Good education can build a strong foundation for a better future, but it doesn't guarantee the making of a better citizen. To bridge this yawning gap, schools, with the help of private institutions, are introducing art and theatre in their curriculum to sensitise students about social issues and inculcate cultural understanding.
The annual Ishara Puppetry Festival has been taking slow slides in this direction by arranging workshops for teachers and students to enhance their knowledge about this art form. The organisers strongly feel the arts can engage children at all levels and sensitise them about social issues.
"Arts in education, be it puppetry or theatre, brings alive difficult concepts and explains them in a simple manner. They actually stimulate a child's imagination and help them in lateral thinking," American educator Carol Sterling, a puppeteer, told IANS.
Sterling has come to India as part of the puppetry festival to educate teachers on effectively using the form.
Sterling also pointed out how children learn to critique each other in a constructive way by using the tools of art.
In India, integrating arts in the school curriculum has not been implemented or made compulsory and because of that subjects like art, theatre and puppetry are considered extra-curricular activities.
This is despite the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) launching a "Art Integrated Learning" (AIL) pilot project to be eventually implemented in all government schools across states at the primary level. It was initially introduced in 20 Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) schools in December 2012.
However, no current updates are available about its implementation.
At a time when children are burdened with the heavy weight of expectations and competition, arts could offer a mid-way path where children can learn and understand complex history lessons or issues like sanitation, gender bias and social evils.
Jeannie Aibara, principal of Ambience Public School in south Delhi's Safdarjung Enclave, felt the need to train school teachers in puppetry by introducing the subject in the curriculum.
"The profession of teaching has undergone a sea change. You don't want to teach the way you have always been. It is important for any institute to keep evolving with the changing times to offer its students the best it can," Aibara told IANS.
"The role of a teacher is changing and he/she is looked up as a facilitator who can put across things in a better way. And to break the monotony of classroom teaching, one has to be open to mediums like theatre and art," she added.
To ensure the school is in tune with changing times, Aibara has put the arts subject in the time-table and the improvement in the children is evident. The morning
assembly is no more boring and children "have a role to play", she said.
Similarly, Sumesh, a National School of Drama alumnus who now teaches theatre at a private institute in Greater Noida, felt the children "open up" when they are exposed to the world of drama.
"You won't believe the kind of questions they ask. And you won't believe the kind of power theatre has to sensitise these children about social issue. You allow them to think and imagine beyond books and ask them to probe their minds and react to a certain situation," Sumesh told IANS.
"These tools not only make them confident but also motivate them to learn a new skill," he added.
For most of us, the word "art class" automatically conjures up an image of a happy family most of the children paint in their class. Ironically, this is what the education in arts in India is restricted to.
No effort is made to educate the children at a young about Indian art and artists. So, when they grow up, most of them don't know how to appreciate art.
This ironic state of "lack of arts education" in India has been reiterated by many prominent artists, galleries and buyers, who lament the existence of
But Ritu Khoda, founder of Art 1st Foundation, is battling several prejudices about art education and bringing on board several schools across India to adopt the art curriculum.
"People haven't explored possibilities in art and it has always been seen more as a hobby or time-pass. But if one delves deep into it, one would realise one needs to have a deeper understanding of art," Khoda told IANS on the phone from Mumbai.
An avid collector herself, Khoda has been designing these simple curricula for different levels in schools. Once a school decides to buy it, subject material for five years is sent.
"Art is not just about teaching and drawing. It is about knowing artists and their work. It is about nurturing future generations to appreciate art," she added.
The foundation recently came up with am "I Am an Artist" series that introduced the likes of S.H. Raza, Ram Kumar, Manjit Bawa amd Ganesh Pyne, among in
a simple language.
"This series tells the children about their (artist's) life and work style. We should open up their minds so that they are aware of our rich cultural heritage at a young age," Khoda concluded.