Is arts school needed for students to pursue non-arts future?

I read with disappointment and concern that a majority of the School of the Arts (Sota) graduates have chosen to pursue non-arts related courses in universities (Moving onto a different track - thanks to School of the Arts; May 16).

The article seems to view in a positive light the fact that the number of Sota students pursuing a non-arts related degree has increased to 83 per cent in 2015.

This means that only 17 per cent of Sota students enrolled in arts-related courses in tertiary institutions.

The staggering number of students from a specialised arts school designed to provide a first-class arts education dropping arts when they enter university is extremely disconcerting.

While Sota students are free to pursue whatever courses that they wish, it is only reasonable to ask why such a tiny percentage of them have gone on the arts-related track.

This leads me to question the purpose of an arts school and its very existence.

I am concerned that its purpose seems to be driven, first and foremost, by pragmatic reasons.

The statistics send the signal that, ultimately, a career in the arts is just not an economically viable one and that it is enough to give children some exposure to the arts or to take it up as a sort of enrichment.

Sota seems to be a space that grooms individuals who can then apply their creativity in mainstream subjects and, ultimately, in traditionally lucrative jobs.

The decision to pursue a non-arts related discipline may very well be attributed to societal and parental pressure.

The statistics quoted in the article send the signal that, ultimately, a career in the arts is just not an economically viable one and that it is enough to give children some exposure to the arts or to take it up as a sort of enrichment.

If that is the goal of sending children to Sota, then it needs to be carefully re-examined because training in the arts consumes a lot of resources, not to mention that some of the best artists are employed to mentor the students.

While there has been a lot of discussion recently about introducing the arts to children at the pre-school level, the revelation that some of our artistically passionate students are going on to study in other fields is not a development that we should be shouting about.

It is rather sad that the general mindset about the "starving artist" remains as strong as ever.

Jeffrey Say Seck Leong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2017, with the headline 'Is arts school needed for students to pursue non-arts future?'. Print Edition | Subscribe