Arts and culture could help Finnish schools reach new heights of excellence

Finland has one of the best education systems in the world. If Finnish schools wished to reach a new level of excellence, they should strengthen the integration of arts and culture in the teaching of all subjects, researchers now say.

There is solid empirical evidence from international studies of the positive effects of arts education on learning, well-being, and the development of social skills. High-quality arts education strengthens pupils' learning skills, identity work and development of self-esteem, and most importantly, their ability to encounter others. Research also supports the notion that cultural stereotypes can be overcome when teaching in performing arts is offered to all pupils.

These findings were supported by studies conducted by the ArtsEqual research initiative coordinated by University of the Arts Helsinki (Uniarts Helsinki). In ArtsEqual researchers' interventions in schools, the arts were not only the focus on separate art classes, but artistic activities were also incorporated in the teaching of other subjects.

ArtsEqual researchers suggest that in the future, schools could be seen as cultural centres where high-quality arts education is equally available for all pupils, and where art is integrated in all subjects, everyday life at schools, and the entire school culture.

One example of the effects is that pupils' cynicism towards schools could decrease if arts education was integrated in their normal school days, says Eeva Anttila, Professor in Dance Pedagogy at Uniarts Helsinki's Theatre Academy and team leader of the ArtsEqual research group focusing on arts education in comprehensive schools.

In 2016, approximately half of 12-year-old Finnish school children felt some degree of cynicism towards school, and 15 percent regarded school as insignificant for their future. ArtsEqual researchers conclude that a stronger status of the arts in schools would make going to school more appealing for pupils, because artistic activities offer them possibilities to actively participate, express themselves and influence their environment. The indirect effects of arts education include an improved atmosphere and a stronger sense of community in schools.

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The ArtsEqual research initiative, the largest research project on arts in Finland, is coordinated by Uniarts Helsinki. It examines the arts as public service, with equality as the starting point, and explores how the arts can meet the social challenges of the 2020s. ArtsEqual is financed by the Academy of Finland's Strategic Research Council.

Read more from the policy brief 'Comprehensive school: Finland's largest cultural center' (PDF): http://www.artsequal.fi/documents/14230/0/PB+eng+Koulu+kulttuurikeskuksena/4ec2e095-cd17-4b0f-8c8e-54226645a61f

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