Despair at children 'not taught to see';News Focus

3rd April 1998 at 01:00
Research finds children's opportunities for making things are being undermined. Helen Hague looks at the debate over practical skills.

Stephen Bayley, design guru, resigned as the Millennium Dome's Creative Director early this year.

"I think art education is fundamentally important to civilised life. It will be even more important in the future, when so many professional skills will be available on computerised expert systems. Very soon you won't need an accountant - your computer will be able to do that for you. Teaching people practical visual skills is going to be ever more important, both culturally and economically.

"I passionately believe that humane skills rather than the merely intellectual will be most needed in the future. Communication, the ability to make things, the ability to see in three dimensions, to be able to think visually, are immensely important now and will become more so.

"I'm always amazed when I find my children are still having geography and history lessons which aren't at all dissimilar to the sort of things I was taught. I'm not a Philistine about history, but I really don't see much point in teaching 10-year-olds about Edward III. There are far more interesting things to do - art education being one of them.

"It is absolutely essential that art should be taught in schools. I believe it's as important as mathematics, though probably not as important as English. First of all it's concerned with the appearance of the world. The environment is probably most important of all.

"I don't mean tree-hugging when I say that, but the appearance, the character of the world. Art is the greatest way of teaching that. The reason why we've had so much squalor in our cities and our countryside is too many people aren't educated to see. If they could see they couldn't tolerate the sort of squalor and litter they are otherwise prepared to live with.

"Art can't be junked off the agenda in the drive for outputs. I abhor such a notion. I'm not an educational philosopher, but if I were the Minister for Education I'd stop teaching geography and history and put all my energy into literacy, the ability to communicate and an understanding of visual education.

"I deplore the fact that art education appears to be being sidelined. And if you want any better evidence of what a Philistine administration our government is, it's that."

Thomas Heatherwick, 28, rising young London designer, commissioned to design the first new municipal square in Newcastle for 100 years. Famous for his window display at Harvey Nichols to mark London Fashion Week.

"For me, it all comes from the experience of making. By studying 3-D design I could actually make ceramics and furniture and learn from making real things. By making things you get inspiration, accidents happen, ideas pop up. The best teacher I ever had was actually a terrible designer. He didn't give the wisest advice, but he supported me. The worst teacher I had was technically the best, but he tried to stop me from doing things.

"I think the hardest thing is finding a good client. I have to call myself an artist, though I'm a designer really, solving functional problems. I've won a competition to design a new square in Newcastle. They were looking for an artist to design something to go in the square.

"I proposed it would actually be rather silly to have an artist design a thing that was stuffed in the square - that actually the whole square should be the piece of art, what you walk on, what the bollards are, everything one idea, rather than normal square, tacky bins with a so-called high-value bit stuck in the middle.

"Creativity should be brought into every single subject at school - recognising that to be a good businessman, good writer, good mathematician you've got to be creative. The word should apply to every single subject. Our culture seems to imply that art lessons may not be very useful, but they're fun. People can be made to see that actually, it's essential and enjoyable.

"But equally, maths should be creative. Children should be encouraged to make things as much as possible. People need to carry on getting their hands dirty all the way through GCSE and A-level. The word "craft" has a twee connotation - all lace bobbins and Ye Olde. But everything we use - from pots and pans to buildings - has craft to make it.

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