Performing Arts in Schools – The WHYs & The HOWs

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At the start of the 2017 academic year, the ICSE council made Performing Arts one of three compulsory new subjects in schools that follow the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education’s syllabus. Having actively campaigned the past many years for introduction and integration of performing arts in mainstream school syllabi, I was (not surprisingly) elated at this prospect. Through my years of research in the field of performing arts & early childhood education and through my experience of teaching students and training teachers in the Agile Kids Program, I have seen first-hand and am convinced beyond a shred of doubt that exposure and participation in the performing arts has a significant impact in the growth & development of a child, especially in the formative years and has a continuing influence right through adolescence and even adulthood.

Therefore, the ICSE board’s decision to bring such a vital subject front-and-centre in their curriculum is not just a welcome move, but also a giant leap in the right direction. More importantly, it paves the way for a paradigm shift in the way our schools have been imparting education and also in the way our children have been benefiting from formal education. Moreover, by making performing arts compulsory between classes I to VIII, the Board is also targeting the right age-group (5-13) that can benefit most from the performing arts. Incidentally, this is also the age-group that is otherwise likely to drop performing arts altogether in pursuit of more mainstream subjects.

However, as the months have gone by, it is becoming painfully clear to me that while the Board’s decision is in the best interests of its students, it has created some unique challenges for  its schools. What with a vast and constantly-evolving syllabus, increasing cut-throat competition, understaffed and over-worked teachers and over-scheduled classes, schools are having a tough time implementing this change, and understandably so. A school’s time-table and daily workings are a delicately balanced tight-rope act that can go completely haywire even with small changes. (Just ask any Principal/Co-ordinator about the headache of having to cancel classes and send students home early due to a weather advisory). A sweeping change like having three new compulsory subjects can really challenge a school’s ability to do the best by its students

The board also doesn’t specify how or in what manner should schools go about implementing this change. From what I have seen, this can create two problems

  1. Schools that DO NOT HAVE a current subject or class allotted for performing arts are left trying to figure out the nitty-gritties from scratch, costing the school time, effort & resources.
  2. Schools that already HAVE a performing arts activity running typically tend not to change or improve upon their existing system, in order not to cause any disruption of the existing workings.

In both cases, the actual benefits of this decision do not really accrue to students. Integrating performing arts in schools can have far-reaching benefits to students’ physical, mental and emotional capacities AS WELL AS to their approach and interest in OTHER Subjects – provided it is done in the right manner – in a holistic, well-thought out and planned manner. In both the above instances that doesn’t happen. The integration remains very superficial, not enough to create lasting and tangible benefits.

The way I see, the entire aim of this new syllabus change is not to make the students more skilled or adept at more subjects – but to help them develop their latent talents, and more importantly – to help them harness ALL their intelligence. In 1983, Howard Gardner, an American development psychologist proposed the theory of multiple intelligence, specifically NINE different types or domains of intelligence.

Types of Intelligences

Gardner’s path-breaking research was published in his book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. His theory is now widely used as a model for understanding human cognitive abilities and has found varied applications in fields such as HR, Counselling and even Artificial Intelligence!

Conventionally, our schools have focused on developing only certain types of intelligence and consequently only certain types of students have excelled at school. Not only does this create great imbalance (not to mention insecurity, jealousy and under-confidence) among students but repeated emphasis on only certain skills (sitting and learning, memorizing, verbalizing/analyzing) is potentially also harmful for their health. A more holistic approach to education is very vital if we are to create and develop real talent in our schools.

In this scenario performing arts provides the perfect solution to encouraging the use of all domains of intelligence. Each of the performing arts – Music, Dance, Drama – employs skills & talents that would otherwise stay dormant. And guess what – these areas of intelligence are also then used in learning the other, more mainstream subjects.

So, how can schools do this? As it turns out Performance arts integration is not that difficult. To begin with, it can be done in just 4 Simple Steps. Ready? 5, 6, 7, 8..!

  1. Make movement and activity a part of regular class: In my workshops with teachers I often stress the importance of ‘Brain Break’ activities to stimulate all the intelligences in students. These are simple 5-minute-or-less activities that are very easy to co-ordinate. Brain Breaks can include music, dance, play and pretend and can be customized to suit any ages in the K-12 spectrum. (Read my post on Brain Breaks to know more.)
  2. Appoint a PA co-ordinator: Most schools employ a music or a dance and dramatic teacher. However, the current scenario demands a PA co-ordinator who can bring together all three disciplines in a way that aligns with your school’s other classes, teachers & subjects. A PA co-ordinator needs to be someone with experience and possibly a degree in the performing arts – but more importantly, someone who has experience teaching these to children.
  3. Create a Music Class/Dance Studio: Having an actual place for these classes to be conducted in goes a long way in reinforcing to your students, teachers and parents as well as yourself that you are committed to developing the performing arts strength in your school. Moreover – once you have a place, it is bound to get used!
  4. Encourage PA training among Teachers: The arts are enjoyed by everyone. There’s not a person who does not enjoy listening to music or dancing. So why should teachers shy away from it? In all my Kinesthetic Training workshops for Teachers, I routinely make teachers dance, sing and act and they absolutely love it! Moreover, they feel empowered and enabled to pass it on to their students – no matter what subjects they are teaching.
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Every teacher on the floor say “Aye”!

Performing Arts is one of those few subjects whose benefits can be felt throughout all aspects of one’s life – and also make their way into other subjects. While it’s not necessary that every student who learns music and dance will become a world-renowned artist, the intelligence stimulated while learning them will certainly have positively life-changing effects. As schools, we take as much (maybe more) pride in the achievements and success of our students as their parents. Come Alumni night or reunions, and we are aglow with pride to see what our students have become. The truth is, if we want more of our children to become the next C.V Raman, Arundhati Roy, Mira Nair, Sachin Tendulkar, Lata Mangeshkar, Subbalakshmi or Saina Nehwal – we need to cohesively and sincerely make an attempt to change the way they learn in our schools, and introducing them to subjects that will rouse their intelligence is just a step in the right direction.

Agree with me? Then leave a comment! How have you managed to integrate performing arts in your school? I’d love to know – leave me a comment below!

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Performing Arts in Schools – The WHYs & The HOWs

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