The Malta Independent 24 September 2021, Friday

Education, the arts and our identity

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 25 July 2021, 09:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

"Creativity that the Arts provide, makes the world the place we live in today." – Eugene Ferguson, American history professor

Education is the cornerstone of a nation's development and progress. It is not only about going to school. It shapes our economy, forges relationships and values and provides us with the knowledge and skills that shape national identity, It gives us a sense of belonging to the unique group of people that make up our nation.

We all know that literacy and numeracy are vital components in education. However, the power of literacy also flows through music, song, dance, drama and the visual arts. Living in an information age dependent on innovation, on creativity and on a constant shifting body of knowledge, means that our children need to be given a holistic education that includes a sound knowledge of our heritage, culture and the arts.

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A changing world

We are living in a world where peoples, cultures and identities are shifting and mingling. Technology has brought together ideas and knowledge that can be tapped into from anywhere in the world.

As life-long learners we are now consumers and, equally, producers of culture on a global scale. Today the arts are one of the few places where we can make meaningful choices about our own learning. By using the arts as a medium, our young people, if given the opportunity, can develop their ability to adapt to change, collaborate with others and participate and contribute to society beyond all geographical limits. Ours is an image-based world and the ability to create video is just as powerful as the ability to write and edit text.

The arts are for everyone, not only those who consider themselves to be creative. They are tools that expand our option for thought and perception. They are a way of expression and a global language of vocational aptitudes that involve all academic disciplines that are the birth right of all learners.

 

Benefits of the arts

History professor Eugene Ferguson exposes the whole concept of creativity in a few sentences. "Pyramids, cathedrals, and rockets exist not because of geometry, theories of structures, or thermodynamics, but because they were first a picture - literally a vision - in the minds of those who built them. Society is where it is today because people had the perception; the images and the imagination. Creativity that the Arts provide, make the world the place we live in today."

It is likewise true that art does not solve problems, but it makes us aware of their existence and the need to solve them. As it happens, research shows that through the arts, our children attain what we all wish as parents and educators: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement and equitable opportunity. Involvement in the arts is frequently linked to gains in maths, reading and cognitive ability, critical thinking and verbal skills. It also helps improve motivation, concentration, confidence and teamwork, whilst creating the necessary platform for vocational training.

A report by the Rand Corporation about visual arts states that apart from giving pleasure and simulation, the arts can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing reality. This creates the foundation to forge social bonds and community cohesion and at the same time closes the gap that has left many a child behind.  It is common belief that arts education enables children from financially challenged backgrounds to attain a more level playing field with children who have better enrichment experiences.

 

National heritage and identity

Our islands are brimming with wonderful works of art, a rich cultural tangible and intangible heritage and a cultural identity that makes us stand out and contribute to the global community in many fields and disciplines. The link between what we were, what we are and we will become as a nation, is our ability to continue to forge a close relationship between creation and creativity.

We cannot afford to dilute our heritage. It is our duty to pass on to our children the identity that makes us so unique as a nation. Education is key to our continued survival and adaptability as a community. Equally important is education in the arts and appreciation of our cultural heritage. Together with treasuring our natural environment these need to be an integral part of our children's daily way of life.

 

Our future

The Labour Government continues to invest heavily in the creative arts and cultural heritage. As Minister for Education I am committed in the promotion of the Arts as a medium for learning. This is why it was a pleasure this week, when I accompanied the Prime Minister to inaugurate the restored and refurbished School of Arts in Valletta, an investment of €5 million in our children and in the arts.

 

The premises, hosting the Arts School since 1926 save some years when the school operated from other premises, is now a state-of-the-art modernised building, which will host our budding artists of all artistic media. We are heavily investing in this sector. We are committed to see that our students are given all educational opportunities, not only in mainstream subjects.

This project is one of a series of projects through which we are modernizing the educational infrastructure of our country. An unprecedented investment of more than €100 million in state schools, with more than a third of this investment in Gozo. Our projects range from the construction of new schools, such as those in Victoria, Gozo and Msida, as well as the modernization and expansion of existing schools. 


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