Arts-Based Education Helping to Prepare Students for 21st Century Demands

Duncan McCullough

21st century jobs increasingly require more developed skills in creativity, imagination, and innovation.  Developing these traits among students is a critical challenge for emerging market economies across the globe, and arts-based education delivery methods have shown promise in helping to meet this new demand.

Arts-based learning can leverage a variety of creative activities to benefit cognitive, social, and marketable life-skills development.  These activities can be centered around music, drawing, theater, creative writing, and much more.  In fact, the diversity of activities within the sphere of artful learning may be one of its biggest strengths.

Many programs we profile at the Center for Education Innovations (CEI) provide insights into how schools and other education providers in the developing world are using this more comprehensive learning approach to better prepare children for the future.

MASK: Strengthening Creativity and Innovation in Young People in East Africa is a program in Kenya providing young people with non-formal practical training in creativity and innovation.  The model can be implemented across schools at minimum cost, and helps prepare youth for future employment opportunities by developing their leadership and entrepreneurial skills.  Since it began in 2006, MASK has worked in 20 Kenyan schools with orphaned, homeless, or abused students.  Over 25,000 children have participated in MASK’s programs that include workshops and weekly art clubs in schools, Art for Peace-Building, Facilitators-Training, art camps, and the MASK Art Prize – a national annual art competition for young people in Kenya.  These are children that need more than traditional cognitive lesson plans to reach their full potential.  With a program like MASK, they are getting the emotional and creative support they need to compete.

The MTN Foundation Basic Education Program is working to improve the quality of basic education in Nigeria through targeted financial interventions.  Of note here, is their Music Scholars Program, which provides significant music scholarships (Two hundred and fifty thousand Naira) to talented young musicians.  These scholarships allow young artists to develop their talent by covering tuition fees, books and transport subsidies for the entirety of a 2-year MUSON Diploma in Music. 

In Ghana, the Playtime in Africa Initiative is an innovative approach to engaging children in urban Accra.  The group provides a beautiful green space for children to learn and participate in programming activities like art, crafts, creative writing, games, gardening, literacy, movement and dance, science and nature exploration, sports, storytelling, theater and performance.  These varied activities can attract up to 200 children on a sunny day, and provide a comprehensive education beyond what most of the kids would receive in their traditional schooling.

Our Family Our Neighborhood Our World (O3) is an ambitious program implemented by the American India Foundation.  The group fosters cross-cultural understanding and social good by connecting students, educators, and artists in India, Pakistan, and the United States through the dynamic power of multimedia, music, dance, and theater.  O3 combines the “global” (interactive media such as video, digital storytelling, and animation) with the local (Punjabi art forms such as bhangra and giddha which are internationally popular) so that youth will understand their own identities and the issues that influence their lives.  Project participants create multimedia, artistic, and community action projects.  These artistic endeavors connect them with a broader world, and develop valuable skills that will serve them well in India’s ever-increasingly competitive job-market.

Arts-based education can open up an entirely new world of possibility to a child.  Kurt Vonnegut once called the act of creating, “the way to make your soul grow” and these programs will not only help children develop as individuals, but also as a competitive labor force for the 21st century.  I can’t wait to see the masterpieces they produce.

Photo Credit: Mmofra Foundation

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