Derek Davey speaks to the teachers about the significance of creative arts
Some educators see creative arts as a “soft” subject that requires little time or money spent upon it, but to disregard it is perilous, particularly in a developing country. Though its merits may be hard to empirically measure or test, lessons in the subject produce a well-documented raft of benefits.
Cognitive skills developed by art include organisation, problem-solving, sequencing, ordering and sorting, critical analysis, planning, prediction, estimation, memory development, concentration, decision making, flexibility, inventive thinking and imagination, says Georina Westraadt in the South African Journal of Childhood Education, quoting from several studies.
“Before they started doing this subject, the kids were not able to listen, they didn’t find anything interesting,” says Ithumeleng Tsolo from Tholimfundo Primary School in Soweto. “They take this subject [art] as a kind of ‘refreshment’. Some of them are lazy in reading and writing, but after having got that refreshment they are able to deal with these written or reading things very well, they are able to see things in a different way.”
Art lessons also teach children to navigate uncertainty, and explore self-expression. Kim Torrao, who teaches pre-schoolers at Sunbird School in Knysna, says: “I encourage the children by responding to their art in a way that allows them to realise that there is no right or wrong in art and that it is a personal experience. This is often a new concept, especially for the child who comes from an environment where they are constantly being told that what to do, or what they are doing is wrong.”
Therapy for traumatised kids
Art is not just about producing well-rounded people, who can paint a portrait or hold down a tune. It’s most needed among the underprivileged — where it is least available — because of its well-documented therapeutic value.
Statistics South Africa’s General Household Survey suggest that there are around 90 000 children in 50 000 child-headed households nationally. Our country has almost twice the average global rate of addiction at between 11% and 15% of the population, while the crime, abuse and rape statistics leave little doubt that there are large numbers of children in serious need of therapy.
A 2015 article in the Daily Maverick says that studies have revealed that there are high rates of traumatisation and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among South Africa’s youth, with 67% of them having witnessed a traumatic event such as a mugging, yet, to “deal” with this, there is a ratio of 440 000 people per state psychiatrist.
Culture for the people
The department of arts and culture (DAC) has made various attempts to correct the historical imbalance of the paucity of art tuition in undeveloped areas. The strategies of redress in the 1996 White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage were based upon increasing funding, infrastructure and the training of practitioners. The White Paper underwent an extensive review in 2007/2008, culminating in a revised draft in 2013.
Director of Sibikwa Arts Centre Phyllis Klotz says that some of funding Sibikwa receives is from the DAC, but although a memorandum of understanding does exist between the DAC and department of basic education (DBE), “they are unable to implement it”. Spokesperson for the DBE Elijah Mhlanga says that the memorandum stands, and that there are several initiatives such as the Artists in Schools Programme to upgrade the art skills of learners and teachers.
“There is, for example, a partnership between the DBE and the State Theatre where learners in particular from the disadvantaged communities are taken to the State Theatre for shows, and the SmartBucks a Millionaire Programme where Ster Kinekor (through Prime Media) arranges for learners from the disadvantaged communities to come and watch films that focus on subjects like Tourism, the Arts & Culture Field, etc.”
Solutions: where to from here?
Perhaps a complete rethink of what education and schools are is required. US author Seth Godin writes: “Public education is only 150 years old; we built the educational system to train kids to sit still long enough to be compliant, obedient factory workers. So the question we need to be asking ourselves now is, what is school for now? Nobody is asking this question: parents, administrators or taxpayers. I think it is for two things: one, how to solve interesting problems, and two, how to lead.
“We don’t live in an industrial driven economy any more; we don’t make the kind of things we used to make, the way we used to make them. What we have now is an economy where value is created by connections, value is created when we work with people we trust, or when expectations are high, when we innovate.
“All of those things come from human beings creating art, doing something without a map, doing something that matters to them; none of them come from following instructions, and yet from the time you enter school, what you are graded on, what you are rewarded for, is following instructions — that has to change.”
In South Africa, students are certainly questioning the adequacy and relevance of the university system, but we can hardly expect our learners to question their education system. Perhaps it’s time for the parents, the administrators and the taxpayers to ask the question: “What are our schools are for now?”