/ 18 January 2024

Using art in education

A Teenager Watching A Video On A Computer

Education is one of the fundamental foundations to prosperity, and it should not be surprising that foundations require a shift of change now and then. Moreover, education today shouldn’t be viewed as a means to an end but rather be approached as a means to answer relevant, relatable complex social and economic issues that are rapidly crippling the world today. 

The learning and teaching instructions usually depend on lesson plans that are created using diverse materials with the expectation to pass off information that learners can take back home and into their different communities to summon development but is that the case today or has the educational system long been broken? Suppose one used a microscope on the teaching process, perhaps we could find cracks that follow the traditional way of teaching. 

For instance, the typical way is for a teacher to stand in front of the class and present what he or she has prepared for the day, and down the line, learners are evaluated using assessments or tests that are supposed to identify the knowledge they have on different subjects. However, the flaw in this comes when the evaluation depends on higher marks which often calls out the issue of cramming. Sometimes critical and analytical thinking isn’t emphasised enough in classrooms, and one can witness this in learners’ responses to questions that stem from real-life issues. 

One of the reasons I value the learning and teaching approach of technical schools and the University of South Africa — at which I’ve been a student since 2014 — is that they both encourage deep critical thinking. Assignments and exams are presented to evaluate your problem-solving skills which require you to be practical and less theoretical. 

Today’s economy and social issues do not need theory-based approaches but real-time solutions. For example, teaching science should be used to answer issues such as climate change and explore the different careers that learners can grow into. Furthermore, technology-based courses should not only stress the innovation of new software or applications but should answer existing problems and provide immediate relevant, relatable solutions and perhaps focus more on modifying already existing ones and encourage collaboration. It is no secret that the introduction of new software or applications is usually followed with scepticism, especially considering cybersecurity issues. 

In some African classrooms, teaching science is not explored in depth. For example, children are taught about the universe but less on the exploration of astronomy and what they can get out of it. For parents such as myself, it often gets frustrating to see our children being taught science but without exploring the topic fully. The same goes with subjects such as geography. Often, the teaching and learning of geography is based on the international landscape and less on the African continent. Children learn about America, France, Europe and others instead of learning about the similarities and opportunities in the African continent. 

So how can the use of the arts be incorporated in teaching?

According to Statistics South Africa, music streaming is expected to generate a revenue of around $75.92 million in 2024. The revenue is projected to grow at an annual growth rate (CAGR 2024- 2027) of 4.2℅, reaching a market volume of $85.89 million by 2027. It is evident that the music industry is in an incredible growth phase but how can artists support the educational system using their songs? 

The first sensible point would be for artists to learn content offered from different subjects and incorporate it in their songs or delivering materials to learners. Amapiano, for instance, if explored can be a useful tool. To compliment this narrative, teachers would need some form of encouragement, training and motivation to incorporate music in their teaching. As for the learners themselves, the inclusion of music in classrooms would be welcomed with enthusiasm and excitement. 

The use of film and animation could also enhance education. In high school, we watched Romeo and Juliet as we read the book. This accommodated spatial learners, also referred to as visual learners. Using film as a teaching tool provides real-life context for language learning, and helps learners understand how words and phrases are used in different situations. For children, animation can support linguistic skills by introducing children to new vocabulary and pronunciations. It can further introduce “what if” scenarios that spark the imagination. 

Witnessing the number of animation films produced in the world, I believe film production companies need to be given a standing ovation because they have found a way of teaching topics that would normally be seen as adult content. For instance, Teen Titans has episodes where they talk about insurance and real estate just to mention two and in Star Wars, the young Jedi’s adventures emphasises encouraging bravery, confidence and team work, which often diminishes as we grow up. 

I believe the educational system should be re-evaluated to accommodate creativity that fosters imagination and can be practically used. As organisations, heads of states and their ministries gather to discuss solutions to solve complex social issues, it is important to also discuss the changes the educational system needs to address. 

The world is changing, technology is evolving and we see the speed new technologies such as machine learning, generative AI and others are taking. It is imperative for the educational system to align with these changes if we want to produce learners that are ahead and can come up with progressive relevant, relatable and practical solutions. If not, unfortunately learning is a waste of time because if we can’t adapt and participate in change, what use is there for education? 

Rethabile Tsephe is a freelance writer and researcher associated with the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research in Washington DC.