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STEM subjects hold value, but so do the arts

This week, I want to take our focus in another direction and shed some light on the arts. 

Safeera Sarjoo
16th February 2016
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The last few editorials have focused heavily on the STEM industries and issues surrounding female integration. We have spoken to organisations working tirelessly to change the discourse of these industries and welcome female talent within them. One thing we haven’t given much attention to is the arts and following an article I came across this week, I feel it’s incredibly important to divert our attention and make a stand in favour of the arts within our schools and our society.

Orli Vogt-Vincent wrote a compelling article for the Guardian about her decision to study GCSE dance and how despite negative reactions, it was the best thing she did. What shocked me the most were comments she cited made by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan about the arts.

In a 2014 campaign launched by business leaders to promote STEM subjects, Morgan said that schoolchildren who focus exclusively on arts and humanities risk restricting their future career path. Vincent’s article was passionate but logical in the way in which the arts has helped her and as someone who also immersed herself in dance throughout secondary school, I have some news for Nicky Morgan. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

Employers and schools exerting snobbery towards apprenticeships were recently singled out by Morgan. She announced that schools will be required to educate children on all of their options in regards to further education, which includes vocational routes. The idea that schools wouldn’t even inform children that they could go on to do an apprenticeship are ludicrous, but what’s even more absurd is devaluing the arts in order to push an agenda to support STEM subjects.

There’s no doubt that STEM industries are important to our society, however Morgan is missing the point of how crucial the arts are to a child’s development and the bearing it has on the rest of our education. In denouncing these subjects, she’s fuelling this stigma that Vincent mentioned where people associate the arts with under achievers.

'I still struggle to be taken seriously for taking arts subjects. I was told by advisers that dance and drama wouldn’t help me to get a suitable career, and by other adults that I was wasting my potential,' she wrote.

However there is a lot to be said just how effective the arts are. Jessica Hoffman Davis, author of the book ‘Why our schools need the arts’ wrote, ‘The arts enrich and add meaning to many if not all arenas. But it is what they do in and of themselves to which we must attend. As advocates, we must focus on the imagining, the storytelling, the representing; the unique questions that the arts pose and their special ability to give shape to human experience and understanding.

‘We need to include the arts in education not because they serve other kinds of learning (and of course they do), but because they offer students opportunities for learning that other subjects do not.’

Before I immersed myself within dance I was a different person. I preferred to sail through school unnoticed and dreaded the thought of having to speak up. I first dabbled in dance during primary school and carried the interest on into secondary school, though I didn't study it. Echoing what Vincent described in her article, I found it to be an activity that allowed me to disconnect from other subjects and apply my mind to something other than a textbook. I soon found my confidence growing and my communication improving drastically. I would never have developed these qualities in my classes and years on these traits paired with my knowledge from other subjects are appreciated within my professional career.  

Vincent hit the nail on the head by saying ‘Stopping young people from expressing themselves at such a young age is not doing them any favours. Perhaps Nicky Morgan has forgotten to open the door of being passionate about your subject, of having a drive to study that subject day in, day out. It shouldn’t matter what that subject is.’

One would think that if a child shows artistic promise, educators would nurture that talent, not force children down a route they’re not passionate about. If we’re not careful, this negative approach will have implications in the future which could change music, film and theatre – all of which I’m sure Morgan enjoys from time to time.   


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