Inculcate performing arts in education system, doyens say

IF “all the world’s a stage”, as William Shakespeare once said, then what better way to learn the ways of the world than through the stage?

While the performing arts have been used in teaching for ages, a more formalised form, known as Theatre-in-Education (TiE), was pioneered by the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, England, in 1965. Its mission was to utilise theatre and drama to provide a range of learning opportunities for young people.

Theatre companies were invited to educational settings for young audiences, to deliver engaging performances incorporating interactive and performative moments.

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By the end of the decade, this method had blossomed all over the United Kingdom, and later made its way worldwide.Incorporating the performing arts into education has been proven to be highly beneficial for students. Theatre practice has been linked to increased levels of imagination, empathy and emotional intelligence among young learners.

The performing arts have been proven to bring many benefits to learners but not enough is being done to inculcate it in Malaysia’s education system, local theatre doyens said.

A study by Australia’s Edith Cowan University reported: “The overwhelming majority of students demonstrate enjoyment and enthusiasm through watching educational theatre, are receptive and listen attentively, and can correctly identify the educational messages being portrayed.”

Another Australian study of 47 primary schools discovered a link between educational theatre programmes and improved knowledge of health behaviours, such as healthy eating and physical activity among students.

Despite this, in the current Malaysian education system, the performing arts have often been given the short shrift, especially when compared to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) or business programmes.

While many programmes have been developed to incorporate drama in a classroom setting, few are actively used here.

Practising theatre here is often relegated to cocurricular activities or a minute component of language classes. It also doesn’t help that some consider the performing arts to be frivolous fluff, or a niche hobby only afforded to the privileged.

According to Joe Hasham, founder of The Actors Studio and The Actors Studio Academy in Kuala Lumpur, more emphasis has to be placed on theatre in schools.

“People are realising the value of performing arts, however, too few and too slowly. Malaysia has seen several students of performing arts succeeding abroad, not only in the areas of performance, but also in other fields.

“Yet, we are sorely behind other countries when it comes to performing arts education. “The fact that performing arts do not even have their own ministry and are parked under the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry speaks volumes about how important they are to us,” said Hasham.

Theatre education, noted KL Shakespeare Players co-founder Lim Soon Heng, should not be limited to only students who want to pursue a career in the performing arts.

“It is an effective approach to build and change knowledge, attitudes and behaviours,” he concluded.

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