Kenya has been shaken by a wave of arson attacks in schools. A few years ago, I visited a school in Laikipia that students set on fire because, they said, teachers were corrupt, education poor, and they felt helpless. Whatever the reasons, the core of the problem is that schools fail to engage and motivate their pupils. Tougher discipline and punishments won’t solve the problem.
In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama released a powerful ‘Platform in Support of the Arts’. In it, he argued that “to remain competitive in the global economy, we should encourage young people’s ability to think creatively, and that comes from arts education”. In 2011, his President’s Committee for the Arts and the Humanities (PCHA) published a report titled ‘Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools’. It says: “There is evidence that many schools can no longer engage and motivate their students. In such a climate, arts education is a powerful way to increase academic achievement and school engagement”.
Low levels of student involvement, failing grades and disruptive behaviours take place in schools in which students are bored, uninspired, and too little is expected of them. Very telling is that schools with low levels of student engagement offer the least access to arts education, i.e., fewer arts teachers, spaces, and partnerships. Attendance can reach as low as 30 per cent in such schools but shoots up to 85 per cent once art education — a music band, a dance club, a school newspaper or a radio — is introduced. Students whose enthusiasm for the arts is tapped demonstrate accelerated learning and sustained levels of motivation.
In Kenya, only two per cent of secondary schools offer the arts. With support of the Star newspaper, we set up a successful national art competition, the MASK Prize. Our organization, MASK School for Creativity and Innovation (also known as Mobile Art School in Kenya), ran art clubs in more than 20 schools. But to impact on more students, we need allies. Businesses can fund ‘art-rich’ schools: businesses benefit the most from art education in schools. According to leading business surveys, 90% of businesses that want to drive their profits consider employing creative workers ‘a priority’ and rank studying art in schools as the most important indicator of a potential creative employee.
Alla Tkachuk is a founder of the MASK School for Creativity and Innovation for young people in Kenya.