Should education promote science or the arts?

,  12 November 2014

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is keen to promote the sciences, and to get more girls studying science and maths. A laudable aim, but I find it troubling that in promoting her cause she chooses to take a swipe at the arts and humanities.

The idea that people don’t need science in the creative industries is clearly a myth.
The idea that people don’t need science in the creative industries is clearly a myth.

 "Education Secretary Nicky Morgan tells teenagers: Want to keep your options open? Then do science" (The Independent, 12 November 2014).

STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – have been priorities of the Government for a while now and if take-up is low at ‘A’ level we need to look at why young people are not continuing with these subjects more forensically.

After all, young people are studying science and maths as part of the core curriculum further down the school. This is not true of arts subjects, which struggle to find a place on the timetable at all. Surely something deeper is amiss if, after 10 years of learning, so many students are giving up maths and science?

Science in the creative industries

This focus on ‘pure’ STEM subjects does an injustice to the importance of a broad curriculum more generally. The idea that people don’t need science in the creative industries is clearly a myth. Look behind the scenes and you’ll find physicists, mathematicians and technical staff masterminding ambitious theatrical productions, programming complex design schemes, or working with precious metals in craft.

Many jobs need the ingenuity and discipline that is honed by taking lessons drama, music, art and design.

We in the creative industries are as interested in promoting maths, science and ICT as the Minister is, particularly for a sector that generates £70,000 a minute to the UK economy and accounts for 10 per cent of exports.

The confidence and creativity gained from creative study play a key role in developing the skills all employers – science and technology companies included – crave: problem solving, generating ideas, teamwork. After all, it is no coincidence that 34 per cent of chief executives from FTSE 100 companies have an arts background.

Inspiring young people to learn

Much of education puts the emphasis on independent study and learning how to pass exams, which works for some. But if we are to drive up numbers of young people taking science subjects, we’ll need to ensure that young people experience the joy and relevance of learning, not just the business of passing exams.

In Northern Ireland, Creative & Cultural Skills has been introducing young people to skilled trades like carpentry and construction through the medium of theatre set construction. I think the model can be applied more widely – inspire young people into science through engagement with the creative sector alongside enjoying the arts subjects in their own right.

Learning skills from creativity

At Creative & Cultural Skills, we spend much of our time engaging with the creative industries. We help them take on apprentices, interns and trainees with talent and passion for what they do. Young people are capable of making a genuine and long-lasting contribution to their organisation, often in jobs their teachers haven't heard of: craft jobs, digital roles, technical jobs and even start-up businesses.

Many such jobs need the ingenuity, discipline, tenacity and creativity that is honed by taking lessons drama, music, art and design. Even our country's engineers, doctors and scientists can benefit from this.


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