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Why are creative subjects important in school?

Perhaps there is no stage in our lives when we are more exposed to such a plethora of educational stimuli than when we are at school. The enormous range of different subjects means that opportunities for our futures is vast. Yet as we grow up and settle into career paths we gradually become more and more specialised and most jobs end up comprising a relatively narrow set of skills.

With so much choice, deciding which subjects matter more than others is not a simple task. Unfortunately, in recent times, the UK has seen a reduction in the popularity of creative subjects like art and music due to the perception that they are soft subjects. In 2016, official statistics released by Ofqual showed that exam entries for arts subjects had decreased by 8% at GCSE, while the number of candidates taking science subjects grew by over 100,000. The history of art A-level offered by the exam board Pearson was only just saved in November after plans were made to discontinue the course this year.

Some people take the view that these classes are less difficult than maths or English and require little work or revision. However, nowadays, art and music exams involve a range of challenging components which are designed to test technique, knowledge and composition – hardly a walk in the park. Not to mention the fact that controlled assessments in art at GCSE level can take up to 10 hours.

The wider benefits of school subjects are not always entirely obvious. For example, some maths topics are seen as futile as they have no apparent practical application. How often are you going to need to solve a quadratic equation or use calculus in everyday life (assuming of course that you are not a maths teacher)? In fact, the more you consider school curricula, the more it seems that they will be of almost no use in later life. Why are we not instead taught how to deal with problems that we will all face such as finance and legal processes?

The answer, in my opinion, is that schools in general have a much greater purpose: to help students develop independent, curious and open minds. Moreover, they represent a gateway to adulthood and it is vital that pupils receive a varied education so that they can discover the occupation that they will enjoy the most. The more we learn about in school, the better prepared we will be to tackle obstacles when we venture out into the world on our own.

Creative subjects help pupils build confidence and express themselves

Music and art are therefore very useful as part of a diverse education. Different subjects have different associated benefits, and as part of a 2016 project in Our Lady and St Patrick’s College, Northern Ireland, students explored the advantages of studying music in secondary school. They felt that performance allows them to build self-esteem and confidence as well as the ability to express their emotions in a unique way. It also seems to help them learn to collaborate with or lead groups like orchestras in order to improve cooperative skills and meet new people.

Indeed, Plato thought that “music is a more potent instrument than any other for education, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul”. Creative studies have also been praised by numerous contemporary notable figures such as the co-founder of Microsoft, Paul G. Allen, who stated that he has “seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities… the arts are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement in our country”.

The rewards of taking art or drama are very similar. Subjects like these actually stimulate separate parts of the brain; we have to engage different senses such as hearing, sight and sound. In addition, I believe that the act of designing and creating something entirely by oneself is highly uplifting. It is interesting to note that stars of the creative subjects (musicians and actors) tend to be much more famous than maths geniuses or historians – this I think emphasises the esteemed status of arts in modern culture.

Ultimately, art and music are important because they help us to achieve an inquisitive, balanced and positive mind. These are subjects that instil a desire to create – and that, in my view, is a crucial aspect of leading an interesting and fulfilling life.