Taking culture to the classroom

Arts education has never been a priority at school level. Now that’s about to change, reports BARBARA LUDMAN

COMPULSORY arts education for all school pupils up to Standard Seven is likely to be implemented by the beginning of 1998.

The national Department of Education is planning to publish guidelines early next year for arts curricula covering music, dance, visual arts and drama.

The new arts courses will be very different from the old, largely Eurocentric system.

“We’re going for the Africanisation of the arts and culture syllabus,” says Farouk Hoosain, deputy director: education policy (arts education).
He is not, he says, talking about Afrocentric art - “that’s a new form of jingoism” - but a synthesis: for example, “where you have sitar music infused with violin and the marimba”.

“We’re making sure the syllabus is as inclusive as possible, culture-fair and anti- bias. We want young people to create art products which reflect all the different cultures of South Africa.”

The Education Ministry is working with the ministries of Labour and Arts, Culture, Science and Technology on a plan to train enough teachers so that all pupils across the country will have access to at least one arts subject every year, and possibly two or three.

Because arts education has never been a priority - pre-1994, “the arts were seen as disturbing and the potential for subversion was there, in drama and the visual arts in particular” - there aren’t enough teachers.

But there are plenty of artists, traditional dancers, musicians and theatre people, and the three ministries hammering out the project are looking at ways of bringing them into the system, possibly with certification from the National Qualifications Framework, which will take experience and non-formal education into account.

Never compulsory, arts education has nonetheless been taken seriously in some provinces. In KwaZulu-Natal, an extensive arts and culture programme is offered by the Education Department - everything from Zulu dance to visual arts. The Western Cape has long benefited from a community theatre and community arts tradition; just as well, as a spokesperson for the Western Cape Education Department confirms that all new spending is going for classrooms, not culture.

Hoosain acknowledges the problem of priorities. “There is a quantitative debate,” he says. “We need more classrooms. And we need better facilities. But there’s also a qualitative debate. And that says it doesn’t matter where arts education is experienced. You don’t require expensive instruments to study music, halls with wooden floors to learn to dance or fancy structures to do drama work.”

As for the visual arts, “it does a lot for the soul to be able to take the material from your environment and create uniquely African artifacts”.

In any case, as practioners know, arts education is about more than aesthetics. “Creativity,” he says, “risk-taking, problem- solving - which subjects will encourage and help us to transfer those kinds of values? It just so happens that the arts offer that kind of help.”

Before arts courses can be made compulsory, assessment problems must be ironed out, for although one can test how well a pupil can act, or dance, or sculpt, “how do you test the affective side? Form, structure and processes are important, but the experiential and affective side is what makes the arts unique. And we are interested not only in looking at form and processes but in allowing children to experience the arts.”

The scheme represents a radical change. In the past schools had some access to arts subjects, but their facilities reflected the funds allocated per pupil according to race. In music, symbolically - and much of the time, in reality - white schools had pianos, coloured and Indian schools had recorders, and black schools relied on the voice.

Once the department comes up with a syllabus, pilot projects will be put into place. “By the end of next year, we should be able to say authoritatively ‘we believe that this works and that doesn’t work’.”

l In Gauteng, a business plan for pilot projects in arts education was due to be handed in this week to the provincial departments of Education and Arts and Culture.

It was drawn up by a task team operating under the Gauteng Education Department’s Reconstruction and Development Policy Planning unit (RDPP) and Arts and Culture Department.

The task team refuses to talk about costs because, says a spokesperson, these will change as departments look at the proposals.

It is an ambitious business plan, with pilot projects in a range of activities, from management to teacher training to promotion of arts education generally. The team, which wants the pilots to start within weeks, has moved quickly. Questionnaires went out to 3 000 schools, universities, non-governmental organisations, technikons, teacher training colleges and arts centres in February.

“What came back from the schools is a lot of interest in implementing arts education but a lack of skills or other facilities to do so,” says Pid Mclarty, project co-ordinator.

The training of teachers is one of the more innovative pilots proposed. In addition to training in-service teachers, the task team wants to look at bringing working artists into the schools to help teachers teaching the odd module.

There is also an interest in drawing in, on a regular basis, “artists with years of experience, like traditional dancers”, says McLarty, “who have been teaching informally but now need qualifications”.

Promoting the idea of arts education in the schools won’t be difficult, but among the public, the team believes there could be problems. They propose a campaign including workshops with communities and school principals, newsletters and a video. “There needs to be a campaign to inform the community of the benefits” - among them, vocational skills - “and to get rid of some of the adverse myths; for example, that ‘only girls dance’.”

The scheme represents a radical change. In the past schools had some access to arts subjects, but their facilities reflected the funds allocated per pupil according to race. In music, symbolically - and much of the time, in reality - white schools had pianos, coloured and Indian schools had recorders, and black schools relied on the voice.

Once the department comes up with a syllabus, pilot projects will be put into place. “By the end of next year, we should be able to say ‘we believe that this works and that doesn’t work’.”

l In Gauteng, a business plan for pilot projects in arts education was due to be handed in this week to the provincial departments of Education and Arts and Culture.

It was drawn up by a task team operating under the Gauteng Education Department’s Reconstruction and Development Policy Planning unit and Arts and Culture Department.

The task team refuses to talk about costs because, says a spokesperson, these will change as departments look at the proposals.

It is an ambitious business plan, with pilot projects in a range of activities, from management to teacher training to promotion of arts education generally. The team, which wants the pilots to start within weeks, has moved quickly. Questionnaires went out to 3 000 schools, universities, non-governmental organisations, technikons, teacher training colleges and arts centres in February.

“What came back from the schools is a lot of interest in implementing arts education but a lack of skills or other facilities to do so,” says Pid Mclarty, project co-ordinator.

The training of teachers is one of the more innovative pilots proposed. In addition to training in-service teachers, the task team wants to look at bringing working artists into the schools to help teachers teaching the odd module.

There is also an interest in drawing in, on a regular basis, “artists with years of experience, like traditional dancers”, says McLarty, “who have been teaching informally but now need qualifications”.

Promoting the idea of arts education in the schools won’t be difficult, but among the public, the team believes there could be problems. They propose a campaign including workshops with communities and school principals, newsletters and a video. “There needs to be a campaign to inform the community of the benefits” - among them, vocational skills - “and to get rid of some of the adverse myths; for example, that ‘only girls dance’.”

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