Debate over arts school's purpose

The SOTA campus in Dhoby Ghaut.
The SOTA campus in Dhoby Ghaut. ST FILE PHOTO

The School of The Arts was set up in 2008 and is one of four specialised independent schools here catering to students with talents and strong interests in specific fields. Earlier this month, a Straits Times report on how over 70 per cent of its graduates pursue non-arts-related university courses sparked discussion.

Sota usually accepts students into its six-year integrated arts and academic programme when they are 12. Students have to audition for their art forms, attend an interview and take academic tests.

Many questioned the purpose of an arts school when only 30 per cent of graduates on average pursue the arts at university.

The Straits Times Forum writer Jeffrey Say felt that Sota has become "a space that grooms individuals who can then apply their creativity in mainstream subjects and, ultimately, in traditionally lucrative jobs". "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," he added.

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However, the Singapore Drama Educators Association said that an arts education will develop artistic disposition and critical thinking, skills that are "transferable to all facets of life".

Sota students have also spoken out. "How do we expect 12-year-olds to promise to be artists?" Sota alumni Clarise Ong, 20, questioned in her blog post.

A current Year 6 student said that "such a metric should (not) be used as an indicator of Sota's success as the school is meant to nurture patrons of the arts as well as artists".

Six years ago, at the school's official opening, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong forecast that "many of the Sota graduates will go on to professions which are not directly involved with the aesthetics". "Our hope is not to produce a single peak of excellence, along which everybody is trying to climb, but a whole mountain range with many peaks," he said.

Winnie Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'Debate over arts school's purpose'. Print Edition | Subscribe