This week the Atrium hosts a wonderful display of ceramic birds created by the Year 7 art classes. There are over 120 highly individual, quirky and appealing ceramics on display and you can tell by looking at them that the girls loved the project; it’s really interesting to see that everyone’s response to the works is to smile and to study the birds in detail.
It’s interesting to look at such an exhibition when we consider the many discussions being held at the moment about the importance of STEM subjects; there is lots of pressure right now on universities to be relevant, to limit arts and humanities courses and to focus on “make me employable” skills.
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ recently reported that “the humanities are in trouble. Parents are spending less time reading to their children, K-12 history teachers are less equipped to educate than teachers of other subjects, and federal funding for academic research and development in the field is shrinking.”
The report cited some dramatic statistics:
- Harvard has seen a 20-percent decline in humanities majors over the past decade.
- At Yale 20 years ago 165 students graduated with a BA in English literature. By 2012, that number was 62.
STEM subjects are undoubtedly vitally significant for our students and for the future development of New Zealand. We are passionate advocates for STEM subjects, but we also value education in the arts and the humanities. That’s because instead of seeing the debate as an “either/or” we believe it must be seen as “value both”.
Interesting research is emerging about the links between STEM disciplines and the creativity that leads to innovation. Studying a group of Michigan State University STEM graduates, the team of researchers found that those who were innovators – created businesses or registered patents – received up to eight times more exposure to the arts as children than the general population. They concluded:
“If what we want are creative, inventive people as opposed to technicians, then we need to support more broad-based, Renaissance-style educational opportunities and experiences,”
They identified “a strong correlation between training in the arts and success as a scientist or engineer—success that can be “measured in economically valuable products such as patentable inventions and the founding of new companies.”
Involvement in the arts, studying the humanities helps us become creative adults, able to deal with ambiguity and complexity.
The dialogue is not about either STEM or humanities/arts: it is about a skilful blending of both, a valuing of both. This thinking underpins our curriculum design, which emphasizes the critical necessity for a broad and balanced education to the end of Year 11 with specialisation beyond at Year 12 and Year 13.
Wednesday night’s Cultural Honours evening was a great event, with fantastic performances from across the cultural spectrum and it illustrated the success of this approach. 65 students gained Honours, with 31 students being awarded Double Honours, 13 students Triple Honours and three students getting Quadruple Honours.
Through their involvement in cultural activities, the girls have learnt to collaborate, think critically, analyse information, and view problems from a multitude of diverse perspectives. They will take these experiences to their studies of the humanities and STEM subjects. They will be very employable and they will be more balanced people.