We know that access to the Arts is important for Young People, but why?
In this next series of blogs we have asked individuals from a broad spectrum of organisations to discuss a piece of research or writing that they feel highlights the importance of Young People’s engagement with the Arts.
Our first contributor, Dirk Van Damme, from the OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) discusses their 2013 publication Art for Arts Sake?
A skills perspective on arts (education)
In 2013 OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) published Art for Art’s Sake? The book immediately attracted a lot of attention, but also raised some people’s eyebrows. What had an international organisation perceived to work mainly on the economy to say about arts and arts education? Some thought the book was about the economic value of the ‘big arts’. Other thought that it would finally provide proof for the economic relevance of arts education.
In fact the book grew out of OECD’s work on innovation as a source of economic growth and social progress, and basically tried to answer a very simple question: if it’s true that innovation requires different skills sets of people, can then these skills also be developed through different kinds of teaching and learning environments, including arts education? Indeed, many observers, experts but also industry leaders today agree that the so-called ‘21st century skills’ such as problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity have become very important. Research looking into the skills and attributes that distinguish innovators from the rest of the crowd show that ‘looking for new solutions’ and ‘willingness to question ideas’ come out on top. Maybe this helps to explain why industries and occupations that have a very strong creativity dimension have grown so fast over the last couple of decades.
But then the important question is: how can we nurture and develop creativity skills? That’s not an easy question and, honestly, we haven’t yet found a satisfactory answer. In itself, creativity is not closely related to a particular school subject as we know them. It is a skill, an attribute, an attitude that probably also can be developed through subjects such as math or science, provided that these stimulate young people’s imagination and are not thought as a series of axioms, mechanical procedures and routines. Creativity is no one’s monopoly.
But it seems very natural to think that arts education could also play a strong role. Unfortunately, arts education has not benefited from a lot of policy attention lately. OECD statistics show a gradual decline of hours spent in school on arts classes, as governments have concentrated teaching time on subjects which really seem to be useful. In schools arts education is sometimes seen as an easy victim when other subjects require more teaching time.
So, it would be very interesting if we were able to demonstrate that arts education also has a value in developing the kind of skills that are needed for further growth and progress. Maybe that would convince policy makers to revalue arts education…
 Winner, E., T. Goldstein and S. Vincent-Lancrin (2013), Art for Art’s Sake?: The Impact of Arts
Education, Educational Research and Innovation, OECD Publishing.
Dirk Van Damme currently is Head of Division in the Directorate for Education and Skills at the OECD in Paris. He holds a PhD in educational sciences from Ghent University and is also professor of educational sciences in the same university (since 1995). In his academic career he was also part-time professor in comparative education at the Free University of Brussels (1997-2000) and visiting professor of comparative education at Seton Hall University, NJ, USA (2001-2008). His main academic work focused on the history of education, comparative education, lifelong learning and international higher education. He also served in various positions in the field of education policy in the Flemish part of Belgium, among others as general director of the Flemish Rectors’ Conference, as deputy and chief of staff of various Flemish education ministers. Before joining the OECD in 2008 he served as an expert for various international organisations (IAUP, UNESCO, AQA, QANU, etc.), mainly on higher education policy, quality assurance and accreditation and innovation. His current interests are evidence-based innovation in education, comparative analyses of educational systems, open education, and new developments in the learning sciences. At the OECD he is responsible for the Innovation and Measuring Progress Division (IMEP), leading both the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) and the Indicators of Educational Systems (INES) programme responsible for the yearly flagship publication Education at a Glance. He is also responsible for the Assessing Higher Education Learning Outcomes (AHELO) Main Study.