FROM STEM TO STEAM

“All children are born artists.” – Pablo Picasso

For many years, STEM subjects have been valued above others by some institutions; teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics are how we will produce top-quality learners who have minds capable of innovating and leading business and industry to new horizons.

There is no doubt that, taught effectively, these subjects are hugely important to young people across the globe, as the critical-thinking and analytical skills required to succeed in today’s society are promoted within. These ‘hard’ skills make a learned and logical-minded individual, but let’s not forget about the ‘soft’ skills required in many walks of life.

Soft skills are deemed to be those which aren’t measurable through common means of testing; team-work, etiquette, communicating, listening and analysing are a few examples of soft skills which are increasingly important in the modern world. This is where the Arts contribute. ‘STEAM’ is the new STEM and STEAM means a well-rounded individual; someone who can analyse, create, listen, interpret and problem-solve within the context of a team. These are the qualities which, when possessed by an individual, make a highly admired and desirable person.

In recent years, there has been pressure on school leaders to reduce the amount of curriculum time for creative subjects, resulting in the side-lining of softer skilled subjects such as music, art and drama. Creative subjects have also had a stigma attached to them; creative subjects are for a certain ‘type’ of person who may not be very successful in maths or may not enjoy the sciences (try telling this to Einstein or Heisenberg who were accomplished violinists and pianists, respectively). The point here is that we are pigeon-holing ourselves as ‘one or the other’ which is surely wrong. In an ideal world, equal emphasis is put on all aspects of STEAM subjects; the analytical, the logical and the creative so that one individual can achieve in all areas. The individual who understands exponentials and logarithms but is also willing to take on the lead role of Macbeth is probably one who has a great memory, a logical mind and is brave enough to perform on-stage to a critical audience of their parents and peers. I think these skills are commendable.

Pablo Picasso had it spot-on when he said “all children are born artists”. The problem comes when we teach the art out of them. Without an emphasis on our Arts subjects, we deny students the chance to develop this inherent creativity. Einstein once said “the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination”. Now, whether we agree with this or not, one cannot ignore that we have numerous intelligences, but perhaps there isn’t the time to discuss Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences…

Putting aside for one moment that music is one of the oldest taught subjects, the Arts have an incredibly important role to play in a student’s education and shouldn’t be overlooked as ‘additional’ or ‘extra-curricular’. A painter or a pianist who has finely trained motor skills could make a stable-handed electronic engineer; a director or an actor could have the oracy skills to make a fine barrister; a creative writer could make the imaginative problem-solver for any company. For each of these examples, one requires knowledge provided from our STEM subjects and the skills which are promoted in the Arts subjects in greater quantities than anywhere else.

In order to be successful, musicians must have discipline in practise, resilience in performance (particularly if it doesn’t go as planned!) and are encouraged to reflect on their own work regularly. Successful conductors are possibly the most analytical of musicians as they must spend hours analysing a score to understand the composer’s intentions, realise the harmonic and rhythmic elements, be able to communicate this to a room of 100+ musicians with confidence and authority and be able to count to (at least) 4! Not for the faint of heart…

An education without music, dance, drama, physical education and design is an education which strips young people of the chance to become more developed individuals and in an age which is all about individuality, we cannot afford to let this happen.

Jonathan Bridges, Head of Academic Music at Downside

If you would like to find out more about the Arts in our curriculum and opportunities to apply for a Scholarship in the Arts, please click here to talk to our Admissions Team.