Contextualized Practices in Arts Education: An International Dialogue on Singapore

28 December 2013 | Mentions

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"This edited book not only makes a much-needed contribution to research in arts education but also provides a strong grounding of evidential support for Singapore arts education, in contrast to the current state of affairs in arts education in many parts of the world where severe cuts in funding, lackluster support for the arts and imperialist agendas are pervasive. The case of and for Singapore – presented in this edited book through rich descriptions of the dedicated, contextualized practices of arts educators, artists and researchers – offers readers many valuable lessons and reflections on the continued survival and advancement of arts education."


"Broadly the project was undertaken to bring a presence of the artist into the learning environment, into the classroom, essentially to bring the way in which artists teach into the classroom in curriculum time (ITI, Interview 20 March 2012).

To prove the relevance of arts in the school curriculum was the prime motivating factor for the Singapore Schools Project. As Director of the project T. Sasitharan points out:

There are arts in the schools but I thought the way they were being taught was problematic and this was the motivation for the project — to open up different possibilities and to place a premium on the imagination (ITI, Interview 20 March 2012). 

... Drawing specifically on the Singapore Schools Project (SSP) 2011, initiated by T. Sasitharan at the Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI) formally known as The Theatre Research Practice (TTRP), our research focused on the ground-level perception and construction of artist-school arts education partnerships, particularly theatre education. We attempted to situate these practices within the prevailing arts and education policies in Singapore and examined the impact of limited arts education research on the ground-level construction of arts education partnerships. Our contention is that the absence of detailed documentation of past arts practices, particularly in schools, has generated ground-up arts partnerships, often with a limited sense of the larger arts education landscape. Accordingly, we set about exploring the formation of a workable framework for artist-school partnerships based primarily on the critical reflective practice of both artists and teachers.

Research Team (RT): Do you think this project [referring to the ITI led Singapore School Project] was any more unique from other arts projects that have gone into schools historically? We obviously can't think of all of them, but what is the difference here? Is it the outcome, or the way it was done?
ITI: Well, I don't think that it was pretty unique from other projects that had been brought into schools. It had a couple of objectives that I think probably marked it out as different and I think one of them is the attempt to refuse to become part of the everyday system of teaching. I think it is important for the artist to remain a collaborator but to understand that s/he is an outsider and must always be an outsider. In this respect we did not want to provide a service [like an external arts provider] - this is the difference (ITI, Interview 20 March 2012).
ITI: Part of the engagement was to have a teacher's in some of the schools I think the teachers felt that we were a threat. They felt that the artists were there to tell them how to teach (ITI, Interview 20 March 2012).
RT: That's why I'm wondering if we get involved in the notion of partnership. In what way, looking into the future, if you want to continue with this form of intervention, what ways do you think that this partnership and the whole concept of partnership, besides conducting a teacher's workshop could be further developed? (ITI, Interview 20 March 2012).

... ITI's approach is a multi-disciplinary arts engagement reflecting rehearsal and studio base practices and notably different from process drama. Additionally, ITI engaged two artists, one from dance and another theatre, to collaborate and explore the varied ways in which these two disciplines could work together. This strategy adds another layer to the arts partnership by introducing collaborative teaching by artists of different disciplines in the classroom:

The artist has to have a stake in wanting to open up the education system and to open up the possibilities in teaming. So it's not just about bringing good capable artists in any domain doing this work. There has to be an ideological, educational, pedagogical imperative which the artist must have and that I think is important (ITI, interview, 20 Match 2012).

Initially, teachers were resistant to the artists' approaches because they thought that the artists would not know how to teach in the way that they themselves understood the teaching process. ITI worked with the premise that if schools trusted the presence of the artist enough to create a space, where different sorts of interaction could take place, then a kind of alternative learning would be generated that could ultimately empower the schools to adopt different approaches to teaching." 

(Integrating Arts into the School Curriculum: Negotiating Partnerships - the Singapore Schools Project, Noorlinah Mohamed and Jane Gilmer, p. 167-182)


"T. Sasitharan, the Artistic Director of ITI has initiated a significant variant on the 'theatre and drama in the classroom' model which saw groundbreaking youth theatre groups such as The Necessary Stage and Act 3 as the dominant players in Singapore through the late 1980s and 1990s. They developed their material, initially, in an arena that was largely self-funded, but with the establishment of the National Arts Council (NAC), as the investigators make clear, youth theatre companies began to receive state funding and artists were remunerated for their work with students in primary and secondary schools. Earlier interventions by these companies into the classroom were strongly supported by the NAC (with a particularly dynamic phase occurring between 2001 and 2010) but the results of this work went largely unscrutinized by academics and have not been the subject of an integrated research-intensive investigation of the kind suggested here. The collection and collation of data from this unquestionably vibrant period of Arts Council-supported arts activity, their interpretation and publication as part of a systematic research enterprise has not yet occurred, hence the value of ITl's initiative, under its Artistic Director, which has brought together artists, teachers, trainers and researchers as well as the primary school children whose participation crucially informs the case studies. The opportunity to publish the outcomes of this initially action-based research has made it possible to assess, interpret and disseminate the results more broadly and to provide a basis upon which further studies can be undertaken.

... The SSP study raises an important question for the development in the future of artist-school partnerships and the politico-aesthetic parameters that may determine the scope and nature of the intervention. A defining feature of this study is the status of the artist in relation to the classroom. T. Sasitharan, in the interview at ITI, articulated the necessity for this person to be an 'outsider', unconstrained by the demands of a curriculum to assess and grade the students. Such artist-practitioners, he suggested, would have the means, from their own learning and experience, to reignite "the spark of curiosity" that conventional classroom teachers, with the heavy demands of their day-to-day teaching, may not be able to ignite."

(Exegetical Commentary, Jenny de Reuck, p. 183-187)

Contextualized Practices in Arts Education: An International Dialogue on Singapore
Education Innovation Series
Editor: Chee-Hoo Lum
Publisher: Springer Science & Business Media, 2013
ISBN 9814560553, 9789814560559