal and instrumental), dance and drama competitions annually, during the second term. For many rural primary schools, this is the only chance that pupils get to seriously engage in music, performing arts and poetry,” Dr Nakazibwe’s research notes.

Furthermore, many Universal Primary Education (UPE) schools take music and dance as part of co-curricular activities meant to occupy pupils’ leisure time, usually after end-of-term examinations as they wait for their reports.

Hence, it is not unusual to find that in such schools, some pupils complete primary education without any purposeful exposure to the broad range of arts education despite the benefits. There is also a lack of coherence in the way matters relating to the arts are decided, supported or administered.

Positively however, several curriculum reforms have been made in primary schools by the government to give support to UPE. Among these, it introduced Creative Arts and Physical Education (CAPE) which is divided into three areas; CAPE 1 (Music, Dance and Drama); CAPE 2 (Physical Education) and CAPE 3 (Arts and Technology).

These arts subjects are meant to arouse the pupils’ creativity and free expression and to equip them with skills that would enable them survive in the world after school.

“However, study findings indicate that very few schools offer drawing, painting, modelling, or music and dance lessons to their learners, since they are not examinable subjects and thus do not contribute to the final grades of the pupils’ Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE),” the Unesco research reads.

Integrating some of these most-neglected, yet important, aspects of education is an excellent place to start in stimulating creativity in children.

ninsiima@observer.ug

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