Teaching Art Against the Norm
By Moses Serubiri
In the art room of Greenhill Academy Secondary school in Kampala, students have been transformed from carrying just a pencil and sketchpad to textbooks and notebooks. For most of these students art was never theoretical, now they are pushed to research and write essays on the subjects of Renaissance art and Greek and Roman architecture.
When the current changes in the syllabus took effect last year, a curriculum was issued at the school detailing restructuring in the art and design syllabus. At A’ Level the number of arts papers came down from seven to five: Nature was joined with Still Life; Living Person with Imaginative Composition while History and Art Appreciation were reintroduced.
Art teacher, Apollonius Senkatuka, says that the real problem with teaching History and Art Appreciation is the textbooks. The textual materials were not available in bookshops making it difficult for the students to start the theory and history classes.
Art, unlike other core subjects on the secondary school’s curriculum, did not have a comprehensive list of reference books in 2012. That list grew over the course of 2013, making it compulsory for high school art students to debate, critique and carryout research. This new art and design syllabus challenges the common fiction that anyone can do art!
In Uganda art is widely considered trivial, despite the success of design, craft, advertising, fashion, and film. Parents instil the notion that science is honourable, profitable and patriotic in their children. These parents discourage their children from studying art, calling it useless, foreign, and unprofitable.
This is confirmed by Francis Twesigawe, Deputy Head-teacher at Greenhill Academy Secondary noting that the private school’s prioritises both science and art. “We need scientists, but you could also have a musician,” he says. It becomes clear in the course of our conversation that parents reject the arts talent of their children even when they show poor aptitude for science subjects.
An inquiry on the number of Greenhill alumni currently studying art at Makerere University has been fruitless. The intake at Makerere is considerably lower than other universities because government scholarships favour sciences over the arts. The triviality of art is not just colloquial fiction, but is also institutionalised. Art students rarely receive any government financial support.
However, a new creative arts curriculum draft proposal, released on 31 Oct. 2013 under the National Curriculum Development Centre might suggest a shift. The current Education Minister, Jessica Alupo, writes in the foreword that art education will sustain Uganda’s culture, history and heritage; students of art will become active citizens of the communities in which they live and work.
In the creative arts syllabus module entitled ‘Responding to contemporary arts’, students engage with questions pertinent to today’s contemporary art scene. They are examined on how contemporary art has enabled their understanding of Ugandan cultural identity. With this they might be able to see their society through an artistic lens, rather than under a microscope.
Serubri Moses is a writer, musician and photographer. He currently works as Associate Editor for Start Journal