The importance of the arts in education
Based across three junior school campuses in The Hague and a senior school campus in Voorschoten, The British School in The Netherlands (BSN) is one of Europe’s largest and most longstanding British international schools.
It has long been my belief that there are some things that under no circumstance should disappear from a school’s curriculum. It is therefore worrisome that more and more emphasis is being placed on numeracy and literacy, all at the expense of the creative arts.
Arts programmes are being cut in schools all over of the world, despite the fact that science has made it clear how important it is for our children to be stimulated and challenged creatively.
What does the research say?
Large amounts of research worldwide has shown that exposing children to the creative arts contributes enormously to their brain development, equipping them for 21st century living and giving them a sound base upon which they can build successful and happy lives.
Music has been a great love of mine, throughout my life, and it has been the one thing that I could take with me to whatever country, town, village or mountain top I travelled to. I know that I am not alone in this, and I see proof of it every day as I watch the sheer joy emanating from children taking part in any kind of music- be it individually, as a duet, or in choirs.
We recently had a "Performing Arts" week and, from beginners to highly skilled vocal groups, the children of The British School in The Netherlands celebrated their love of performance through dance, drama and music. Alongside the joyous sounds that resounded through the corridors, there were also a range of learning opportunities for our students.
The educational benefits of music
The arts teach us how to read and listen to music, to persevere with a project and to perfect it, to respond to constructive criticism, and to fine-tune (quite literally) our instruments of choice.
Additionally, reading music has been scientifically proven to assist brain development, but there are other benefits to social and intellectual development as well:
› Learning lyrics, scripts, rhythms and tunes helps develop memory.
› Vocal projection and performance teaches children confidence and encourages them to be the best they can be.
› The physicality involved in moving and manipulating your arms, legs, fingers and vocal cords teaches control, restraint and finesse.
› The benefits we derive from achievement and learning to do something we love.
So, how can we say that these subjects do not make considerable contributions to academic achievement, or that, in the light of this, an arts class (in place of an occasional English, math or science lesson) is not beneficial? How can these be skills that are not considered compulsory?
The universal language of music
I often tell the story of a 6-year-old child arriving at a boarding school in England from a far distant country, with no English language, not much of her own language, and no comprehension of what was happening to her... and how the only way to comfort her in those first 10 days was to sing to her.
So, this is what we did, we sang to her - and slowly she began to understand our care and slowly but surely, she responded.
Over the next four years she became immersed in music, as well as many other academic pursuits, and went on to be top of her class. Music gave us a common language, the universal tones and notes bringing comfort and connection. However, it can also be exhilarating and challenging.
Music for life
None of this is new, but sometimes we forget and need to be reminded of the values the arts can impart. Many extra-curricular activities, such as rugby, football, climbing, and so on, have a multitude of benefits.
However, when you are 40 and your knees have finally given in, your active participation may need to come to a close. You will still be able to enjoy watching it and encourage others to play, but your own playing years will always be limited.
Music, on the other hand, really can keep being part of your life actively and passively, usually, to the very end. As such, the more children that are exposed to it, in as many ways as possible, the greater the chance they will have of having something to enjoy and take with them throughout their lives and wherever in the world they go.
Emphasising the importance of the arts
Happily this is an ethos that the BSN espouses. We continue to grow our arts and music programme each week, and timetables are rearranged to ensure that each area of the curriculum is given fair representation.
I stand by my belief that music has a place in every child’s life - stimulating their minds, imaginations and intellectual development - and giving them far more than it has previously been given credit for.
In her 18th year of Headship, Angela Parry-Davies currently works as the Head of Junior School Diamanthorst at the British School in The Netherlands.