The Future of arts in Education

“History and future of IDEA”

I’m going to speak not of the past – there are others here like Lucília Valente, Domingos Morais or Robin Pascoe, much more qualified to do so – but of the future:


          My stand is an optimistic one: this time the ARTS are really going to make it in general education!

            You don’t believe me because we are always saying this – and then every time there is a need to cut expenses, or time, or teachers it is always the Arts that are first sacrificed.

           And this is how we have come to a situation where the arts have been practically expelled from primary school curriculum and have become optional after school activities. The 5th and 6th grades find them reduced to Visual Arts and Music. Music becomes optional thereafter and the Visual Arts become optional after the 9th grade.

           At least once every decade a group has been created to study this situation and suggest ways for the Arts to have a greater and better place in Basic education for all – and every time it starts all over again. I know, I’ve been there! (And Carlos Fragateiro too!(1)

         Why – you ask – would it be different this time? How can I be optimistic after having worked and coordinated so many of these groups and after having made so many unused suggestions?

           Well the reason is – and that’s my point and what I’ll try to demonstrate to you – because economy demands it. Because the new “society of knowledge” asks for it. Because these “liquid times” need it.

           Sociological studies have shown how similar are, or were, the organization of factories in post-industrial world (after the 1rst industrial revolution) and school organization:

  • Rigid and hierarchical separation between those who think, conceive, decide, manage, design, plan – and those who actually execute, make, work with their hands;
  • Fixed places, well defined tasks, rules, regulations and instructions to be followed and obeyed;Taylorism divided complex tasks in small, simple tasks where humans seem to work like machines (remember Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times”?)

These characteristics seem to find na echo, a reflection in school:

          Schools are organized in separate classes and grades, knowledge is organized in neatly divided, separate subjects. Each subject has a pre-established (centrally established in Portugal and some other countries) program or curriculum, and is divided in smaller units that teachers (and school manuals) distribute throughout the school year.

          There are clear tasks, instructions, rules and regulations to be followed. Pupils study what is already known and that is organized in a logical manner to make it easyer to transmit information. The educational role of transmission is the most valued .

          Of course there are different trends and different schools but this is the basic model (“the grammar of the school” it has been called) and it does seem to mirror post-industrial society and it does seem appropriate to prepare workers for mass production economy.

         But we are no longer living in such a society. Not only the terciary, services, have developed in the meantime but we are going through a big civilizational change caused by technological development: the computer, robotics and artificial intelligence are completely changing the world we lived in. We are going through changes that have been so rapid that the only certainty we have is that these changes will continue and accelerate.

       So what do we know about the impact of these technological developments on our society? First of all, we know they have a tremendous impact in the world of work. Robots, for example, can replace and are replacing human work force in factories.

          Pricewaterhouse Coopers anticipates that, by 2030, 30% of factory jobs (38% in the USA) will be lost because robots will do that work.

        The Economic Forum, in Davos, in January 2016, warned the world that for the next 20 years, each year will see the loss of five million jobs, while only 2,1 million will be created. And this loss of jobs will occur not only in agriculture, not only in industry, but in the services and this will have na enormous impact in the organization of work and on the distribution of work time.

         According to Antonio Moniz (UNL and Kit) and Carlos Ramos (IPP) – in a presentation this week in the Encontro Ciência’17(3), from 2010 to 2015, one and a half million operacional systems have been put into action in industries. This very rapid development occurred most of all in Asia (Japan and Corea followed by India and China) and Australia; secondly in Europe, mainly Germany; and thirdly in America (Canada, USA, Mexico and also Argentina and Brasil).

       Jobs that rely upon highly automatic and routine tasks are the ones that can be filled by robots more easily. So the countries in Europe where more jobs risk  disappearing are, according to the same authors, first Romania and next… Portugal!

        Routine jobs will disappear because routine tasks can be done by robots. But other changes are occuring: as the volum of information grows and becomes more easily available, as treatment of data becomes  quicker and more efficient and as modelling software develops, other tasks and other jobs in the non-industrial sector can also disappear.

          Of course they can also be helped and improved by these developments. More place will be given to criativity, flexibility, and complexity.

        In fact, new entreprises – those typical of this new economy – are organized very differently from the old factories or the old service offices. They are client-centered – which means they organize themselves in small units that identify and solve clients’ problems and can disappear or transform themselves as soon as those problems no longer exist. They are small, flexible and ephemeral units where each member plays several roles: conceives, designs, manages, and executes – or complement each other to do so – according to the task and the needs. There are few rules, and regulations and procedures change with the task.

          Economy and entrepreneurs are looking for workers who are critically minded and creative, who love to learn and to be challenged, who can find problems and invent solutions, who are flexible and capable of dealing with complexity, who can collaborate, do team work, have social skills – “soft skills” as they are now called…

           How can education correspond to these demands? To this new economy? To this new society? To these new and liquid (as called by Zygmund Bauman) times and relationships?

Borrowing from the OECD their “scenarios model” we can think of tree possible reponses:

  1. Sticking to the past, or even going back to the old classic education, emphasizing “nuclear contents”, trying to extend to all that education that used to be for an elite;
  2. Adjusting to the present, through obvious changes already taking place: a much longer schooling for all, learning how to use new technologies, learning foreign languages and specially English; accumulating new knowledge to that already being studied.
  1. Preparing the future by rethinking school goals and changing school organization: learning to learn and to love to learn becomes a main goal.Realizing that, as we can’t extend indefinitely a formative time before going to work, what we need is lifelong learning for all, a “permanent eduction” approach(2). In schools, replacing school compartments of age, grade and subject matter or the teaching according to the logic of each subject matter and following a pre-defined program by a new organization, more individually oriented, problem-centered, with learning designed by projects, dealing with live, controversial, complex issues like climate changes and sustainable development, or globalisation, or terrorist attacks or inequality in its several forms and effects – issues, involving several teachers of several subjects, taking intrinsic motivation as a goal, promoting the development of a critical and creative  mind and of social skills like the capacity to collaborate and do team work, to communicate, to work together for a common purpose, to empathize with others and also to understand the social context and the ethical dimension of issues.

In this 3rd response the Arts can play a relevant role:

         They make us look at reality in new and different ways, they develop our critical mind and our creativity, they combine thought, feeling and action, learning from others and from oneself. They develop our capacity to work and learn through na intrinsic motivation and actively search and build new knowledge.

          And of course certain art expressions – like the theater – are collaborative arts and allow us to learn the social skills the new economy is now looking for. How do I know they are looking for these skills and even defending the role of Arts in their promotion? Because they say so!!!

         Very, very recently,  Futuralia, a yearly exhibition of innovations in the world of work and careers, took place in Lisbon and for the first time had also some panel discussions exactly on the these topics: what changes are necessary in the eductional systems to adjust to this changing world ? And emphasis in the Arts, in Arts Education in schools, was paramount.

          In the Ministry of Education too, they’re starting to acknowledge the need for this shift. The recently published “Profile of the Student for the XXI century” at the end of compulsory education includes as one of the main skills to develop aesthetic and artistic sensitiveness and culture.

          But unfortunately the impact of new techonologies is not just more economic productivity  – which would be a good thing even at the expense of the loss of certain jobs. The problem is that it has been causing also the aggravation of inequality and the devaluation of the work factor.

       So, we must educate not just to serve economical development or to adjust to this acceleration of technological innovations but to use them at the service of mankind, at the service of all of us, citizens of this new world.

          Education must also fight inequality by forming citizens who are aware of social problems, who can think of alternative ways of organizing society and of making the distribution of time and wealth more just and fair , who understand the ethical dimension o f these problems and act accordingly.

         The arts can be more important than just to develop criativity and soft skills. They question us, they make us aware of problems, they make us feel and think, they involve emotion and reason, they make us aware of the moral issues at stake, they make us feel empathy and compassion, give us the will to act, to fight against apathy and indifference.

         This last month of May I saw three plays – by different companies but all near where I live. At the Teatro da Politécnica, the company Artistas Unidos played “ O Cinema” by Annie Baker; At Cinearte, the company A Barraca played “As Fadas – o Processo de Cottingley” by Rita Lello; And at Teatro de Almada the Company Joaquim Benite played “Os Migrantes” by Matéi Visniec

     Dealing with different issues (the effects of technological innovation in jobs and underemployment  the first; truth, post truth, alternative truths, fake news, subjectivity in perception and the role of media  the second; and the problem of refugees, the third) what these different plays have in common is that they illustrate well the power of the theater to contribute to a better society and a better citizen by raising our awareness of real issues, by making us feel empathy with others, and by making us think and look for new  – and more just – answers.

         So the role of the Arts in Education goes beyond all we have seen before: they are essential for human emancipation and to help build a better world.

        Matéi Visniec, the author of the play “Migrants”, said in an interview: “We need a new revolution: if we want our world to last, to be sustainable and to become more and more free and equal, to have more social justice and more cultural diversity, we need a Solidarity Revolution”.

         To which I would add: …and that will depend very much on Education and on Arts in Education.

            If, as you say, “someone, somewhere in the world is waiting for drama/theatre education”, yes, now is the time, here, in Portugal!

Maria Emília Brederode Santos

Notes and Bibliographical References

  • Relatório do Grupo de trabalho constituído por Maria Emília Brederode Santos (que presidiu), Carlos Fragateiro, José Brandão, Ma. José Artiaga, et al, Ministério da Educação/Ministério da Cultura, 1997.

“A educação artística e a promoção das artes na perspectiva das políticas públicas: relatório do Grupo de Contacto entre os Ministérios da Educação e da Cultura”, coord. Augusto Santos Silva, 2000.

Relato do Grupo de Trabalho do Ministério da Educação e do Ministério da Cultura, despacho conjunto nº 1062/2003, DR – II série de 27 Nov. – constituído por Jorge Barreto Xavier (Coord.), Isabel Cordeiro, Miguel Soromenho, Paula Folhadela, Paulo Carretas, Paulo Fonseca, Abril 2004.  

(2) In an issue devoted to “Lifelong Learning”, the Economist’s Editorial claimed that “…the biggest change is to make adult learning routinely accessible to all (…) But to keep the numbers of those left behind to a minimum, all adults must have access to flexible, affordable training. The 19th and 20th centuries saw stunning advances in education. That should be the scale of the ambition today.” The Economist, January 14th, 2017.

(3) António Moniz e Carlos Ramos, “Trabalho, robotização e qualificação do emprego em Portugal”, comunicação ao Encontro Ciência’17, Lisboa, 3 a 5 Julho 2017.