Although the arts are valued, and sometimes well-resourced, they tend to have lower status than maths, science and technology in the school curriculum in East and West.
Around 100 delegates from the arts and education world gathered in Surrey as guests of the British Council and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Their aim was to promote the arts' cause in a follow-up to the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) of politicians, whose conference was held in London last month.
Ann Lewis, the FCO's head of cultural relations, said: "We wanted to give ASEM a 'people-to-people' dimension, so they could share experiences and problems." She added that the conference is expected to be the first of a series.
The international contingent was in some despair over political lip-service paid to them, which was not matched by time and money spent in schools.
Janet Pillai, director of the Young People's Theatre in Penang, Malaysia, said Penang's university art department had been well-funded in recent years.
"But the arts are down-played in the school curriculum because of the pressure of science and the additional factor of (the predominantly Muslim) religion." Music was introduced "delicately" into the primary curriculum about five years ago, but dance and drama would be a "bit dicey".
In the Philippines, drama was seen as an important form of political dissent, said Brenda Fajardo, professor of arts studies at the Quezon campus of the Philippines University. "Actors in street theatre protests could take off their masks and disappear into the crowd."
A pioneer of children's theatre, Young-Ai Choi, professor at the Korean National University of Arts, is trying to introduce drama into the secondary curriculum. Younger children get a taste of music and art but as they get older these are neglected as they have to concentrate on maths, science, English and Korean.
The picture was less extreme in some parts of Europe, but delegates said schools often turned to outside agencies to supplement their work. In the Netherlands, for example, Joop Mols runs Edu-Art, a foundation of 20 artists who work with teachers to enhance pupils' experience in all art forms. "Otherwise schools offer a rich or a poor experience, depending on the skills of the teachers," he said.
Ken Robinson, professor of arts education at Warwick University and chairman of the Education Secretary's advisory committee on creative and cultural education, said he didn't know of any government that did not talk about creativity and human resources. Yet arts education slipped off the agenda as children went further up the school system.