Curriculum planning has always had a role for the art and craft curriculum. The justification has been mainly on psychological and on individualistic grounds. Creating or making something is of great educational significance. It gives students pride and confidence in their own achievement; it develops gross and fine motor skills; and it develops imagination and expressive skills. The process of craft and the artisan lifestyle, however, are played down in education. The skills and training of craft as a vocation, or as manual training, or as preparation for work, or as a toolkit for everyday life, are neglected.
There are traditions, dating back many centuries to the beginning of the Renaissance, that distinguish between ‘form’ and ‘functionʼ and also between ‘aestheticʼ and ‘utilitarianʼ aspects to art and craft. Some ‘craftsʼ were regarded as purely utilitarian (for example, leather work, woodwork, textiles), while others were more aesthetic and pleasing to the senses (such as painting, drawing, sculpture). The former was functional, while the latter gave opportunity for imagination, self-expression and intellectual stimulation. The mechanical and industrial developments of technology also contributed to wiping out many forms of craft.
Art and craft in education, therefore, took two distinct routes. Either these were for poorly regarded vocational or household skills (carpentry for boys and sewing for girls), or they were for leisure and creative expression through the fine arts.
The last few years have seen three developments that require us to re- examine the way education perceives the arts and crafts. Firstly, there has been a revival of traditional handicrafts, in form and in function. Secondly, pluralism has emerged and highlighted that, in many cultures, there is no distinction between art and craft and that both have aesthetic and functional dimensions. Thirdly, educational thought has recognised that children have multiple intelligences and diverse learning styles, and this diversity is best addressed through diversity in forms of expression.
Formal education in art and craft, including the curriculum, examinations systems and resource materials, provide children with an excellent opportunity to increase their academic success and develop important skills. There are at least five important reasons.
Constructivist philosophy urges us to root the learning of children in their experiences. The feel, colour, texture, shape and other characteristics of materials and objects around them stimulate even the youngest children. Art and craft activities are designed to engage children with these properties of materials. The benefits can be interdisciplinary. It is easy to build concept lines that take children progressively from shapes, colours, objects and materials to the complexities of atomic theory.
Cognitive development and stimulation
Art and craft have been linked to advanced cognitive development in children, including language and motor skills. Neural research has shown that brain scans indicate that all parts of the cerebral cortex are active while musicians are playing.
Students who take art classes develop an increased capacity to learn because they expand their learning styles beyond linguistic and mathematical reasoning in their traditional classes. This is supported by education philosophy (Multiple Intelligences) as well as results on standardised tests. Many students involved in art and craft classes perform better in school than those who were not exposed to art education.
Art and craft education lead to three major gains that are lifelong. Cultural linkages and a sense of identity are created by an education in the arts. Furthermore, several job skills such as problem solving, creative thinking, an ability to communicate symbolically and also general communication are part of the fabric of an art and craft education. Finally, students pick up important life skills from their education in art and craft.
The global movement towards sustainable living and the green agenda have brought back craft that dominated rural India into the mainstream of political and social life in urban areas. Children can develop the values of voluntarism in handwork, value education and ten-finger education through immersion in the artisan lifestyle. Pilot projects have been conducted where teacher status has been given to artisan trainers, and school children learnt basic crafts through an artisan-centred participative process.
All the major school examination boards in India offer options in senior school for arts and crafts. However, these options fall into the traditional mindset of vocational crafts (for those who would enter the manually skilled workforce) and fine arts (for those who have leisure or are seeking to engage in creative careers). A change is required, much in the same way as it was done for environmental studies. Cultural studies, with art and craft education as a central feature, must be a compulsory and interdisciplinary part of every child’s education throughout their school life.
(Shashank is a Managing Partner at The Hearth Advisors)
15th June 2014