The Importance of Performing Arts


Involvement with the liberal and performing arts allows students’ multiple intelligences to be acknowledged, developed and appreciated. Children who learn and think differently may well possess verbal, physical and interpersonal skills, logical and intuitive thinking and spatial and kinesthetic intelligences.

One of the more positive developments of Indian education in the 21st century is the waning romance of the public with Science or PCB (Physics, Chemistry, Biology) subjects and widening interest in the liberal arts and humanities. With industryincluding the media- experiencing an accentuating shortage of well-educated communicators, writers and journalists capable of cogently expressing corporate messages, news reports, analyses and highlighting social sciences issues, there’s a healthy and socially beneficial revival of parental and student interest in the liberal-including the performing-arts.

Looking back, I can confidently state that the many hours spent in rehearsing for stage productions, choreography and dance; attending music festivals; scripting and shooting audio visuals; and running the art club in school and college, were intense formative and learning experiences. Certainly not a waste of time as popularly believed. Indeed there’s no greater thrill than attaining excellence while performing live. It’s the equivalent of scoring a superb goal or making the perfect abhinaya, brush stroke, or swara. That’s when you experience intense exhilaration and the magical moment when the performer is in perfect harmony with her audience.

Yet despite the proven beneficial outcomes of co-curricular education, so many children never experience it because they are chained to the millstone of exams and a system which insists that learning should be confined to mastering academic subjects. Well-known author, speaker and international advisor on education in the arts, Sir Ken Robinson bemoans the fact that globally, education systems are designed for churning out university professors. For most students, learning through the arts stops in primary school, with aimless quizzing and debates as the only so-called ‘co-curricular’ activities in senior school. The question needs to be squarely posed and answered: Why is liberal and performing arts education important for students? The answer can be found in the curriculum frameworks of many progressive countries. By studying and learning the arts, students develop skills which according to Robinson are vital for our future: critical appreciation and knowledge of artistic techniques, and familiarity with the cultural nuances of dance, drama, media, music, visual arts and a combination of art forms. Indeed with new discoveries in cognitive science, it is now well-established that cultural co-curricular education enables students to:

  • Learn creative ways to express themselves and develop critical faculties to assess their own work and artistry of others.
  • Use their senses, perceptions, feelings and values to communicate ideas, emotions and experiences.
  • Produce artistic work to inform, teach and provoke, challenge existing ideas and values and offer new ways of thinking and feeling.
  • Discover personal creativity, satisfaction and pleasure for lifelong enjoyment.

More significantly, involvement with the liberal and performing arts allows students multiple intelligences to be acknowledged, developed and appreciated.

Children who learn and think differently may well possess verbal, physical and interpersonal skills, logical and intuitive thinking and spatial and kinesthetic intelligences. The potential for crosscurricular links are many and progressive schools are beginning to encourage projects that integrate art, music, dance and drama. For instance, a study of the Indus Valley civilisation offers children the possibility of designing seals and pottery, studying hieroglyphics and planning townships. Animated discussions of drama students re-enacting the signing of the Treaty of Versailles could bring History alive in a classroom. Unfortunately, limited time and the pressure of exam-driven syllabuses discourage exploration of cross-disciplinary linkages through co-curricular activities.

So what can teachers do to arouse and develop the latent intelligences of children? We can, as so many of us are doing, offer a parallel curriculum and hope students will find the energy and time to follow it. Regrettably, the academic system forces children to choose between learning through co-curricular education and cramming for formal exams in the pursuit of excellent grades in board exams. However, students seeking admission into universities abroad know the value of engagement with areas of student life other than academics, which often determines admissions. Another option is for the teachers’ community to lobby for an arts curriculum policy which mandates that every child in K-10 schooling compulsorily signs up for at least one performing arts activity, be it dance, drama, music, visual arts or emerging technologies. In an ideal world, it should also be necessary for every student to participate in one sports activity as well.

If this could happen through reducing board examination syllabuses, by cutting irrelevant and meaningless portions, we could, as happens in fairy tales, wake up one morning and find our students wanting, willing and happy to learn.

Abha Adams: As a founding team member of SBS (Step by Step School), Noida she joined SBS in 2006. An alumna and member of the faculty of English at Lady Shri Ram College, she holds a second post graduate degree from University of Leeds. With 37 years of experience in India and the UK, Abha’s career spans education, media and arts management. In the UK, she worked with University of Leeds, BBC North and Arts Council. She has spent 13 years as director of the Shri Ram Schools and writes extensively on education. She is currently a member of the boards of Assam Valley School, Ahvaan Trust and Fab India Education Trust.