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Arts education linked to wide-ranging improved academic outcomes, according to UNESCO-backed Concordia study

The open-access paper, authored by prof Vivek Venkatesh, highlights how teaching art enhances learning across various subjects
December 21, 2023
A triptych photo of two women, one with long dark hair and one with long blonde hair, and one man with a dark beard and wearing a beanie.
From left: Collaborators Manasvini Narayana, Marie-Pierre Labrie (photo: Dominic Morissette) and Vivek Venkatesh (photo: Maya Detière-Venkatesh).

According to a new paper published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), teaching the arts in schools impacts cognition, knowledge acquisition and broader educational attainment in other subject areas. Arts education also positively contributes to nurturing well-rounded, capable and empathetic individuals.

Arts Education: An investment in quality learning,” is a policy-oriented research review publication led by Vivek Venkatesh, Concordia professor of inclusive practices in visual arts and chair of the university’s Department of Art Education, alongside his UNESCO colleagues Lydia Ruprecht and Martha K. Ferede.

Manasvini Narayana, PhD 19, and Marie-Pierre Labrie, two of Venkatesh’s long-time collaborators, assisted with the research.

The researchers conducted an extensive literature review from educational contexts across the world. They found that arts education is linked to improved cognitive abilities and academic outcomes across various subjects, including math, writing and reading.

Teaching the arts also contributes to students’ social and emotional development, helping them develop empathy, cultural awareness and emotional intelligence. It fosters creative thinking and encourages teachers to innovate and collaborate, enhancing school culture and advancing students’ feelings of accomplishment and connection to their communities.

The arts were also shown to promote engagement and motivation in learning, leading to better attendance and lower dropout rates.

“This paper can be adapted for teaching strategies, whether in art classrooms or when school directors and administrators are developing curriculum,” Venkatesh says.

Inclusive and equitable education

The paper used a maximal variation sampling strategy to find distinct examples of the impact of arts education to demonstrate the breadth of possible cases. Many case studies about arts education in the Global South are included.

The article also demonstrates how teaching arts in schools is closely aligned with the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG-4), which focuses on inclusive and equitable quality education for all.

The researchers found that arts education promotes values grounded in global peace, sustainability, justice and respect for cultural diversity. Arts education also helps students expand their social and emotional skills, contributing to both their personal happiness and the betterment of society.

“The arts are often one of the first areas to be cut in education, especially during situations like a pandemic or when budgets are tight,” Labrie comments. “I hope this article offers compelling reasons to value, understand and financially support the arts more, whether in schools, community or cultural settings, or in research.”

In fact, the paper argues that arts education contributes significantly to the economy by creating job opportunities and economic growth. UNESCO data indicate that cultural employment makes up a notable percentage of many countries’ total employment, ranging from three to eight per cent in countries with high GDP per capita.

Arts education is also valuable in supporting the revitalization of Indigenous knowledges by incorporating holistic, community- and land-based practices in both formal and informal educational settings.

Narayana says she hopes the publication will influence both policymakers and civil society to value learning and teaching through the arts.

“In a world that predominantly valorizes logical, cognitive ways of knowing, investment in arts education is challenging to build,” she says. “I hope this paper provides some impetus to create that buy-in.”

Read the cited paper: “
Arts Education: An investment in quality learning.”

Learn more about Concordia’s Department of Art Education.


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