THE creative arts pedagogy (visual and performing arts) in our education system leaves much to be desired.
For so long, it has been adduced as an addendum to the educative process. It has never been accorded equal status with science and mathematics. In fact, to most scientists, it would be blasphemy to speak of creative arts, science and mathematics in the same breath.
As a result of this neglect and condescending attitude, pedagogy in creative arts education has declined dramatically — there has not been any rigorous development in the teaching methodology and creation of knowledge in these creative fields. It has to fend for itself. The quality of teaching has deteriorated to such an extent that it has been left to the vagaries of the general teaching staff to conduct creative arts classes.
This malaise is reflected in the insignificance of the subject in the school curriculum, which only offers it as optional in one subject in visual arts, while performing arts is demeaned and consigned as optional co-curricular activity.
From the beginning, the school system de-emphasised the significance of creative arts education. It ingrained in students a condescending attitude towards creative arts. Education has always prioritised the development of verbal rather than nonverbal intelligence.
From day one, the students are indoctrinated to excel in subjects such as science and mathematics, especially since the school system is based on the outmoded British system of three Rs, reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetics. The education system is still mired in this traditional 3R concept which gives priority to science and mathematics.
Science students are regarded as having superior intelligence compared with arts students. This ignorance of the educational and intellectual values of the creative arts by policymakers and teaching staff, save for the very few who are directly involved in the discipline, has perpetuated this notion of the inferiority of the creative arts as an intellectual discipline.
As a result, the creative arts have never been part of the core school curriculum. They are around only to accommodate students who are weak in science and mathematics and the other verbal arts subjects.
The two fields of studies, namely the visual and performing arts, suffer similar fate at the tertiary level. In fact, it was only recently that these two disciplines were incorporated into a university’s humanities curriculum that was spearheaded in 1970 by Universiti Sains Malaysia, the pioneer in the pedagogy of creative arts. Thereafter, several other universities followed suit with various levels of concentration.
The drawback of the creative arts programme at university level is that the schools do not prepare students to undertake these disciplines, unlike other traditional verbal disciplines. Therefore, the formal study of these two disciplines must start from scratch. Only the music students have some formal qualification, having obtained at least Grade 5 theory and practical from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) or Trinity College.
However, entry qualification for the creative arts discipline is mainly based on the standard Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia/Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia examination results. They are accepted based on the standard scholastic achievement and only minimally on their informal creative experience.
Thus the quality of intake for the creative arts discipline is not based on creative arts ability, but on the general admission designed for science, humanities and social science students.
As a consequence, it is difficult to achieve excellence in the visual and performing arts. The programme is watered down with students having to fulfil other university curricular requirements, such as a minor programme outside their chosen field, language and several other inconsequential subjects to graduate.
Another significant factor contributing to mediocre graduates is the quality of the teaching staff. Most of the teaching staff in these two fields are neither practitioners nor professionals. They are either PhD or Master’s holders with some experience in their respective fields. Their qualifications are based on theory rather than the practice of creative arts.
There is no systematic approach in the teaching of the fundamentals of art forms and it is left to the vagaries and inadequacies of the teachers whose teaching methodology and expertise leave much to be desired. This problem exists because the authorities (policymakers and implementers) are ignorant of the educational and intellectual value of the creative arts and lack exposure to these art forms.
If the status quo remains, creative arts education will not get its due recognition. Unless there is a paradigm shift in the thinking of creative arts education as an integral part of knowledge development, application and industry, it will forever remain stagnant.
Thus there was excitement and high expectations when the new education minister established the National Education Consultative Council to review the current Education Blueprint, hoping that it would recognise creative arts education as a significant part of the educative process.
First, the planning and implementation of creative arts should be left to knowledgeable professionals and not to officers with science or general arts background, who have no inkling of the educational and intellectual values of the creative arts.
Second, there is a need to change the general unfavourable mindset of the public with regard to the creative arts and to re-educate them as to the value of this discipline as a tool of character development as well as foster visual and intuitive thinking. This would allow for more support for the discipline as an educative tool in character building and creative development.
Third, to develop excellence in the performing and visual arts, only trained teachers and professional artists should be tasked with the transferring of the creative arts knowledge and skills.
And, fourth, schools should incorporate both visual and performing arts in the curricular structure towards preparing knowledgeable and skilful manpower to serve as educators and practitioners.
The writer is an emeritus professor at the Centre for Policy Research and International Studies, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang.