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Why group six (the arts) is great!

We invited IB Diploma graduates to reflect on post-IB life and offer perspectives on topics of their choosing. Alumna Frances Marsh is one of this year’s cohort of alumni contributing authors.

By Frances Marsh

In the UK, there is currently an alarming dismissal of art in schools. Creative subjects, whether music, drama, photography, dance or any other practice, often fall by the wayside in favour of traditionally ‘academic’, subjects that are ascribed more worth than their ‘soft’ counterparts. Art is seen as something lovely, but not crucial. The creative arts are at the extreme end of a hierarchy which values STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects – generally because of their alleged importance for future jobs, the economy, growth, progress. But the arts, and creativity are just as important and that is why for me, the arts – subject group six of the IB diploma, is so brilliant!

The International Baccalaureate proclaims a rounded education and indeed, it honours this by setting down the value of an arts education in addition to the five other more academically-focused disciplines in the Diploma Programme. It sends out a message that art is still valuable in a post-16 education, that creative subjects can go hand-in-hand with a broad range of academic courses, and can in fact be just as important as other ‘core’ subjects in later life. Compared to the UK education system and society, which is extremely rigid in how it measures success, the IB attempts to acknowledge the talents of those with creative flair in the arts and accredits their skills according to the same system.

Frances Marsh completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Durham before joining the European Voluntary Service.

In the UK, even primary schools are relegating creative arts subjects in favour of the ‘real’ ones. In 2014  the then-Prime Minister, David Cameron, said “If countries are going to win in the global race and children compete and get the best jobs, you need mathematicians and scientists – pure and simple”. He betrayed an obsession with competition, preparing for the future, for careers and for money. Education is a human right for every child, it is not about a global race. And it’s not so ‘pure and simple’ as he makes out. The creative arts shouldn’t need an economic argument in their favour – education is about so much more than this capitalist structure of worth – but indeed the best jobs of the future will also need artists; people who know how to use their creativity. Imagination, innovation and ingenuity are just as important as cold, hard information.

Moreover, there is not only a hierarchy but a false dichotomy between so-called STEM or academic subjects and artistic ones. Computer science, for example, can go hand-in-hand with design practice. Theatre and literature are natural allies and just because you are a talented linguist does not also mean you cannot be a talented dancer, and vice versa.

Creative arts subjects are seen as the antitheses of educational rigour. Sometimes those students who do choose the arts are stigmatised as not clever enough to succeed in these academic subjects; at my school, the IB was seen as the option for those who were academic. But who gets to define what has academic value?

In each of the five options in ‘the arts’ currently available, IB students take ownership of their own creative practice, creating original work in addition to carrying out more theoretical, research elements of that are again shaped by the individual student’s own creative interests. So group six can go hand in hand with the academia of other subjects, if that is what interests the student. Studying Visual arts, for example, I often found common themes in my artistic study and practice with my studies in Literature and in History.

Arts in the IB offers the opportunity to be creative within a formal education system that almost never allows this to happen. Group six is particularly great because it is liberating in the way it allows students to shape their own education:

  • It gave me the freedom to do the sort of art that I liked;
  • I found out what I was interested in, what stimulated my curiosity, creativity;
  • I had two years to work alongside and collaborate with my peers;
  • I got things wrong;
  • I got things right;
  • I tried new methods and techniques.

I began the Visual arts course firmly entrenched in the education system that preceded my IB Diploma. I was doing painting and thinking about modernism, researching a canonical history of art. But I soon realised that IB allowed me to go far beyond this and 18 months later, I was pushing the limits that secondary school art had set for me and I was instead making works using wood, perspex and laser cutters.

My cohort really bonded as a group and together we re-evaluated what we had thought being an artist meant; one of my favourite memories of the course was a workshop run after school by one of the group to collaboratively create an installation of wire sculpture people.

Studying the arts and setting aside time for creativity within formal education is important – as an outlet, for fostering imagination, as respite from German grammar and as an opportunity for these important moments of community, collaboration.

Frances Marsh received her IB Diploma at Finham Park School in Coventry, UK in 2012. She completed her undergraduate degree in English Literature at the University of Durham and is now on a European Voluntary Service placement in Brussels working for IFM-SEI, an international children’s rights movement. She is passionate about accessible education, feminism and human rights, all of which were fostered during her IB studies.