Are Cuts to Arts Funding in Schools good for the Sciences?

ELSPETH SAGE

Education has always been a political football. Successive governments, keen to leave their mark, do so by means of reforms that seem to flip on their head every time the cabinet changes hands. Given this it’s a wonder schools ever get a chance to adjust to these new systems and approaches. Often it’s argued that they don’t. Currently a particular sort of upheaval in schooling is being undertaken by the incumbent Conservative party: the act of cutting the arts subjects; Art, Music, and Drama. The argument is simple: STEM subjects get you a job, Arts subjects don’t. Academic subjects take utmost priority; they are more important. But is this the case? Whilst it’s true that the world is constantly in short supply of scientists, and we are heading for a future where technical skills and numerical ability will be vital in most industries, is it simply the study of traditionally academic subjects that will help today’s students get there?

We’re very aware that a good foundation in maths is essential to go on to study science, but the same is rarely suggested for subjects traditionally seen as ‘creative’. But what does it even mean to be a creative subject? Is that to say that science does not require original thought? Of course not! However, sciences are generally taught in schools by the rote learning of facts; memorise all your notes and sit the exam at the end. Answers are always right or wrong, and being wrong means failing. But a fear of being wrong stifles creativity, and ultimately, scientific discovery.

This is why encouraging creativity is so important. Artistic subjects teach transferable skills that are invaluable in a scientific career: using your imagination, developing and adapting your ideas, then communicating them effectively. A scientist who can’t explain their brilliant idea is of no use to anyone. A 1989 report by the University of Warwick on the Arts in education states this quite clearly: “It makes just as much sense to talk of creativity in science, engineering, mathematics and philosophy as in the arts.” Children are naturally creative, and as Sir Ken Robinson explained in his TED talk on creativity in schools, our education system stamps that out of them.

A study on student’s views of science internationally claimed that in Western countries, interest in science was low, and even decreasing amongst students, whilst in non-European or developing countries, interest remained strong, with India coming out top. In the same survey, students from various countries were asked whether science was more about sticking to the facts, or using their imagination. 60% of Indian students strongly prioritised using their imagination, a figure far above the global average. Is this coincidence, or evidence that encouraging creativity engages people?

Alongside renewing our appreciation for arts subjects, there is also call for a change in our approach to science education. Again from the 1989 Warwick report: “The need and the opportunities for creative activity must be seen as central to all work in schools.”

The evidence seems to suggest that if nurture children’s inquisitive minds, both through the arts and by teaching science more creatively, students will not only be more engaged, but will become better scientists.

Are Cuts to Arts Funding in Schools good for the Sciences?

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