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Arts education deserves our attention, too

My social and traditional media feeds, as well as my conversations among friends, remain largely occupied with discussions around our provincial government’s review of Early French Immersion. I’m engaged in the debate and think it’s an important one, but I also worry that we’re missing the much larger issue of education reform in general.

We’re completing multiple surveys and being provided Facebook Live discussions and creating a huge debate over whether a child’s option to learn a second language begins in Grade One or Grade Three. Personally, I think the earlier the better, as long as the supports are there for the system, but in the grand scheme of things, I feel my kids are coming out ahead with either option. I’m much more worried about the lack of attention we’re paying to other aspects of our educational system.

Take for instance a report published earlier this month looking at arts education in New Brunswick. Did you even know such a thing had been completed? I noticed one media story about it (there could have been more, but I can name several outlets and social media accounts that nearly overwhelmed me with the government’s French Immersion survey, and only one time that I saw the arts report mentioned).

ArtsLink NB released Creating a Common Vision at the start of March. This relatively short yet wonderfully researched report calls for massive changes to our arts education curriculum, drawing attention to several important facts, including that much of our children’s curriculum is decades old and is being presented by teachers underprepared for the task.

Just like the provincial government is raising concerns about teachers without specialized skills teaching French, ArtsLink is concerned about those without specialized training being asked to teach art and the roadblocks in place preventing educators to incorporate professional artists into classroom settings. The report highlights that for every 10 teachers in a school, one full-time-equivalent position is given to non-core subjects. This includes physical education, guidance, music, and art. (We’re actually quite lucky in the Anglophone East School District, with nearly four percent of teachers here holding a fine arts or music degree, compared to just 1.7 percent of teachers in Anglophone North.)

And just as we have mounting academic research that shows the importance of second-language learning among youth, so do we have an increasing understanding as to the need for creative outlets, particularly as we look to the future of automation and the skill sets that will separate humans from computer programs. Arts education has long been relegated to an optional role in our schools. Growing up, I had to choose between music, art, and ‘industrial arts,’ which covered everything from graphic design to woodworking, cooking, and sewing. In an ideal education, I feel that none of these elements, nor those of basic math, science, English, and other traditional subjects should be optional. I understand there have been limits to what we can fit into a curriculum and into a classroom, but those times are changing, too. Arts education supports abstract thinking needed for technological advancements and encourages the risk-taking instincts of our entrepreneurs.

We need to continue to bring our education system into the 21st century, not by repeating the same old debates and deepening divides, but by embracing technology and research to help us explore new methods of meeting our children’s interests and their needs. Arts programs are shown to help support and improve students’ performances in core subjects; this is not an either/or scenario. Our discussions around Early French Immersion are important, but so are discussions around other subjects, and the overall goals we are trying to reach for our youth.

A version of this post appeared originally in the Times & Transcript. Click here for more of Jenna Morton’s column, She Said. You might also enjoy these articles.

Parenting in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Embracing New Brunswick’s Creativity

Reading Between the Lines of New Brunswick’s Education Plan

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