The British School in The Netherlands (BSN) publishes its new mission this week. In it, there is an explicit commitment to providing opportunities, in and outside the classroom, for every student to develop their creativity, explore their interests and discover their passions. After all, creativity is a vital component in education. It allows young people to learn how to innovate, problem-solve and critically think in the learning process. It is one of the key skills companies are looking for in their employees for the future. Creativity affects every part of how we are moving forward as a society.
As the Head of Art and Design at Senior School Voorschoten (SSV), The British School in The Netherlands, it is hardly surprising that I am a firm believer in the intrinsic value of an Arts education for the holistic development of young people. However, the last two years of the pandemic have reaffirmed my beliefs as I witnessed our Art students’ resilience and fortitude, not to mention the awe-inspiring artwork that they have created despite the difficulties of the situation.
I believe the core values and skills embedded and learnt through an Arts education helps prepare young people to face challenges and be successful in their future endeavours.
Positive Emotional Development
The impact and benefits that creativity can have on mental health are widely acknowledged. Art provides an outlet for self-expression and an opportunity to do so without words. It can be a stress relief and a way to combat negative feelings. Through art, students build self-esteem and their sense of themselves. The last two years of the Coronavirus pandemic confirmed the positive effects art could play in supporting wellbeing.
It has been an extremely challenging time for young people, being separated and isolated for periods of what would have normally been opportunities for development academically and socially. Children learn so much from their interactions and social exchanges and being connected. During the school closures, immersed in their own ideas and concepts, our students have amazed me with their resilience and ability to overcome the difficulties faced. Working at home, the initiative and self-reliance they have shown to create reflects a determination to succeed in any circumstances.
Recently, the artwork created by the students to highlight their emotions during the pandemic was unveiled at the Haaglanden Medical Centre, Antoniushove Location (HMC), in an exhibition titled ‘Creative in Corona’. During difficult adaptations in students’ lives, by using creativity, something beautiful was created that could be shared and enjoyed with the wider Voorschoten and Leidschendam community.
”I was very honoured when my art was chosen to be part of the hospital exhibition. I want my art to brighten up someone's day in the hospital. It's nice because it's out in the community, and I hope that people enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating itYear 13 BSN Art Student
As children grow, it is essential they have opportunities to look closely at and analyse the world around them, to observe and start to form their own viewpoints. At The BSN, we encourage our Art students to question and search for information to back up and strengthen their judgements and reasoning. Equally important is recognising that there are differing viewpoints outside of their own and that it is imperative to be open to these.
Having open discussions, talking and questioning, we help our students look at their ideas, situations, events and problems, reflect, and justify what they do creatively. This is the foundation for critical thinking Art can support and nurture.
”As lockdown continued, I found motivation in my artwork because I wanted to get to the point where I was happy with my work. Especially since art is so subjective, I thought I just needed to keep going, and it would give me a sense of accomplishment. Being able to do art was both relaxing and provided me with an escape from the difficulty of the situation.Year 13 BSN Art Student
Self-reliance and Independence
Our Curriculum is designed to model self-learning from Year 7 through Year 10. From this point, we aim to give students the opportunity to develop independence and have those critical experiences of self-reliance and management. As students progress into Year 11 through Year 13, they gain more autonomy and the skills and knowledge to confidently apply structures towards their goals.
”It’s way more challenging to actually discover yourself as an artist rather than just the techniques you produce. I was forced to think about how my art has an impact, and through that, I think, I have become a better artistYear 13 BSN Art Student
”We can’t exist without the creative thinker. It’s the idea generation and the opportunity to collaborate with others that move work. It’s one thing to be able to sit in front of a computer screen and programme something. But it’s another to have the conversations and engage in learning about what somebody wants out of a programme to be written in order to be able to deliver on that. That all comes from a creative mindset.Ryan ImbrialeEducation leader
So how do we provide experiences that encourage self-direction? Projects begin with a clear focus and understanding of the goal and a structure with steps towards this. We engage students in meaningful conversations about what they are doing and listen carefully to what is said. Rather than giving answers, through discussions with the students, we guide and support them towards their end goal and help them find their own answers. We allow students to lead their own learning by not providing concrete solutions. We often remind students: two plus two does not have to equal four; there can be several permutations.
Above all, we give students space and time. We don’t interrupt too much. We trust in them and are there to provide support when needed. The result is that students become self-reliant and confident in their abilities. They are willing to take chances in their work and explore new ideas and techniques.
The Discipline and Structure of Creating
There is a skills development framework in Arts education, particularly in the younger years. It is this foundation that students build off of as they progress and grow as artists and designers. Though at every level, creating art, making something that did not exist before, is a pragmatic and practical exercise that requires discipline. It requires focus, time (and energy) management, and planning. Executive function, particularly flexible thinking and self-control, are core to any creative project. These skills are applicable and readily transferable outside of the Art studio.
As we move into the future and the world changes at an ever-faster pace, current experiences of the workplace may no longer apply in the same way. Through technological advancements, some elements of traditional careers will no longer be needed. Our young people will need skills to allow flexibility and adaptation. A vital element of this is creativity alongside self-learning, critical thinking and problem-solving combined with resilience to succeed. Equipped with the BSN’s new mission, I look forward to ensuring that all of our students have the opportunities to develop their creativity, explore their interests and discover their passions. I have seen the incredible outcomes of this and remain more confident than ever of the benefits of the Arts education we provide at the BSN.
Graham is the Head of Art at Senior School Voorschoten, The British School in The Netherlands, in The Hague. He joined the school in 2014 have previously worked in a range of educational settings in England, including inner-city Birmingham, York and Hull. He trained as a sculptor in Fine Art and has a wide range of skills and experiences across Art education. He enjoys cycling and running, his work as an Art practitioner, and spending time with his family.