Arguments continue to swirl over how our school education system can be improved in this country, and that includes the place of music and arts subjects generally in the curriculum. Sandra Gattenhof, Associate Professor in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology has written an insightful piece for The Conversation entitled ‘Arts education helps school students learn and socialise. We must invest in it’, in which she argues that “creative education” has become an isolated topic amid all the hoopla about raising academic outcomes.
In it, she talks about the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a study being run by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that hopes to “track creativity and critical thinking from 2021”. She fears the results of this study may be no better that Australia’s middling result in PISA scores in literacy, mathematical literacy and scientific literacy; and she says that hopefully the results of this new study “may result in greater funding to public schools to lift the score depending on the outcome”.
Gattenhof says that education in the arts, while now a mandated part of every child’s learning experiences in the Australian Curriculum, suffers from a chronic lack of infrastructure and resources when it comes to the public school system. She says this was clearly revealed in the ABC’s ‘Don’t Stop The Music’ TV series aired in 2018, and that in too many cases it is only through “the tenacity of teachers who believed deeply in their students” that an effective arts education has been truly delivered.
We deserve more than this, she says. “It’s time to reprioritise funding and direct it to Australia’s creative kids who could most benefit,” and she contends that a well-rounded arts education is central to increasing confidence, healthy risk-taking, academic outcomes and student behaviour. This makes a creative education a “key to developing entrepreneurship, social intelligence, problem solving and critical thinking skills, which are becoming increasingly essential as preparation for work in the 21st century,” she says.
This wider perspective Gattenhof brings has obvious implications when it comes to music education. We know from numerous studies how music brings multiple benefits in children in terms of cognitive development and social wellbeing – the work of Dr Anita Collins has shown, for instance, how learning music aids language development and executive function. Obviously, music does not accomplish these things in isolation from other subject, but nevertheless its importance cannot be overlooked. If, however, more emphasis were to be placed on “creative education” yet further dividends might accrue – by linking in music with other arts and humanities subjects and allowing cross-fertilisation to occur.
One could reason then, that the task of improving school education needs a combined approach that advocates for all of these subjects collectively, not in isolation. In other words, a multi-disciplinary effort is needed. Gattenhof’s notion of “creative education” seem both timely and pertinent in setting a new agenda.