Urgent Reforms are needed for Sri Lanka’s Art Education

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Education is the most important thing one can have. It uplifts lives, societies, and countries. Education is not merely qualifying in exams or degrees; that is only a part of education.

True education is the foundation of a sustainable society and healthy (mentally and physically) citizens.

Although Sri Lanka boasts of having a high rate of literacy in the region, has our education system really succeeded? Or has it failed? Looking at many aspects of our society today, we feel that in many of those aspects, as a country, we are deteriorating.

Leaving all other aspects aside, when it comes to humanity and the moral aspect of our society, we hardly doubt if we are improving or rapidly degrading our values. It is true that compared to many countries, our level of humanity, sensitivity, and consideration for others and the safety of others is relatively high, yet, we can witness and experience that humanity, kindness, and compassion are rapidly fading away among many.

People are becoming more and more selfish and self-centred day by day and more and more isolated. Modern technology is indeed one reason for this; but if we look deeply, it can be said that due to the misuse of technology this has happened and it is not the fault of technology but of those who misuse it.

Secondly, the highly competitive education system we have today can be seen as a major reason behind this. Students at a very early age of their life are taught to be competitive, to defeat their friends, to score better than others, etc. This mindset creates a generation of citizens who are self-centred and selfish, and also who are insensitive toward others and their environment.

One major fault in our education is that it lacks the importance given to aesthetic studies. Especially, the weight given to visual arts in our school education system is disappointing. Although a notable weight is given to performing arts, visual arts are not taught in their true essence and visual arts are not given their importance in school education in Sri Lanka.

Visual arts, drawing, and painting are taught as boring subjects that are mainly confined to only drawing what the teacher instructs and a few theory lessons, which the students are meant to by-heart, instead of understanding. The theories and science behind drawing and painting techniques and methods are not taught to students and they are not very well exposed to the wonderful world of arts.

In most of the art periods of Sri Lankans, teachers give a topic in which the students are supposed to sit and draw. The teacher would grade the work after they finish it and compare them with each other, which is a horrible thing to do. Also, this system of grading is unfair to the students as they are not taught or guided on how to produce good artwork. Most of the time the teacher is seated throughout the period and is not giving each student individual attention. Art is a personal experience for each student and it differs from person to person. Therefore, individual attention is a must.

Drawing is not just applying colours to a canvas. There is a great deal of thinking behind it. A good artwork means, good composition, correct use of colour, correctly using the colour theory, correct use of suitable techniques and methods, etc. These should be taught to students by the teacher.

Correcting or grading an artwork of a student at the end of the art period is not at all correct. The student must be given step-by-step guidance and the teacher must demonstrate. Also, teaching the theories behind the process of drawing, helps the student to understand the science and math behind the drawing, thus making it quite easy for the student. This science and math behind the art is understanding and practising using the correct coordination between the eye-mind and hand. This gives the result of the student’s correct understanding of perspective, colour theory, and also all the other theories of drawing. Without knowing the science and math behind the art, it will be a forever struggle for art students.

Also, it is essential to introduce great masterpieces and great artists to students at a very early age. This is not happening at schools. Only a few names of an artist or two are mentioned in school art periods and that is all. The lesson known as Copying from the master is not practised in the school art syllabus. This is the easiest way to train students to practically understand art techniques and methods.

Today in the Sri Lankan education system, art has become merely a subject that students must sit for an exam and pass. It has lost its true value and the true essence of art is not given to students in art.

Introducing degrees in visual arts has sadly increased this issue, instead of helping in improving arts education among Sri Lankans. It has once again created a highly competitive commercial background for artists, and mainly focuses on their paper qualifications.

We need strong and serious reforms in our arts education at schools as well as universities if we are producing great artists and great masterpieces to the world of art.

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy