The Irish government of the past ten years has largely prioritised a STEM Education Policy (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) over STEAM (with the inclusion of Arts). There have been calls from the arts sector for more recognition and inclusion of arts in the policy agenda of Government. These calls have been acknowledged by the Minister of Culture, but there have been few concrete actions to divert from the STEM policy agenda or to widen it to include arts.
The importance of arts education has been emphasised continuously through numerous reports commissioned either by the Arts Council or through joint committees established between the Arts Council and the Department of Education going as far back as the 1970s. However, concrete actions from the Department of Education have been very slow to result from these reports.
There was some hope for change in 2012 when the Department of Education and Skills (DES) and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (DAHG) produced a joint commitment to promote and integrate the arts in education with the launch of the Arts in Education Charter (December 2012). The Charter placed a welcome emphasis on the importance of arts education. There was some concern within the arts community about the requirements set out within the charter for any artists in receipt of funding from government to give some time back within an arts in education context. It was pointed out that not all artists have the relevant skillset to do so. It was also pointed out that the arts funding was designed to give artists time to develop their practice. This requirement was not pursued post Charter.
The most concrete change after the Charter has been the introduction of the Creative Schools initiative of Creative Ireland. The Arts in Education Portal was another outcome of the Arts in Education Charter. The intention was to create a community of practice. However, it has been relatively underutilised post 2016.
The Teacher-Artist Partnership (TAP) is a Department of Education and Skills initiative, which commenced on a pilot basis in 2014/15 to enhance arts in education at primary school level. This initiative is guided by the principles expressed in the Charter and Pillar 1 (Creative Youth) of the Creative Ireland Programme (2017–2022).
The national curriculum for secondary level junior cycle’s (years 1-3) Visual Art subject sets out clear expectations for students, across the three integrated strands of art, craft and design. It aims to provide the student with a set of personal attitudes and qualities as well as skills, processes and a sense of the aesthetic. Through practical engagement in the areas of art, craft and design, ‘students will develop self-confidence, inquisitiveness, imagination, and creativity’. Junior cycle’s Music subject focuses on giving students the opportunity to develop their musical knowledge, skills and cultural awareness through practical and cognitive engagement with music. This can be achieved through the three interconnected strands: procedural knowledge, innovate and ideate, and culture and context.
Within the secondary level, the Leaving Certificate Art (including Crafts) exam programme is studied across four main areas of Art History and Appreciation, Still Life, Imaginative Composition, Design and Craftwork. These are all supported by the underlying use of observational studies, which enables students to build up a range of work and develop their skills and knowledge. A study of art forms of the past and present informs this work. The Leaving Certificate Design and Communication Graphics involves comprehending, analysing and communicating information presented verbally or graphically. Problem solving and creative thinking skills are developed through the analysis and solution of problems in both two and three dimensions graphics. Graphics and design are communicated using a variety of media, including computer-aided design (CAD). The main areas of study are: Plane and Descriptive Geometry, Communication of Design and Computer Graphics, and Applied Graphics.
Other subjects such as Classical Studies, Languages, Politics and Society, or History include the study of culture in their curricula from mainly a sociological perspective. A number of art forms such as Dance and Theatre remain at extra curricular level, which have the effect of impeding participation in these art forms for many through geographical or financial barriers. Achieving Leaving Certificate results in Music requires extra curricular tuition which also creates barriers.
In many instances, individual secondary level schools choose to not offer any arts education as a specific subject choice for students up to the final exams (Leaving Certificate), blaming lack of available staff resources or lack of student interest. On the other end of the spectrum, there are a minority of independent schools with the resources to offer special extra educational resources in this field (e.g. for music, fine arts, graphics). These private or semi-private schools generally require extra funding from parents for extra curricular tuition.