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March 26, 2019

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Why should anyone study the arts at high school?

AS a teacher of drama and film, I have often been faced with a dilemma that I know affects colleagues in similar fields: How can we show that the arts are viable and valuable subjects for students to take in their graduating years?

Some voices present the arts as less academic and therefore less attractive to good universities. It can be hard to encourage students to take the subjects they are most interested in, enjoy the most, and will gain the best grades in, if that subject is film rather than economics. These are my top four reasons for taking a subject in the arts:

1. Stand out from the crowd: Universities, almost all of them, claim to be looking for attributes that can only be nourished outside traditional subjects. Interviews with directors of admissions at Stanford, Dartford, Brown, University of Chicago and Princeton all state that grades aren’t enough — they are looking for something that lifts applicants above “standard positive,” which shows passion, commitment or leadership. In the annual University Admission Officer’s Report, 79 percent claimed one of the top attributes they look for after grades is “an ability to persevere and complete projects,” 72 percent said “good presentation skills,” and 60 percent wanted evidence students can “work well in groups.” Group projects in the arts, with a finished product (such as writing or directing a film) give excellent evidence of these attributes.

2. Improve grades: Creating music, film, drama or art, uses different parts of the brain to studying for other subjects, so working creatively can actually improve your concentration in other areas. Einstein used to play music while pondering mathematical problems, and we all know the familiar image of Sherlock Holmes focusing his “little gray cells” by screeching on his violin. Although a direct link is debatable, the academic music program, designed by San Francisco State University and tested in local elementary schools, integrated music with maths teaching. The sample group using this technique scored 50 percent higher on their maths test after six weeks than the other children.

3. Enhance job prospects: Creativity is not only a must for working in media, possibly the fastest growing job market today, or for famously creative companies like Apple or Tesla, but in all areas of business. According to a report by the World Economic Forum which surveyed 371 leading employers (representing more than 13 million employees), by 2020 creativity will be the third most important skill that companies want (up from 10th in 2015).

4. Finally, ignoring future benefits, or that you’ll get better grades if you’re passionate about a subject, or your improvement in presentation skills, it’s fun! For many of us, spending a couple of hours over the weekend watching a classic film, strumming guitar, or painting a picture, is something we do from choice, and beats studying for any written test hands down.


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