What is the role of arts in education?

By Sarafadeen Bello. Sarafadeen, 28, lives in Lagos, Nigeria

Arts are deep-rooted in the core of who we are. They are part of our identity, culture, education, creative nature, social interaction, behaviour etc. Despite their tremendous contribution to humanity, they oftentimes remain underappreciated. Unlike the massive support for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education, the arts are often neglected. For instance, in many countries, it is common to see funding for education in the arts get cut amidst economic difficulties. Also, in some climes societal bias against the arts still exists. Many a time, parents want their children to pursue careers in the sciences rather than the arts.

What is art?

What exactly is art? This is probably a million-dollar question. In my search for the definition of Arts, I stumbled upon various kinds of information. However, they all led me to two conclusions:

1. There is no single generally accepted definition of arts.

2. Arts are very diverse and complex. Just like beauty, they are often subject to a beholders perception.

In my opinion, arts can be defined as a means of expressing emotions, ideas and information. When I think of arts, I think of William Shakespeare’s popular tragedy Romeo and Juliet, Lev Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, Chinua Achebe’s novel Things fall apart and so much more. I even get mesmerized by graffiti on walls once in a while. Arts, it seems to me, are as complex as human emotions. And people’s aesthetic emotions about an artwork aren’t always the same. What is your definition of art? What do you think of when you hear the word “arts”?

Identity and culture

Arts help in building one’s self identity and embracing ones culture. Amidst the growing changes resulting from globalization, various cultures are experiencing adverse effects. Don’t get me wrong, globalization is a wonderful thing that has happened worldwide. However, like everything in life, it also has its disadvantages. I am from a culturally heterogeneous country, and belong to the Yoruba culture. I do not speak my traditional language as fluently as I ought to and sometimes find it difficult to make a complete sentence without mixing-in English. Sad. Yes, I know. The worst part is that I am not alone. Many youths are in a similar situation. For instance, I once participated in a community development program at a hospital. In the course of the program, some patients expressed their preference for Yoruba communications, as they understood it better than English. Granting their request was difficult, as most of us struggled to communicate purely in Yoruba.

Recently, the Italian government decided to give teens a ‘culture bonus’. A sum of five hundred Euros on their 18th birthday to spend on books, museum visits, theatre tickets, concert tickets etc. This initiative was driven by the goal to remind the Italian youths about their identity, culture, community and societal values. Although it will cost the Italian government two hundred and ninety million Euros, it is believed to be money well spent. I definitely agree because, the impact is incalculable, as it would have far-reaching implications on the fabric of the Italian society. In the age of globalization, this kind of effort is important to the preservation of cultures and various art forms. Considering the rate at which various languages are getting extinct, the preservation of languages is important for present and future generations. While I anticipate the development of a similar initiative by the government of my home country, I am taking action by learning my native language from books, movies, and language classes.

Learning process

Arts help bolster formal education. In literacy and numeracy art plays a very important role. I recall learning the English alphabets using objects as references as a kindergarten. In class we would chorus: – “A for apple, B for ball, C for cat…” till we got to “Z for zip”. Fast forward 23 years after and my little cousins are still using the same principle to learn the alphabets. Education has, for a long time, incorporated arts in the learning process. Personally, I believe it is because the association process aids assimilation. Teachers often use arts to explain concepts in the classroom: diagrams, charts, drawings, songs, rhymes, short stories and others.

Even the sciences incorporate arts. In biology for example, the human digestive system is better explained using drawings and mannequins. In chemistry, before conducting experiments in the laboratory, laboratory apparatuses are illustrated in drawings and pictures to familiarize students with the equipments beforehand. In physics, the concept of magnets, magnetism and magnetic field is better understood when illustrated. Arts are also used in mathematics, english, geography, commerce, and other subjects.

One instance that I vividly recall was during the preparation for my Junior Secondary School examination in English. As part of the syllabus, we were told to read a book titled ‘Without a Silver Spoon’. Reading the book and memorizing its story was quite difficult for me until my class teacher recommended that I read its comic version. I did as he had said, and the comic version made it much easier for me to memorize the story. I passed the exam without any hitch.

Oftentimes when we talk about education, we exclude informal education. Morals, manners, etiquettes, and norms of acceptable living -learnt from home and the community- coded in legends, folklore, songs, and tales; passed down generations. While growing up, I often spent holidays at my grandma’s house. She would tell us stories in the evenings. Each story had its morals and was somewhat didactic. She would tell tales about cunning tortoises, fast hares, brave lions, fearless wrestlers, wicked kings, hard working peasants and greedy people. Although my grandmother barely completed primary school, she was a wise woman. Most of the things she knew and taught us had been passed on to her by her own mother; my great grandmother, who had died before I was born. The home and community had been her classrooms.

Creativity and character

The sole purpose of an education (formal or informal) is for a person to become learned and creative in applying gained knowledge. Similarly, arts involve expressing ideas, emotions, passing information or making a statement in a creative manner. Arts and education strengthen creativity in individuals. They make people resourceful, innovative and build characters.

Education is a lifelong process. It is often a long and tedious journey. The same goes for creating a piece of art. From the first stroke to the final touch of a painting, a painter must be patient. A writer needs discipline to begin writing, and write on through to the last word. A good rapper develops spontaneous thinking in other to compete successfully with others. Asides being able to interpret emotions, a ballerina must be able to successfully communicate emotions through movements. Every form of art develops the person’s character; which is a key component of excellence in education and life.

Connecting people

Arts connects people. The influences of arts make man more humane, and encourage social interactions. For instance in my community, the lack of access to arts education for many youths is a challenge. Through a social enterprise which provides safe spaces for creative learning, I am able to volunteer my time to promote the arts and creative potential in people. In addition to promoting creative learning, relationships are formed through friendships, team efforts and collaborations. We also get opportunities to participate in enriching programs and interactive discussions. With arts, not only mentees benefit. Volunteers and mentors learn new things too. Arts unravel their strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, and so on. Mentors also get to impact their knowledge, take on leadership roles, and make a difference. Mentees and volunteers could also grow to become mentors, thereby creating a positive cycle of change. In addition, skills and character learnt are often utilized in other areas of life.


Imagine a life without music, movies, dance, paintings, literature, writing, singing, books, or fashion. Living and learning would be utterly boring. Worse, the world would be akin to a dystopia filled with zombies. Thankfully this is not the case.

Arts are of great value to humanity, and play a vital role in education. Arts help us understand our culture and identity, learn effectively, be creative, develop our character, and connect with other people.

Having read the above, do you agree with Philip Pullman that arts are of incalculable worth to the concept of human being? What, in your opinion, is the role of arts in education?

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