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Integrating drama into K-12 education

Among the country’s best K-12 schools which offer excellent holistic curriculums, there’s growing recognition of the important role of drama and theatre in children’s development. Educators in the best schools agree that creativity, confidence, communication, teamwork and linguistic capability among other vital life skills are enhanced and accelerated by drama and theatre education. Regular access to drama classes also develops capacities such as empathy, emotional and social regulation, critical thinking and high order abstraction skills. Research studies show retention is also very high in the drama environment, as it stimulates high engagement levels and active on-your-feet learning experiences. However, this potential is severely limited when drama and theatre education is locked into the limited frames of the one class per week or the school’s annual performance. Only when drama is woven into the regular fabric of a school’s curriculum can these benefits be realised.

“Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status,” says Ken Robinson, the well-known thought leader of 21st century education. Robinson’s fundamental premise is that in our fast changing world, even the foremost future thinkers cannot imagine what jobs and vocations will become popular in the future. They can only point to a range of possible careers, many of which haven’t even been invented as yet. To prepare our children for an uncertain future, we have to make them adaptable to these fast-changing times. Creativity strongly stimulates the capability to innovate and adapt, and it has to be given as much importance as literacy. 

This idea is being acknowledged by policy makers worldwide. In 2011, Wales announced a radical overhaul of its education system, eliminating several traditional subjects and mandated that performing arts are placed at the centre of the curriculum. India has taken initial steps in this direction as well. ‘Arts in Education’ has been mandated as a module in the B.Ed curriculum and drama has been recognised as an important learning tool by NCERT’s National Curriculum Framework 2005. 

Integrated correctly, not only does drama-in-education (DiE) contribute to the development of 21st-century learner skills, it also contributes to teachers’ evolution equipping them with personal skills and creative tools to deliver deeper learning experiences. For curriculum planners and school leaders, DiE provides opportunities for integrated and project-based learning with performance outputs. These outputs can become assembly presentations, parent day programmes, etc providing visible evidence of learning to stakeholders such as management, trustees and parents. 

In India, there are special challenges which need surmounting. Our key stakeholder — parents — still prefer 20th century modes of learning that they experienced, where conventional academics and grades-chasing are primary goals with drama and the performing arts relegated to the realms of extra-curricular education. Even within progressive schools which are willing to argue for a change in this mindset, it is hard to change minds as exams near. This despite the fact that globally, multiple studies have conclusively proven that students who engage with the performing arts achieve more academically. 

There is also the challenge of teacher skilling. B.Ed programmes have come under constant criticism for failing to deliver teachers of sufficient standard, with the result that many schools have to develop their teachers in-house. Skilling teachers in DiE techniques solves these issues. 

Roadmaps on how to integrate DiE into school curriculums aren’t hard to come by. Schools across Norfolk in the UK participated in Drama for Learning and Creativity (D4LC) — a drama-based school improvement project initiated in 2005, in which specialists equipped the school to use DiE at all levels. This has been documented in Patrice Baldwin’s School Improvement through Drama (2009). Primary school is where we should start as exemplified in a partnership between the management, teachers and parents of the Shenton Primary School, Leicester (UK) and Drama-in-Education experts Jonothan Neelands and Rachel Dickinson, authors of Improving your Primary School through Drama (2006).

What’s clear from case studies is that some progressive school managements and curriculum leaders have been able to plan and implement programmes which weave drama into their schools’ culture and curriculum practices over a three-five year time span. Secondly, teachers benefit hugely from learning DiE practices, and over time, due to DiE’s collaborative and peer learning qualities develop happier teachers’ communities capable of mounting performances that showcase learning, without over-dependency on specialists. 

Finally and most importantly, a drama-empowered school environment keeps learners deeply immersed in creative modes of learning which every study has shown develops students holistically, helps them to perform better academically, and genuinely prepares them to become future-ready. The question for school leaders to ask themselves is not why or how to do this, but ‘When do I begin?’ 

(Jehan Manekshaw is the Mumbai-based co-founder of Theatre Professionals Education and The Drama School)

60 Views  | Posted on: 6 Dec,2017 Add Comment  Show Comments (0)