New Brunswick

Students would reap rewards if arts weren't 'an optional thing', new report says

Sweeping changes to K-12 arts education in New Brunswick are needed to improve an outdated and under-resourced system, according to a new report by ArtsLink NB.

Report laments dearth of qualified fine arts teachers in New Brunswick

An ArtsLink NB open house. Town halls were held in Saint John, Fredericton, Miramichi and Moncton. (Submitted by ArtsLink NB)

Sweeping changes to K-12 arts education in New Brunswick are needed to improve an outdated and under-resourced system, according to a new report by ArtsLink NB.

In its report, Creating a Common Vision, the Saint John-based organization that promotes the value of the arts calls for more funding for art materials, an overhaul of curricula and a greater number of qualified art teachers in anglophone schools.

The hope is to see the arts becomes a pillar of education in the province — something the organization believes would better prepare students for an evolving labour market.

"You have the big subjects — science, math, social studies — and then arts is sort of viewed as an optional thing," said Kenzie Hancox, project co-ordinator with ArtsLink NB.

"So what we would do is change that into an integral part of every student's education."

The report, developed through data as well as professional and public feedback, also describes a lack of public awareness about the benefits of an arts education.

"Because of this, public perceptions must shift so the benefits of arts education for student learning and social and cognitive development are commonly understood," the report said.

The group is working with the provincial government to implement its 12 recommendations. Hancox said the response so far has been "very enthusiastic."

A new report by ArtsLink NB calls for a stronger arts education program in anglophone schools. (ArtsLinkNB)

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development said in a statement the report "is a valuable piece of information that will support and enhance the work that is already happening in the anglophone sector."

"The department is now reviewing the recommendations in the report and will be discussing how to move forward on the ideas they raise."

Though the next provincial budget is expected to be tabled in the legislature March 19, Hancox said the organization is thinking about change in the long-term.

"There's a recognition that some more funding could be given to this area and we're going to work on getting that in place," she said.

Changes to hiring and curriculum

There is a lack of qualified arts educators in anglophone schools, especially in rural areas, the report stated. In Anglophone North School District, there are 11 teachers with a bachelor of fine arts or music, meaning there's a qualified teacher for every 665 students.

The report recommends setting a staffing standard with a minimum level of expertise as well as increasing the amount of professional learning opportunities.

It also recommends arts educators be given an annual budget to buy materials and streamlining the process to apply for school-based arts funding.

The report said the majority of the fine arts curriculum in New Brunswick needs to be updated. Some music and visual programs date back more than 20 years.

The organization recommends furthering a "comprehensive review" of arts curricula and the development of an assessment system that considers comprehension and application of the material.

Building for the future

The advocacy and awareness effort is the first in the organization's two-phase plan, Hancox said. The next stage is creating better access to the arts for students. That includes ArtsLink NB using grant money for field trips that showcase a life of working in the arts.

Hancox said most arts-related field trips are about taking in the art but not meeting the people behind it.

ArtsLink NB hosted a series of town halls with the aim of figuring out what kids are learning in art classes — and how to improve access to arts education across the province. (Submitted by ArtsLink NB)

"What we want to do is change that so they see the potential that's there in careers aspects, so they could have a viable career in the arts," she said.

An enhanced arts education helps develop the necessary skills to thrive in an "unpredictable, rapidly changing economy,"  Erik Edson, a fine arts professor at Mount Allison University and the project's chair, wrote in the report.

Those skills include understanding abstract ideas, critical and analytical thinking, risk-taking and entrepreneurship.

"Doubling down on the status quo practice of prioritizing science, math, and technology, without the fine arts, fails to prepare K-12 students adequately for today's creative knowledge-based economy."

The report cited the move by Memorial University to recruit more graduates from music programs into its school of medicine because the institution discovered "a musical background is a good predictor of success."