Students Meeting Art: Teaching Creativity in Thailand
When it comes to educating students, how important is creativity in the grand scheme of things?
There’s no doubt that students today live in a world very different from previous generations. The answers for how to navigate issues like climate change, global-pandemics and the rise of artificial intelligence, won’t be found in a textbook, lecture, or exam; they’ll be birthed from far-reaching and courageous imaginations, from unexpected dreamers and radical minds. In other words, tomorrow’s changemakers are today’s creative thinkers.
Students in many Western countries are herded through curriculums that favour hard subjects to the detriment of so-called soft subjects — an emphasis seen as necessary to compete on an international level. Schools in Eastern countries like China and Hong Kong are notorious for pushing high test scores in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and maths). But these achievements usually rely on rote memorization and immense time spent studying to the exclusion of all else. It’s relatively straightforward for schools to churn out winning numbers when the main skill they’re evaluating is a student’s ability to regurgitate information. In this equation for academic success, critical thinking and creative problem-solving often get left in the dust, unhoned.
So while young people may find themselves excelling in the confines of school, what about life beyond the classroom? How mentally and emotionally equipped are these students to adapt to the world’s shapeshifting present, and to create lasting change in its uncertain and challenging future?
It could be argued that ignoring the arts for STEM subjects and encouraging follow-the-leader behaviour did a reasonable job at preparing students for the “real world” in the past. Not too long ago most folks were still wedded to the single-career employment model: work at a company for 30 or 40 years, then retire at age 65 with a pension. Doing what you were told without rocking the boat is a useful skill for this kind of path.
Fast forward: between the internet and globalisation, pause to reflect on Covid, and Climate-Change, that old-school employment model is growing more obsolete by the hour. With the ongoing rise of self-employment, having an entrepreneurial spirit and leadership sensibility is paramount with the average person now expected to average between 12 to 15 jobs during their lifetime. No wonder creative economies are emerging as one of the fastest growing in the world — it’s being driven by this new wave of risk-takers.
Being entrepreneurial is nothing new to artists. They are, after all, in business for themselves. With their finger always on the pulse of the cultural climate, sensing its natural ebb and flow, these creative practitioners must constantly retool their product, marketing techniques, and overall business model. But despite their multitasking prowess, many artists aren’t able to earn a sustainable living from their artwork alone. Instead, they seek alternative means of income still related to their creative practice.
Over time, we’ve gone from artist-as-brooding-genius to artist-as-Jack/Jill-of-all-trades. The artist’s ability to adapt to an ever-changing industry is just as important as the brush marks they make on canvas. Today’s creative practitioners aren’t just makers but polymaths through and through: they’re entrepreneurs, social media masters, teachers, content creators, small business owners, tech gurus, curators, gallerists, sales people, accountants, connectors, and — oh yeah — trained artists.
So what’s the connection between these polymath creative practitioners and our aforementioned creatively-challenged students? Well, our students need to enhance their creative skill-sets if they are to make their own way in today’s brave new world, and artists have an innate power to help them do just that. What remains is figuring out the details. How do we incorporate an artist’s wisdom into a regular school that follows a mainstream curriculum?
Regularly bringing creative practitioners into the fold of everyday classroom experiences is one possible answer to this riddle. Situated amid the iconic rolling hills of northern Thailand in Mae Rim district, Prem Tinsulanonda International School (PTIS) offers a unique approach, employing a Creative Director who works with the Head of School & CEO and driving forward a progressive educational programme, Artist Residency Thailand (ART). The unique role and programme brings together working artists, creative practitioners and young people to enhance creative thinking and overall engagement in hard and soft subjects alike from Junior School to Senior School.
定期将创意实践者带入日常的课堂体验中也许能解决这个谜题。坐落于泰国北部湄林区(Mae Rim district)标志性的起伏山丘之中的普林国际学校(PTIS)，提供了一种独特的教学方式，学校聘请了一位创意总监，他与学校负责人和首席执行官合作，推动了一个超前的教育项目，泰国艺术家驻留项目(ART)。这一独特的角色和课程将职业艺术家、创意从业者和年轻人聚集在一起，来提高创造性思维并全面参与从初中到高中的软硬科目。
Imagine watching the acclaimed British actor Miltos Yerolemou — of Game of Thrones fame — step up to the front of an English class and recite Romeo & Juliet to a group of wide-eyed grade-school kids sitting on the edge of their classroom chairs. Students who couldn’t care less about iambic pentameter the day before now suddenly find themselves deeply interested in what this Shakespeare fellow has to say.
Game of Thrones Actor Miltos Yerolemou helps English Literature students to bring Shakespeare to life
About Artist Residency Thailand (ART) Programme
Now in its ninth official year, the premise of ART is simple: identify and accept an application from an international or local creative practitioner to join the programme and stay at the school anywhere from ten days to a month. The artist may be from any field or genre: music, graffiti art, filmmaking, dancing, acting, writing, painting, and so on, the programme also works with philosophers and culinary artists, all of whom sit within ART’s broad definition of creativity. During the residency, the artist spends 60% of his or her time on their personal artistic practice, and the rest delivering creative workshops to the students, largely based around that practice. ART’s programme founder and Creative Director Alex Soulsby provides one-on-one mentoring to the artists-in-residence, helping ensure that they learn how best to deliver workshops, engagements to the school’s young students, professional development to teaching staff and leadership and even engagements and performances to the wider community. In addition to this mentoring and professional support, the programme offers each creative practitioner studio space, meals, marketing support and accommodation.
One of the major benefits of the programme is how it integrates with pre-existing curriculum, rather than being awkwardly tacked on or targeting only art students, music or drama students. (Many art residencies that work with schools exist more or less separately from the curriculum’s core learning objectives) In contrast, ART uses the arts to involve young people in a wide-range of engagements that are central to the curriculum. For example, a professional ceramicist might join forces with the school’s chemistry department to show the young people how heat impacts glazes and molecular bonding. The tactile workshop helps visually cement scientific theory and is particularly useful to kinesthetic learners.
American Glass Artist, Jeremy Popelka demonstrating to Grade 1 students, how heat is used to make sculpture with glass
Giving young people creative agency in this way lets them reach their higher potential. Having a Creative Practitioner in the classroom — an outside voice — engages them in approaches to learning that is often outside of,or additional to their usual relationship with schoolwork. And this, in turn, encourages students to learn more about that subject on their own time — and on their own terms. These students are helped to think for themselves, problem-solve in unique ways, and ultimately offer valuable contributions to the world. As Alex Soulsby suggests, “the interaction with these creative practitioners helps create organic agency in each student’s own learning, contributing to what a regular teacher can do and inspire on their own, but often going beyond what takes place in that day-to-day engagement between teacher and student.”
How this works in practice is a real treat to see. A range of eclectic artists has already walked through PREM’s classrooms, sparking genuine curiosity and leaving a lasting impression on the young people and wider community. To teach them about water conservation, for example, writer and US Presidential Advisor Paula DiPerna led an experiment that demonstrated the practical impacts of water waste in Thailand and countries elsewhere. Meanwhile, UK-based musician Chris T-T passed on his own passion for punk rock to the students during his stay. He introduced them to punk philosophy and facilitated a song writing workshop inspired by the influential movement. Chris says about his time with the programme:
“I had a fascinating, hugely positive experience as an artist-in-residence. It was a unique chance for me to work in a part of the world I might never have otherwise got to visit. I very much enjoyed working with the kids at Prem and learned a lot about my own creative process by taking myself away from my usual bubble of southern England. I’m hoping to return to northern Thailand in the future because I fell in love with that part of the world — so the trip had a major positive impact on my working life.”
英国音乐家克里斯·T-T（Chris T-T ）
Interactive workshops like the ones facilitated by Chris T-T create heightened engagement between students and the curriculum. When lessons are delivered creatively, students organically pick up on it. Regular staff also benefit from having access to ongoing professional development throughout the year. The workshop multimedia formats target different learning styles through tactile experiments, visual media, hands-on activities, and open dialogues. Having an international artist in the classroom exposes young students to new ideas and fresh perspectives on a range of subjects, helping them develop into true global citizens. The workshops not only diversify learning outcomes in the classroom, but help illuminate the importance of creativity in the real world.
Plus, there’s the coolness-factor: being taught English by your favourite actor or learning about song writing from a punk rocker you’ve seen on TV is surely captivating to young people. Unique lessons like these instantly feel more relevant to students and can rally enthusiasm for subjects that some students might otherwise be resistant to. As the students and faculty at PTIS have learned, the artist-run workshops both motivate the students and provide support for the school’s staff teachers. And the programme’s success shouldn’t really come as any surprise: artists are a natural fit for working with young people. A big part of their job is to stay childlike, remain curious, and step outside their comfort zone for the sake of keeping their creative practice fresh.
Finally, a programme like this benefits the artists themselves by increasing their marketability and skill-set for future employment. Knowing how to teach is invaluable to any artist’s earning potential and professional growth. They might go on to offer workshops at other international schools, organisations, or for private clients. As Miltos Yerolemou shares about his residency at PTIS, “What I like the most is that an artist can work with the teachers as well as the students. The work encompasses and embraces everyone’s curiosity, talents and energy. I love it because I learn as much as the students, and that is always inspiring.” The programme really is a win for everyone involved.
Philosopher, writer and broadcaster Nigel Warburton delivering an Artist Residency Thailand seminar to local Thai schools and Universities
Jane Bryant, meanwhile, is on the other side of the education equation as the former CEO of ARTSWORK, the UK-based youth arts development agency that was founded and by chaired by the late Sir Ken Robinson. As a previous programme participant, Jane offers her insight on ART’s potential as a model for the future:
与此同时，简•布莱恩特(Jane Bryant)则站在教育问题的另一边。她是英国青年艺术发展机构ARTSWORK的前首席执行官，该机构由已故的肯•罗宾逊爵士(Sir Ken Robinson)创立并担任主席。作为之前的项目参与者，Jane提供了她对ART项目作为未来发展模式潜力的见解:
“This extraordinary international programme offers creative practitioners — at different stages in their careers — an incredible opportunity to immerse themselves in developing and enhancing their own innovative and creative practice. What undoubtedly enriches this is the unique community context and the associated development of practitioners’ workshop and education leadership skills as part of a completely integrated approach. In my experience, this programme acts as an international model, uniquely drawing from the inspirational inter-relationships between innovative creative practice and education and community development.”
Our time spent at school inevitably impacts our relationship with the world and each other for the rest of our lives. Engaging young people on their own terms gives students greater ownership over their own learning. And when students feel a sense of true agency, the real magic can begin. As the world continues to evolve, so too must our education models — and we’d do well to move forward with approaches that embed creative learning directly into the system. The time has come when our younger generations must not only re-imagine but recreate our world for the better.
There’s an excellent reason why nearly all reputable cultural institutions like theatres, museums, and galleries have a department or person to connect arts and education. It only makes sense that our schools follow their lead and forge a link between creative development inside and outside the classrooms. The simple truth is, that this approach keeps learning fresh, energised and relevant to all the key stakeholders, not least of all the voice of our young people, that can all too often be muted in the process of formal education’
With ever increasing accolades and critical acclaim, including being a finalist for International Impact in the 2021 International School Awards, Prem is proud to be recognized globally for this unique and important work, ensuring our students are prepared for a challenging and uncertain future.
By: Alex Soulsby & Kimberly Laurent Bryant
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