Full STEAM Ahead!

By Ryhaan Shah

A great deal of emphasis is being placed on STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in our schools today and with good reason. It’s the future. The way we live and communicate are changing fast because of technological breakthroughs and the possibilities seem endless as to what is yet to be discovered that will make our lives better in every field whether it is medicine, space exploration or our environment.
There is a need for the innovators of tomorrow to be able to solve tough problems, to gather and evaluate evidence and to simply make sense of information. These are the types of skills that students learn by studying STEM subjects and Guyana should not be left behind even though to speak of such innovation seems purely academic since many of our schools have no computers or even a steady power supply. But everyone tries to do as much as possible with limited resources.
There is a case to be made, however, for a STEAM education instead of a purely STEM one, the “A” in the acronym representing the Arts of literature, music, dance, film and drama, the visual arts, and every kind of creativity and craftsmanship.
I ran into dramatist Francis Quamina Farrier recently and we had a spirited discussion on the subject of having an Arts curriculum at primary and secondary levels and he said that he does whatever he can to promote reading, poetry and drama in schools.
We agreed that an education in the Arts is integral to every child’s development. The earliest cave paintings and shards of pottery show clearly that creative expression is part of being human and more than anything else makes us emotionally and spiritually complete.
Studies have shown that an Arts education actually enhances the learning process. The systems they nourish include our integrated sensory, cognitive, emotional, and motor capacities, and these are the driving force behind all learning.
A strong Arts education sharpens children’s critical thinking and cognitive skills and gives them a chance to be creative by using their own imagination and drawing on their own perceptions of the world around them.
The Arts also provide students with non-academic benefits such as promoting self-esteem, aesthetic and cultural awareness, emotional expression, as well as social skills and an appreciation for diversity at the individual, community and national levels.
Not every child will become a painter or a poet but they should have an education that provides them with an appreciation of reading and writing that goes beyond the practical necessity of simply being literate. The same goes for appreciating film, drama, dance, the visual arts and music, and having them leave school with a knowledge that can speak to everything from Plato to Picasso and to our own poets and artists.
In a country as diverse as ours, artistic expression can bridge cultural differences and become the shared link, the glue that shapes our understanding of how we see ourselves and each other.
An Arts education still provides the greatest sense of wonder about our world and showcases what the human mind, spirit and imagination can create. These go beyond what is possible within laboratories and the constraints of mathematical equations.
At a recent literary event, someone asked of a local poet why there are no poems written about science and technology. It’s a good question. However, while no one has yet written an ode to a computer, you only have to read the great poets or pick up the Bible, Bhagavad Gita or Quran to discover the wonder and eternalness of the heavens that scientists are still trying to explain.
In fact, as the world becomes more reliant on computers for information, there might well be more value placed on the one human ability that cannot yet be automated: our emotions.
While information gathering and problem solving are essential workplace demands, the values that often matter most in our lives are integrity, honesty, flexibility, dignity, cooperation and creativity, and these are best learned from the words and works of the poets, philosophers and artists of every generation.
An effective Arts education allows students to stretch themselves beyond the material and tactile world into that of the imagination. This is where innovation happens because there the mind is free from rigid certainty and is open to new discoveries.
The universal need for stories, poems, music, dance, and visual art expresses an innate urging of the human spirit and corporate entities do recognise that the human intellect draws inspiration from many sources.
An Arts education is the gateway to the greatest source of all.