Issues, challenges and needs for government arts, culture and education policy: an Art Education Australia (AEA) perspective

By Associate Professor Margaret Baguley

Art Education Australia (AEA) is the peak national professional association that supports and promotes art education at all levels as an integral part of general education and art education research in Australia. Our association represents the profession at national arts and education forums and in national and international peak associations. 

AEA is also a founding member of the National Advocates for Arts Education (NAAE) with member organisations representing the five arts forms of dance, drama, media arts, music and visual arts. Members include school principals, classroom teachers, education academics, artists, arts companies and arts organisations. Our industry counterpart in NAAE is the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).  

There is currently a drift towards an instrumentalist education agenda and a consequent reductionist discussion about the Australian school curriculum. This revolves around an ongoing and politically popular discussion about the ‘crowded curriculum’.

It is critically important that the Arts speak with a strong and united voice, particularly at the government level. Across three decades, NAAE has successfully advocated for the inclusion of the Arts as an essential part of a holistic education. Global research is unequivocal about the importance of the arts for children’s well-being (Bowen & Kisida, 2019; Ewing, 2010; Martin, et al., 2013). In addition, AEA’s journal Australian Art Education also publishes significant national and international research on art education.

The development and writing of the five subject areas in the Arts for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) by key arts representatives Dr Jeff Meiners, University of South Australia (Dance), Professor John O’Toole, University of Melbourne (Drama/Lead Writer), Associate Professor Michael Dezuanni, Queensland University of Technology (Media Arts), Professor Margaret Barrett, University of Queensland (Music) and Professor Elizabeth Grierson, RMIT (Visual Art), was an extremely rigorous process, undertaken with teachers and the arts industry.[1] However, there was a moment in time when the Arts were almost not included in the Australian Curriculum, and after its endorsement, a review undertaken in 2014, which recommended its rewriting, brings us to some of the current challenges we are facing (O’Toole, 2019).  

There is currently a drift towards an instrumentalist education agenda and a consequent reductionist discussion about the Australian school curriculum. This revolves around an ongoing and politically popular discussion about the ‘crowded curriculum’.  The Arts curriculum provides a minimum basic entitlement for every child with a 4%-5% per week allocation, although if schools have the expertise and resources they can provide additional hours. There is a misconception that all five arts forms should be taught each week through the primary years, however the Arts can be approached in different ways, and taught at different times. The focus on this particular area has been unhelpful and ill-informed, particularly at the national level.

In 2021, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) will be measuring students’ innovation and creativity. According to current standards, Australia will not meet those creativity goals, which risks us being behind with the rest of the world.

Another issue facing arts education is the reduction in time for the arts in pre-service teacher education. The time allocation for the arts has been consecutively cut over a number of years, resulting in pre-service and graduating teachers not feeling fully confident and capable to teach the arts; much less having the experience and expertise to engage students with five arts forms in the primary school. In order to respond to this concern, several approaches have been explored, including incorporating the Arts as part of the STEAM agenda. STEAM includes Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEAM) with the ‘A’ representing the Arts. The STEAM approach certainly has its proponents, however there is concern that it is a response by governments seeking to produce “a scientifically literate, and ethically astute citizenry and workforce for the 21st century” (Taylor, 2016, p. 92), rather than valuing the Arts for their own sake. Genuine arts integration in which learning occurs through the arts with students “construct[ing] and demonstrat[ing] understanding through an art form” to meet the objectives of two or more learning areas, including the Arts, is an approach valued by arts educators (ArtsEdge, 2014).

In 2021, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) will be measuring students’ innovation and creativity. According to current standards, Australia will not meet those creativity goals, which risks us being behind with the rest of the world. It is therefore important to ensure the integrity of the Australian Curriculum: The Arts is maintained, and that our politicians remain committed to a comprehensive curriculum that values innovation, complexity and creativity - the key skill areas necessary to address 21st century challenges. This is an important role for AEA.

The recent and very successful National Visual Arts Education Conference (NVAEC) (21-23 Jan) held at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) explored with art educators the theme ‘At the Heart: Inspiration,  Bravery, Compassion and Connection’. It revealed that despite the challenges being experienced art educators remain committed to high quality and engaging learning experiences for their students.

 

[1] The 1994 national Arts Statements and Profiles led to disparate arts curricula (and language) being developed by each of the states and territories. However, the Australian Curriculum: The Arts provides sequential development for each art form, with more specialised language used in the secondary years, and support for teachers.

References

ArtsEdge. (2014). What is arts integration? Retrieved from https://www.kennedy-center.org/education/ceta/arts_integration_definition.pdf

Bowen, D. H., & Kisida, B. (2019, Feb 11). Investigating causal effects of arts education experiences: Experimental evidence from Houston’s arts access initiative. The Kinder Institute for Urban Research [Report]. 7(4). Retrieved from https://kinder.rice.edu/sites/g/files/bxs1676/f/documents/Investigating%20Causal%20Effects%20of%20Arts%20Education%20Experiences%201_0.pdf

Ewing, R. (2010). The arts and Australian education: Realising potential. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) Press.

Martin, A. J., Mansour, M., Anderson, M., Gibson, R., Liem, G. A. D., & Sudmalis, D. (2013). The role of arts participation in students’ academic and non-academic outcomes: A longitudinal study of school, home, and community factors. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(3), 709-727.

O’Toole, J. (2019). The Australian Curriculum for the Arts – five years old: its conception, birth and first school report. Australian Art Education, 39(3), 427-439.

Taylor, P.C. (2016). Why is a STEAM curriculum perspective crucial to the 21st century? 2009-2016 ACER Research Conferences, 6, 89–93. Available at: https://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1299&context=research_conference  (accessed 26 January 2019).


Dr Margaret Baguley is an Associate Professor (Arts Education, Curriculum and Pedagogy) in the School of Linguistics, Adult and Specialist Education at the University of Southern Queensland, Springfield, Australia. Her research interests include visual arts education, creative collaboration, teacher identity and strengthening links between schools and universities. She is currently the President of Art Education Australia, the peak national body for visual art education in Australia. She has recently co-edited The Palgrave Handbook of Artistic and Cultural Responses to War  (2019, Palgrave Macmillan) with Dr Martin Kerby and Associate Professor Janet McDonald.