Do the arts begin to die in high school or Canberra?

Do the arts begin to die in high school or Canberra?

The arts community has had an undeniably rough trot these past few years. While Albanese seems to have plans for rejuvenation, we reflect on the Morrison Government’s STEM-based agenda and what it has meant for students in creative fields. (Image: Roxburgh Park Primary)

By Dani Bozoski | @danibozoski, Jessica Dempster | @dempsterjess_, Sophie Gauvin | @sophgauvin and Sarah Herrmann | @sarahherrmann_

Are the arts dying?

Industry recently took a lashing from the 2022-23 Federal Budget presented by the Morrison Government prior to the election, in which 20 per cent of the arts budget was cut.

This could certainly change with Albanese now at the helm.

Even if the world is still screaming STEM, some students will choose to study what they love anyway.

But the government’s agenda decides how many hurdles they’ll face to achieve their creative dreams.

Data compiled by the South Australian Tertiary Admissions Centre (SATAC) shows university degrees in the sectors of “creative arts” and “society and culture” received the most first preferences – apart from the health field – from undergraduate applicants in 2021.

The demand for arts and humanities university courses has increased compared to five years ago, despite the Morrison Government doubling the cost of these degrees in 2020.

Year 12 students’ first preferences for university by field of study, 2021.
(Data source: SATAC)

Then minister for education, Dan Tehan, said these fee changes would produce more “job ready” graduates by incentivising students to study the now cheaper degrees of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as well as teaching and nursing.

In conjunction with these changes, STEM initiatives have been implemented within schools across Australia and STEM facilities and resources are undergoing improvements.

Norwood International High School is one of multiple South Australian schools that has recently undergone significant developments.

The $55 million project has become a reality after being proposed by then SA minister for education and Morialta MP, John Gardner, in the 2021-22 State Budget.

Norwood International principal, Jacqui Van Ruiten, says, “It’s about promoting collaboration, creativity, and also interconnectedness for the students.” 

While the Morrison Government had a persistent agenda of encouraging secondary students to pursue further studies and careers in STEM, Ms Van Ruiten says education “is all about balance”.

“All of our subjects are equal opportunities,” she says.

“But we do have a large number of STEM subjects and I think it’s really important for schools to look at what the current climate is and where the demand is, and right now there is a demand for STEM.

“I feel like it is really important we do have that focus but without the loss of those other subjects that are just as vitally important.

“It’s our responsibility for our school to develop engaged global citizens who are capable of meeting the challenges of the changing world.

“We’ve explored doing this through STEM learning but they can actually be taught through all learning areas.”

“It’s our responsibility for our school to develop engaged global citizens who are capable of meeting the challenges of the changing world”

St Peter’s College careers counsellor and South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE) coordinator, Mark Colsey, says St Peter’s academic program is designed to engage students in all disciplines, with the hope they find success after school in any field.

“Although many of our students pursue subjects within the STEM program, all our boys are pushed to step out of their comfort zones and take on challenges within the arts department,” Mr Colsey says.

“We have expanded our variety of elective subjects so that students can experiment with skills like pottery, digital art and photography.”

At St Peter’s, it is compulsory for students to participate in the music, performing arts, and language programs until senior school.

“Disappointingly, many of our boys choose subjects that will give them the best ATAR score to get into degrees with best job prospects,” he says.

The creation of science and innovation hub Lot Fourteen, following a $20 million grant from the Morrison Government in 2019, has generated thousands of jobs for South Australians in the STEM sector.

Despite the attempts of educators to achieve equality between STEM and arts subjects, students interested in creative pursuits feel they are being left behind by their high schools.

SACE visual arts and design graduates have less than positive feedback about the courses. Students who completed these stage 2 subjects between 2019 and 2021 found classes unsatisfactory and often felt neglected by teachers as well as the SACE curriculum.

Percentage of graduates satisfied with aspects of the SACE visual arts and design subjects, 2019-2021, based on a survey of 100.
(Data source: Dani Bozoski)

After graduating high school in 2019, former visual arts student, Aleisha Roling, says South Australia’s lack of dedication to secondary arts education is what led to her quitting her university arts degree.

“After my high school experience with the humanities and arts, I felt absolutely unprepared for my tertiary experience,” she says.

“I could have watched a YouTube tutorial which would have taught me more than I learned in all five years of high school combined.”

Ms Roling says the “ever-decreasing” space for the arts in high school discouraged her from pursuing her passion and, having that feeling continue through university, resulted in her leaving her degree and finding other work.

She says that during her time in high school, she saw computer and technology labs receiving multiple grants and being upgraded several times, while the art students “were getting by on old supplies”.

“Of course, those other subjects are important too, but my decision to leave my university art course started in high school, with that seed of disappointment planted and watered consistently.”

“I could have watched a YouTube tutorial which would have taught me more than I learned in all five years of high school combined”

Additional languages is another area of the curriculum that was at the bottom of the Morrison Government’s agenda.

University of Adelaide teaching & arts student, Brittany Colmer, has always had a passion for Japanese, and found herself having to transfer schools to study the subject in year 12.

Living in the Barossa, Ms Colmer chose her high school because it was the only one in the region that offered Japanese.

But just months prior to her senior year, Faith Lutheran College informed students the program was in jeopardy due to low enrolments.

Ms Colmer was on exchange in Japan when she found out.

She decided to study and board at Immanuel College in year 12, joining a stage 2 Japanese class of 14 students.

Meanwhile, Faith had one stage 2 Japanese student, who studied in a class in which all senior additional language students were combined.

Now at university, Ms Colmer estimates there are 25 students studying third-year Japanese.

SACE data shows only 1003 students across the state studied a language other than English at a stage 2 level in 2021.

“That literally does not shock me,” she says.

“English-speaking countries are by far the worst at learning additional languages because we’ve got that mindset of English being the business language.

“But now that so many people speak English, it’s not an advantage anymore.”

Ms Colmer says additional languages deserve more “cultural importance” in Australia, and that, as well as more hours dedicated to them, strategic continuation between primary, secondary, and tertiary learning is required to boost numbers.

“People are averse to it, but kids who study a second language get better grades in English and maths.”

Number of stage 2 students enrolled per SACE subject, 2021.
(Data source: SACE)

English, maths and sciences are the most studied subjects in secondary school, while arts, humanities, and additional language subjects sit at the lower end of the enrolment hierarchy, according to SACE data.

But is this because students are not interested in these subjects, or because schools may not offer them and the Morrison Government certainly did not encourage them?

For creatives, could things be easy under Albanese?

Time will soon tell.

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