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Concern over ‘Expressive Art’ classes sparks teaching debate

A proposal for an ‘integrated’ version of the arts classes  secondary students get has been met with trepidation by some teachers and artists alike.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
1 April 2014, 10:15am
Education minister Evarist Bartolo  says students should not be deprived from getting a taster of all the arts subjects.
Education minister Evarist Bartolo says students should not be deprived from getting a taster of all the arts subjects.
The all-too-common grievance that art and culture is not being given due importance reared its ugly head once again earlier this week, as Education Minister Evarist Bartolo announced plans to integrate arts subjects in the early years of secondary school.

Under the banner of ‘Expressive Arts’, it is being proposed that Form 1 and 2 students will get two ‘taster’ lessons in Art, Music and Drama each week, with the focus shifting on one of those three subjects rotating every three months of the scholastic year.

Effectively, this will mean that students will receive 10 lessons in Art, Drama and Music throughout the year.

Bartolo’s proposal was instantly met with trepidation, as his Facebook wall was inundated with comments expressing concern over the proposal’s implications – chiefly, that it would render the time allocated to each subject negligible since students wouldn’t have enough time to absorb any of the three subjects falling under the ‘Expressive Arts’ banner in an effective way.

"This perpetuates the age-old perception that art is a soft option"
Raphael Vassallo, artist
Speaking to MaltaToday, artist and lecturer Raphael Vella claimed that there was never enough time allocated to the arts in state schools to begin with, and that “one possible side-effect” of this new proposal is that it would discourage children from pursuing a subject in any depth in future years, since they would only be given a threadbare snapshot of what it may consist of.

“Another problem is related to the quality of students’ work at SEC level: in recent years we have seen a gradual but steady drop in quality.  Students will now only start studying the subject seriously in Form 3,” Vella added.

"The proposed ‘Expressive Art’ will simply repeat the failure of a system which was already tried and tested previously through the Art Literature Music (ALM) system"
Charmaine Zammit
Charmaine Zammit, Head of Department for Art within the Education Department compared the proposal to a similar – and, in her opinion – “failed” system.

“The proposed ‘Expressive Art’ will simply repeat the failure of a system which was already tried and tested previously through the Art Literature Music (ALM) system. The ALM system failed because the right conditions to provide a proper Art Education were not respected. Should the art educators passively conform in repeating a system which already failed to offer proper art education in the past?” she said, while also expressing concern that art educators were not consulted before the new initiative was announced.

Zammit emphasized that any reform of the way the arts are taught locally needs to prioritise double lessons, as opposed to scattered one-hour sessions throughout the week. That’s because preparation time, which includes cleaning and storage of materials, is a crucial part of the lessons.

Additionally, she also said more time should be allocated to each of the individual subjects under the Expressive Arts banner, while the curriculum should be structured in such a way so as to ensure that it’s not only the ‘end product’ that’s given emphasis, but also “the creative process which leads to the development of students’ holistic education”.

Giving Bartolo’s proposal the benefit of the doubt, Raphael Vella said that while he can “understand that the intention may have been a good one”, “giving each child a ‘taster’ of each art form actually works against the subjects, not in their favour, because children get the impression that these are ‘easy’ subjects or that a superficial treatment of them is sufficient. 

“This perpetuates the age-old perception that art is a soft option,” Vella said.

In response, Evarist Bartolo said that he remains willing to discuss the way forward for this proposal.

“Let’s discuss the way forward. Why stick to a silo mentality? Why deprive students and then accuse them of not being interested in culture and the arts?” Bartolo said.

“So far art was an option. My proposal was to have all students experience art and culture. I think that culture and art is an essential component for the development of the personality of our students. I think we all agree on this objective. Let’s discuss how we can make it happen. I’m suggesting that in the early years of all teenagers they are exposed in an interesting and hands-on way to art, dance, music, song, theatre. Later on, they will choose a specific area.

“Last Monday I met secondary school students and they said they liked the idea and said that they should not have to choose a particular area at age 11 – they wanted a taster of all areas and then they choose.”

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...