An Arts Education… why it matters so much

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Mita Naidu
Mita Naidu

We have an upcoming municipal election on October 20th.

One very important topic we should all think about, is our school district’s commitment to the arts.

Data exists to overwhelmingly support the belief that study and participation in the arts is a key component in improving learning throughout all academic areas. Evidence of its effectiveness in reducing student dropout, raising student attendance, developing better team players, fostering a love for learning, improving greater student dignity, enhancing student creativity, and producing a more prepared citizen for the workplace for tomorrow can be found documented in multiple studies.

A 2002 report by the Arts Education Partnership revealed that schoolchildren exposed to drama, music and dance are often more proficient at reading, writing, and math. It looked at over 62 different studies from 100 researchers, spanning the range of fine arts from dance to the visual arts. It was the first report of its kind to look at the impact of art on academic performance.

In addition to improved academic performance, I truly believe the arts can have the larger societal effect of increasing tolerance and empathy. It has a broadening effect. By this I mean- it presents a perspective on reality that challenges preconceived ideas and makes kids look at something from outside their comfort zone.

Why integrate this in our schools?

  1. Students from lower income families often get little exposure to the arts if they are not provided by schools. Arts education can help close the gap between socioeconomic groups, creating a more level playing field between children who may not be exposed to these enrichment experiences outside of school and some of their more privileged peers.
  1. Policy makers need to understand that an arts education is as meaningful not only the students, but teachers too! Several studies have measured the impact on teachers and have found that teachers who emphasized arts education enjoyed greater job satisfaction; were more interested in their work; more likely to be innovative; and pursued personal development experiences.
  1. In developing a theatrical production, group performance, or any type of collaborative artistic endeavor, students practice teamwork. As they work together, they learn to understand differences and diversity and thus contribute to making schools safer and more peaceful learning environments.

Why am I passionate about this?

Because I’ve been exposed to its benefits through my own experiences, and those of my daughter.

I attended one of Canada’s few state-of-the-art performing arts high schools, in Ottawa. Modelled exactly after the Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York, children were auditioned and then streamed into their discipline of choice: visual arts, music (vocal and instrumental), drama, literary arts or dance. We had our academics in the morning and as a dance student, I had ballet 5 days a week/4 hours a day.

My high school experience was full of incredible experiences, ideas, collaborations and opportunities. From there, I went on to NYU’s Tisch School or Performing Arts, and continued to stay involved through many years of arts advocacy and Board work.

Here in BC, along with a standard arts curriculum, we are fortunate to have specialized programs and academies in a number of school districts. They are providing opportunity for kids to dabble or immerse themselves in an art program of their choice.

My own daughter was enrolled in the Sands Secondary sports academy. Thanks to a great principal, she was able to travel downtown every day for her 5 hours of dance training.  Now at age 15, she is been offered multiple scholarships at top ballet schools in the US. She is truly living her dreams because of the freedom to train and explore her passions, via the academy.

What would it mean for us as a society to NOT include arts-based opportunities in our schools?

In today’s world, the primary sources of information are no longer teacher lectures or textbooks. Yet, we require students to be thinkers, possess people skills, be problem-solvers, demonstrate creativity, and work as a member of a team. How can we bridge this gap? We need to offer more in-depth learning about the things that matter the most: integrity, thinking skills, a sense of wonder, truth, flexibility, fairness, dignity, contribution, justice, creativity and cooperation.

The arts provide all of these.

Let’s build generations of leaders that are able to stretch their minds beyond the boundaries and rules of a basic academic education… and ensure they learn decision-making, strategy building, planning and self-reflection. Let’s prepare them to use these skills effectively by developing a strong sense of identity and confidence in their ability to affect the world around them in meaningful ways.

Look at your school and school district websites, ask teachers, ask other parents, and ask your kids- about opportunities for the young person in your life to ENGAGE in the arts, in their schools.

Mita Naidu is running for Delta School Board on Team Delta Voices.