Changing paradigms in education and the case for arts in education

Radio lessons incorporating radio theatre were once a part of the Kenyan educational experience

In Summary

• We need to cultivate the soft skills that come out of embracing arts education 

The author with Prof Wasambo Were, a guru of drama in education
The author with Prof Wasambo Were, a guru of drama in education

Unesco recognises that millions of children across the world are still deprived of educational opportunities even as we enter the second decade of the 21st Century.

Yet, education is a fundamental right for all humans, both young and elderly. It is a key pillar of the international human rights frameworks that were inaugurated in the late 1940s.

In Kenya, the government is pursuing the 100 per cent transition from one school level to another, as well as universal primary education policies in response to the educational vision articulated by Unesco above.

Schools have reopened for the new terms in January. Media reports are highlighting numerous narratives of children unable to proceed with their education across the levels due to a cornucopia of cultural, social and financial challenges.

The Government of Kenya is rolling out the new competency-based curriculum (CBC). The vanguard of these pioneer pupils is now in Grade Four. They are just one year under the Class Five of the old system of 8-4-4, which is gradually being replaced.

The new curriculum places prime focus on what learners are expected to do as a result of learning in schools. This is contrasting to systems that place knowing at the centre of the learning experience.

Basically, the new curriculum is learner-centred in terms of approach. It appreciates the rapidness and intensity with which changes in our society and the world at large occur today. The new societies of the 21st Century are highly dependent on information communication technology, as is evident in Rwanda today. Hard skills such as coding and programming are placing the small East African country as the hub of ICT in the region under a futuristic educational vision.

Here in Kenya, we need to follow suit and also cultivate the soft skills that come out of embracing arts education or letting the arts play a role in the educational contexts of our society today. One such way is the adoption of strategies of Theatre in Education and Drama in Education like some of the visionary Third World countries, especially in South Asia and Latin America.

Drama is a teaching instrument that should be allowed to help our learners enhance their learning experience. It can do so through participation, demonstration and observation of simulated environments of enactment.

Such imagined contexts and creative spaces can bring out the learners’ active engagement with knowledge across the disciplines and subjects from a very tender age or level.

Dorothy Heathcote, a leading scholar from the UK, pioneered the idea of using drama in educational contexts. The idea was to have the teaching methods simulate the roles played in a theatre process. Learning arises not so much out of the knowledge the teacher has but the knowledge the teacher helps to come out of the learners through stimulation and encouragement and finally cooperation.

In Bangladesh, theatre mounted on television serves as part of the edutainment menu for classroom students and pupils. Radio lessons incorporating radio theatre were once a part of the Kenyan educational experience. We need to return to this tradition as part of anchoring the CBC humanities subjects from the languages to the arts and from pre-primary to the highest levels of learning.

In Brazil and other countries of the South American continent, theatre is a strong stimulus for learning. The tradition of inculcating the arts at the centre of national curricula in Latin America goes back to the advent of countries of this region and Christianity. Theatre served as a missionary strategy as well as an instrument of cultural adaptation. In Kenya, theatre in education should be pursued both as a strategy for pedagogy but more importantly as an instrument for fostering our national culture and identity as well.

Nigeria has demonstrated that devolved governance can work even in a federal context, where state governments work with the federal government to turn the wheel of development progressively. Kenya stands on the cusp of constitutional reinvigoration that will happen as our education is being revitalised, too. This is an auspicious moment where audacious decisions can be made. Such as rethinking how theatre in education, reformist pedagogy and pupil-centred learning can be adapted and adopted by both national and county governments.

Such a paradigm shift in our educational experience and philosophies will ensure we are pursuing universal access to education for all, including the marginalised groups. We will be doing so as we retool the education system to make it relevant to market needs and learners’ needs.

The outcome, ideally, will be a workforce that has the traditional hard skills now modified by the digital world of today, where sciences contribute the most. Moreover, the same workforce will also demonstrate greater acumen in soft skills, courtesy of arts education and educational approaches based on arts, such as: teamwork, adaptability, creativity, interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.



The writer teaches Literature and Theatre at Kenyatta University. [email protected]