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Canadian Reflections on Arts and Learning

The Challenge of Systemic Change

June 27, 200727 June 2007

Arts Education

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This report from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO highlights Canadian discussions regarding the state of arts education in Canada, the impacts of arts education, challenges regarding arts education, teacher training policies, and strategies for arts education advocacy. The report lists ideas and suggestions from consultations in late 2004 and 2005.

The report notes that “the arts are a core subject in many provinces” until either Grade 6 or Grade 9. “At the high school level, the arts are usually optional and offered according to teacher, space and timetable availability. High school graduation diplomas in 5 provinces require at least one arts credit.”

Non-formal arts education opportunities – through community centres, private companies, non-profit organizations and governmental agencies – “offer a wide and a rich menu of courses to Canadian citizens”. Challenges include a lack of sustainable funding, the need to shape and maintain arts leaders, and how to create and maintain an audience.

The report highlights a need to “explore, discuss and facilitate a better understanding” of the roles of artists and of community in arts education.

During the consultations, participants highlighted how the arts and arts education are important for individuals and for society. On an individual level, the arts and arts education are important because they: have “the power to touch the core of an individual”; engage and release the imagination; impart creative and interpretive skills; engender self-esteem, self-awareness and confidence; and develop critical thinking. On a societal level, the arts and arts education: “reflect the health of a society and are a requirement for a healthy society” ; “provide an essential social and psychological infrastructure”; “promote tolerance, compassion and understanding of ourselves and others”; can act as a tool for social change; can be cathartic, therapeutic and a “life-saver” for some students; and foster “creativity, flexibility, problem-solving, transferability and collaboration”.

Consultation participants indicated that some arts education challenges are similar in each province: regional disparities, long distances, lack of resources, lack of qualified staff, and rapid staff turnover. Other key issues include bridging the gap between arts education policy and delivery, creating solid partnerships, and supporting lifelong learning. The report provides many ideas in each of these areas.

Key issues regarding teacher training policies include the lack of arts education for teachers and a lack of financing for programs involving the integration of arts education into other subjects. There are significant challenges regarding both pre-service and in-service teacher education.

The report indicates that strategies for arts education advocacy “should target all levels of society”. Some ideas to do this include:

  • creating “a continual flow of information and updates to and for different target audiences”;
  • informing parents of the impacts of arts education and of the right of children to arts education;
  • promoting the idea that “arts education gives individuals an edge in whatever they do”;
  • conducting a national arts education advocacy campaign;
  • finding policy champions;
  • encouraging decision-makers to become arts education advocates; and
  • adding arts references to school textbooks in all subjects.

The report concludes that “arts education in Canada is complex, rich and varied…. Many challenges remain and many obstacles will need to be overcome before Canadians have a more satisfying arts education afforded to them.”

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