How important is the arts within STEM-centric education?

arts, STEAM
As attention to computer skills and technology intensifies, it seems the arts are slipping off the education radar.

As we race towards a technologically advanced world, it is tempting for education to turn solely to engineering, coding and computer science. But, do the arts need space too?

Programmers and tech gurus are bringing Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the mainstream, as its applications become more widespread and it naturally integrates with our everyday life.

But, as attention to computer skills and technology intensifies, it seems the arts are slipping off the education radar.

“I am really worried about what is happening to arts in schools. In the UK and elsewhere, it is being pushed out completely,” said Sally Eaves, co-founder of Aspirational Futures, a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) project that provides support for the next generation of tech talent.

Eaves, whose credentials include being a member of the Forbes Technology Council and a widely-recognised thought leader in fintech, pointed out that in some schools, parents would have to pay if they wanted their children to learn music.

“If we don’t act soon, we could have a lost generation of children that understand have to write in javascript [a coding language] but don’t know how to creatively express themselves,” she told Study International.

According to Professor Dr Pradeep Nair, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Taylor’s University in Malaysia, it was the Industrial Revolution and its radical shift to new technologies and manufacturing processes that influenced the current education model; there was an urgent need then for legions of educated workers with specific sets of skills to fill specific roles.

As a result of this, education’s holistic approach – the philosophy that education should develop the whole person – was sacrificed. 

But today, the Fourth Industrial Revolution presents the opportunity to reintegrate social learning and creative pursuits back into the curriculum.

“Holistic education was the price paid to quickly educate a workforce.

“Now, we are merely returning to education’s roots. We need to be able to give students classes that allow them to think creatively and rationally, in order to integrate the left and right areas of the brain,” Nair explained to Study International.

Millennials will have between 15 and 20 jobs in different sectors before retirement, according to a survey released by The Future Workplace, a finding the professor acknowledged.

This means universities are no longer preparing students for one vocation and instead should be focussing on developing student’s transferrable social skills that will be hard for technology to replace.

“There are more jobs that require social intelligence than ever before,” Nair pointed out.

He also pointed to the results of Project Aristotle, a study by Google understand why some of its teams succeed and why some falter.

The study, he pointed out, found that it was the most successful team that felt safe to express their ideas.

He said:

“It is not the smartest people or the most academically successful, but those who felt able to put forward their ideas and continue to learn.”

Understanding societal needs are now pandering towards emotional intelligence and social awareness, Taylor’s University has overhauled its curriculum structure.

“We have widened our educational sphere to be one that promotes more than just discipline. Students will now learn about the fundamentals of life; about human nature, human values, social interaction and emotion well-being, for example,” said Prof Nair.

Similarly, Eaves agrees with the notion of opening education beyond science: “Teaching a 5-year-old child coding now means that language will be dead in a few years time. [Education] needs to be more about developing problem-solving skills and critical thinking rather than teaching a specific coding language – we need well-rounded education, not just surface level learning,” she said.

But not all educational bodies are on board with integrating the arts into the technological world.

The UK Education Secretary Damian Hind recently suggested degrees that “provide less value to society” should be less expensive than other courses.

This sparked fears that science and technology-based degrees will outprice humanities and arts due to differing graduate wages.

Lowering the cost of arts degrees due to them being “less valuable to society” is a direct contradiction to Eaves and Prof Nair’s vision that recognises arts not only as part of the future but as the future.

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