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How performing arts prepare students for success

Participating in performing arts at school can help students develop skills necessary in the workplace.

With technology moving at breakneck speed, it’s impossible to predict what jobs might be needed in the future. But with research suggesting that young people are likely to have around 17 different jobs over five different careers, it's essential that children develop the skills to help them adapt to being lifelong learners.

While schools have incorporated skills like digital literacy and IT into the curriculum, the challenge is not just about acquiring new skills, it’s also about how we use them. So developing skills such as collaboration, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving are key to helping young people navigate the complex challenges of the future.

But how do schools, with an already jam-packed curriculum, find room for developing these skills in students? One answer might lie in co-curricular activities such as the performing arts.

Multi-tasking

Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School has a strong co-curricular program, with opportunities for students to participate in musical ensembles and theatrical productions. According to Ian Munns, Head of Music, the performing arts offer students a unique opportunity to develop important learning skills, often without realising it.

According to Mr Munns, playing a musical instrument, singing, and in particular, performing in an ensemble, requires critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving and creativity skills, often simultaneously. “Musicians collaborate constantly in ensemble music making,” he explains. “And they have to communicate intricate, abstract thoughts, both verbally and through physical, non-verbal cues,” he adds.

He suggests that musicians have to constantly identify and solve problems, often in mid-performance. “If one part of the ensemble gets out of time, performers need to solve that problem ‘on the fly’ so that the performance comes back together,” he says. “This of course requires the highest level of communication and collaboration - in a non-verbal way.”

For Mrs Helen Mutkins, Head of Drama at Ivanhoe Girls’, collaboration and problem solving are inherent in a subject like Drama or Theatre Studies. “You’ve got collaboration right from word go,” she explains. “As soon as you introduce a common product like a production or a script, it’s a group or ensemble project that everybody has a stake in,” she says. “The work is rarely an individual task, so you've got to start sharing creative ideas whether you like it or not.”

Confidence to be Yourself

Mrs Mutkins believes the performing arts can develop skills in young people that can’t be taught anywhere else. “A lot of subjects give you knowledge, such as science or mathematics. But creative subjects help you really know who you are and how you interact with the world, with history, with literature, and really be able to understand individuality,” she explains.

She believes theatre and drama are “high art” forms that require deep critical thinking. “Your skill has to be to execute creative ideas,” she explains. “You have to be able to examine ideas, toss them in the air, let them go. The idea that becomes the most prominent is the one with the most value, not because it’s the loudest,” she says. “That is so important.”

A Positive Attitude

Meanwhile, Mr Chris Cox, Head of Junior School Music at Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School, believes the performing arts are a valuable training ground for developing positive learning behaviours and attitudes.

“If you are practising a musical instrument you are looking at the small steps it takes to do that,” he says. “You have to practise, you have to get it wrong, you have to be persistent. It’s a discipline,” he says. 

“It’s not about being gifted,” explains Cox. “It’s about your attitude and how much work you put in. It’s easy to dismiss the arts as full of naturally talented people, but actually, they work ten times harder.”

With such potential to develop the learning skills, confidence and positive behaviours needed for a challenging and complex future, participating in the performing arts has never been more important.