Arts education in Singapore has seen a growing interest over the years. Notable developments include more institutions gearing specifically towards the arts as the government provides more funds to further develop the arts landscape. Chia shares “the arts are receiving so much attention in Singapore” (2). With that statement presented decades ago, it is apparent the shift towards enhancing the arts landscape is ominous as it is supported with the visibility in strong state support and public institutions from the government. From Our SG Arts Plan (2018-2022), the National Arts Council (NAC) collaborates with various government agencies such as the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Tote Board to create more opportunities for Singaporeans to experience the arts (National Arts Council 26).
The government has also released more initiatives and guided frameworks for both parents and educators to incorporate the arts in early child development. Arts education shows significance in cultivating the importance of implementing the arts in the early stages of a child’s development.
Through doing so, utilising continual sensory enrichment in the growth of children would develop skills such as motor, creativity and social skills that are essential in a child’s development which will be further highlighted. It is also vital to acknowledge the benefits such as cognitive, behavioural, and social outcomes that may arise in the long-term process of an individual with their early introduction into the arts. In the 2017 Population Survey on the Arts, 74% of Singaporeans agreed that the arts and culture has improved the quality of life for people (National Arts Council 14).
With that, one may agree that there are possible benefits the arts may bring.
However, there are instances whereby arts education is still not seen as a priority in cultivating the holistic development of a child or an individual as they grow. According to Renaissance City Plan III : Arts Development Plan, NAC maintains children and youth’s interest and engagement in the arts by engaging long-term efforts and partnerships by extending arts education to pre-schools (53). It is commendable effort there is growing recognition in Singapore, especially among younger and more affluent parents of the importance of such early arts exposure as an increase is seen in the number of enrichment classes made by private sector providers for toddlers that incorporate the arts like drama, pottery, art and music (54). Albeit, not everyone can afford supplementary classes that tend to be categorised as ‘hobbies’. Dewey stresses the arts should be made accessible and be experienced by everyone (McClelland 45). There is a lack of interest in the arts for parents who are less ‘affluent’ and not as ‘young’. In his findings on art and aesthetics, Dewey strives to take the arts back into socio-cultural and socio-temporal settings, making aesthetic experience less elite and escapist and more pertinent to daily life experiences (3).
There should be continual advocacy in the arts as the value of the arts plays an essential role in providing a broader personal, organisational, social and economic development (National Arts Council 57). The importance of holistic development and learning through aesthetics and creative expression should be acknowledged. This would also link back to understanding the value of quality early childhood education and care (ECEC) in establishing a strong basis for lifelong learning and reaping social and economic benefits and how the arts plays a part in ECEC. This research will study and investigate how arts education is a necessary tool in shaping the holistic development of an individual starting from ECEC in government preschools and the benefits it entails.
Through government support and policies, Singapore continues to enhance the arts landscape by focusing its value on arts education. In 1988, Mr Goh Chok Tong, Singapore’s first deputy prime minister states, “Every Singaporean should be able to sing a song, play a musical instrument and appreciate a painting” (Chia 2). A bold statement to identify as the most important factor affecting current practice of arts education was a report in 1981, Review of Art and Craft Teaching (MOE) which recommended art programs in schools be restructured to include design, art appreciation and a study of the work by local artists (Chia 2). Additionally, various implementations of the arts are being integrated into children’s school curriculums since then. Over the years, art institutions like Singapore School of the Arts (SOTA), LASALLE College of the Arts and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) began opening its doors to students who are interested in learning the arts.
With strong state support from the government, the need to continue the efforts in the arts for young audiences is key. In Our SG Arts Plan (2018-2022), arts education may also assist children value Singapore’s cultural heritage and develop national pride while shaping the artists, audiences and arts-lovers of tomorrow (64). This truism has been the basis of much arts outreach work in Singapore (National Arts Council 51). NAC stresses it is a priority and will facilitate the efforts with MOE and key partners such as preschool anchor operators, the Early Childhood Development Agency, and the arts community for further arts outreach to various schools, teachers, parents and children (36). NAC will continue to improve the quality of instruction and facilitation for teaching artists and arts instructors (105). It will also establish a professional development framework for industry artists through programmes for both MOE schools and other educational contexts.
Grace Tan additionally underlines there is a need for the arts to be relevant or accessible for first-timers, with the aim of helping them to understand and importantly, promote love for the arts so as to strengthen arts appreciation (Tan). Singaporeans who were exposed to arts and culture throughout their childhood were likely to be more interested, attended and also participated in arts and culture activities. An increase is visible in attendance (59%), participation (25%) and interest (41%) (National Arts Council 49).
Arts education should be instilled from young as there are visible benefits that may arise in the long-term development of an individual and the society. Early introduction into the arts promotes an increase in demand for the arts as more people are interested. This would in-turn suggest an increase in Singapore’s arts and economic landscape as shown in the statistics in arts participation.
Is it imperative we understand the importance of holistic development and learning through aesthetics and creative expression. The value of quality ECEC in establishing a strong basis for lifelong learning and reaping social and economic benefits is well supported by abundance of multidisciplinary research (Tan 1). Infusing the arts into ECEC might be a solution and this starts from the frameworks given by MOE for a more holistic learning for children.
Preschool education (PSE) will be highlighted to show the relevance it has in childhood development of children aged 4-6 years old in Singapore. Three major reviews focusing on enhancing the quality, affordability, and accessibility of PSE were announced in 2012 (Tan 6). PSE is not compulsory in the official education system, however the government acknowledges that the early years are crucial for children’s holistic development and should meet their developmental and learning requirements. Currently, PSE in Singapore are predominantly provided by the private sector such as the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) being the largest provider of ECCE services (4). Singapore then announced in 2012 after three decades of non-direct intervention it would establish 15 government kindergartens to promote quality and affordable K1 and K2 programs (4). It shows the government’s commitment in prioritising PSE by re-conceptualising the provision of kindergarten education and driving curriculum leadership through quality improvements and maintaining affordability in the preschool sector.
MOE then formulated in consultation with practitioners in ECEC and policy makers an updated version in 2013 known as the Key Stage Outcomes of Pre-school Education (Ministry of Education 8). These outcomes present the skills and values needed for the overall development of a child and their lifelong learning. It also aims to present a strong foundation for children to progress into confident individuals, active contributors, and concerned citizens so as to achieve the overarching desired outcomes of Singapore’s education system.
Some key points from the Key Stage Outcomes of PSE is for children to participate and enjoy a variety of arts experiences. Children should also learn through aesthetics and creative expression by; enjoying art, music and movement activities, expressing ideas and feelings through art, creating art using experimentation and imagination and sharing ideas and feelings about art. More initiatives and guided frameworks made by the government for both parents and educators are developed to inculcate the arts in ECEC. Utilising continual sensory enrichment in the holistic learning and growth of children would develop skills such as motor, creativity and social skills that are essential in a child’s development.
The development of children’s gross and fine motor skills influence their physical fitness, agility and coordination. Children should enjoy participating in various physical activities and be given ample space and time to develop their sense of balance, physical coordination and spatial awareness. They should also be able to demonstrate control, coordination and balance (37).
Children should be given opportunities to explore their surroundings and indulge in creative play and self-expression through art, music and movement. They should be able to express and share ideas and feelings through art by forms of experimentation and imagination (37).
Effective social and emotional development instils healthy self-esteem in children. Children are taught to manage their feelings, thoughts and behaviour which will enable them to establish strong and meaningful relationships in the future. They should develop self-awareness on personal identity and manage their own emotions and behaviours. They should show respect for diversity and be able to communicate, interact and build relationships with others. They should also take responsibility for their actions (38).
An example of a learning activity that will promote the above-mentioned skills is creating an animal mask from scratch and using it for a drama performance. Children will select a paper plate that has already been cut to form a mask by teachers. Creativity skills will be shown when they independently pick the materials and colours needed for personalisation. They will generate a sense of ownership in creating their own mask as each and everyone’s mask will be unique. Once completed, social skills will be developed when they communicate with their peers by participating in a simple performance that relates back to the theme of the mask. This would boost self-confidence, instil self-esteem and aid them in communicating what they feel. Gross motor skills will be advanced when they are required to act out as the animals they have selected. Prior to the performance, fine motor skills will be visible when they utilise different tools such as scissors that are child-safe and placing different materials onto the mask. With that, a simple learning experience has turned into a stimulation for these children in enhancing their holistic development through sensory learning and creative expression.
It is also vital to acknowledge the benefits such as cognitive, behavioural, and social outcomes that may arise in the long-term development of an individual with early arts introduction. In a research conducted by National Endowment For The Arts, Elpus mentions adolescent developmental psychologists verified that involvement in organized activities, generally on arts education activities, is mainly positive for youth development that promotes prosocial behaviours and successful developmental outcomes for all students, including those considered at-risk (9). The adolescent experience of art, both as consumer and creator, has the potential to influence developmental trajectories through organised activities like participating in school-based drama performances or through individual experiences like creating independent works of art (9).
During adolescence, a transitional phase between childhood and adulthood, developmental psychologists frequently identify several typical “developmental tasks” that must be achieved for successful entry into early adulthood. These developmental tasks include forming more mature peer relationships, breaking childhood emotional dependence upon parents, preparing for long-term romantic partnership and family life, and preparing for entry into the workforce and the economic world through choices about education and a career (Salmela-Aro et al. 692).
These respondents in the research consisted of adolescents aged 12-19 years old who had gone through certain forms of arts education throughout their lives between those who did not. The purpose of the study was to examine the value and positive impact of the arts by analysing the cognitive, behavioural, and social outcomes of adolescents who study the arts in comparison with their non-arts peers using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Notable analysis is seen whereby elective school activity participation, such as the curricular or extracurricular study of music, dance, drama, or visual art in schools, has been considered a key component of adolescent development (Elpus 11).
Elpus found that respondents who had arts education showed behavioural indicators that led to lesser rates in school suspension and expulsions, and were engaged with social media lesser (19). Their cognitive indicators led to higher optimism in post-secondary education as to how likely the respondents will go to college (22). As for social indicators, they are more likely to feel a closer attachment to school like being happy with their peers and feeling safe at school. They are also more likely to receive greater support from family, friends, and their guardians (23). Overall, these respondents are also more likely to pursue tertiary education after high-school and have general optimism in their personality throughout their life.
Dewey emphasises that the arts are integral in the daily routines of every human being. Whether intentional or not, the arts will always be present by means of every minute transaction. It is a matter of communication and participation in values of life by means of the imagination, and works of art are the most intimate and energetic means of aiding individuals to share in the arts of living (McClelland 60). By going through these organised activities from young, these individuals are able to develop their holistic ability.
Experiencing the arts should also bring down the barriers of being too ‘elite’ and making it more relevant to everyday life experiences. When an art product once attains classic status, it somehow becomes isolated from the human conditions under which it was brought into being and from the human consequences it engenders in actual life experience. The arts should be introduced in the early stages so as to prevent art being “remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement” (Dewey 3).
Continual advocacy in the arts should consistently be observed as the value of the arts plays an influential role in contributing to wider personal, organisational, social and economic development in Singapore as recommended. With strong state support from the government, Singapore will see a steady increase in parents who prioritise arts education for further educational value in the holistic development of their child. Where there is growing demand for early exposure for children, more initiatives such as introducing more affordable yet quality enrichment classes in private sectors to go beyond the PSE curriculum in preschools might be a solution.
In addition, MOE will continue to improve the quality of instruction and facilitation for teaching artists and arts instructors. In Our SG Arts Plan, it will establish a professional development framework for industry artists and arts instructors to offer programmes for both MOE schools and other educational contexts (National Arts Council 20). MOE will continue to pivot on enhancing ECEC by establishing a strong foundation for lifelong learning and obtaining social and economic benefits (Tan 1).
Early introduction in arts education has also been proven to improve the quality of life. People who are exposed to the arts from young are more likely to participate and be interested in the arts. This would suggest an increase in the arts scene in Singapore which would affect the economic and arts landscape significantly. We have to start from the very basis of the early stages of a child’s development as they will grow up to be the artists and audiences of the arts in the future. Therefore, more arts outreach work in Singapore has been implemented to further enhance the arts development. From these holistic learning that infuses arts education, children will grow to be individuals with enhanced cognitive, behavioural and social outcomes.