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We must integrate arts into all aspects of education

We must integrate arts into all aspects of education
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First Published: Wed, Sep 16 2009. 08 57 PM IST

Updated: Wed, Sep 16 2009. 08 57 PM IST
I feel a bit like the American journalist Lincoln Steffens who, after a visit to the Soviet Union, declared, “I have seen the future, and it works.” I got a glimpse of the future of education when I became involved with the Carnegie Hall Global Cultural Exchange programme.
In partnership with schools in New Delhi, the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall has set up a programme to connect high school students and teachers from India, Turkey and Mexico with their counterparts in the US.
Using state-of-the-art technology, teaching methodology and an integrated curriculum that provides opportunities for guided interactions between Indian students and their peers abroad, Carnegie Hall Cultural Exchange places the musical traditions of each country at the centre of an international dialogue on history and culture. Last year, students followed a guided curriculum which focused on the music of Zakir Hussain and Jazz trombonist Robin Eubanks. Students explored the question: What are the freedom and structures in the music of both these artists and the freedom and structure in our lives?
An exciting project that combines sophisticated technology and learning methodologies, and where students introspect, reflect and explore the music and post their responses on an online social networking site. It is a collaborative approach that ensures learning is not restricted to space, separated subjects, or indeed, children.
“It was the first time in my 12 years of school when I was required to think,” was the enthusiastic response of one student.
Participating students and teachers engaged in creative music-making projects and exchanged ideas with participants around the world through the online community and two video-conferenced concerts. The rich subject matter, thoughtful enquiry and a variety of opportunities for student dialogue and creative collaboration are adapted to each school’s curriculum and schedule. The programme integrates a range of subjects, including history, social studies, English and music.
Are our students any different from their counterparts in the US? Surprisingly, no. They share the same taste in music, food, clothes (alas!), grapple with generational differences, fight parental control and place friends above family. Some segments of Indian students believed there were far greater pressures on them to “perform”, both from their parents and from their schools, and they weren’t wrong.
Building on the success of its first year of programme activity in New Delhi and continuing its work towards the goal of building sustainable connections among musicians, teachers and students from India and the US, Carnegie Hall has expanded the programme to include more schools this year. In two academic years, the programme has reached 2,000 high school students—1,000 in each country. In 2010, another 500 students from six schools in New Delhi will participate, which will see 20 classes collaborating with an equal number of students in Mexico and New York City.
The featured artists in the 2009-10 season are New York City-based jazz trumpeter Maurice Brown and the Delhi-based Indian Ocean Group. The curriculum will focus on the relationship between freedom and structure in music, exploring improvisation and traditional forms within the rich traditions of jazz from New York City and Indian genres.
The response from schools, teachers and students in New Delhi has been overwhelmingly positive. If only our everyday teaching methodology and, indeed, our narrow confined subjects could be viewed differently.
Looking at the rich response from the students last semester—thoughtful essays, creative responses to music, innovative pieces of music and dance created during year-long activities—made me wish we could run training programmes for all our teachers.
As educators, we need to learn to incorporate different dimensions of the arts into our teaching; we need to learn to ask open-ended questions and gently guide the students to reflect and enquire—and of course, all this requires time.
Time is so precious in our content and exam-driven system that enquiry, reflection and musing upon life’s eternal mysteries are relegated to the classroom dustbin. Schools were grappling with running this excellent curriculum as an after-school club and pleading with parents to allow their children to take part.
For once, just once, the clear lines of demarcation between subjects melted as students and teachers explored music, poetry, architecture, dance, history and gained a greater understanding of each other’s country.
New York students applauded enthusiastically as they viewed a film made by their Indian counterparts and Indian students gave a standing ovation to a group of New York students who combined Indian dance with hip hop to a delightful fusion of jazz and popular Indian music.
The programme is an excellent example of modern education where learning is not restricted to classrooms, subjects, textbooks, school buildings or even pupils.
Learning involves teachers and pupils from different countries sharing thoughts, opinions, expertise, personal experiences, tastes and histories. It is a powerful means to achieving greater understanding among cultures and people.
If only we had the time and the will, we could begin to integrate arts into all aspects of our education. Sadly, for most of us, the future still seems a long way away.
Abha Adams is an education consultant. She writes a monthly column on training and education as they relate to careers and the workplace.
Respond to this column at workwise@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Sep 16 2009. 08 57 PM IST