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Will the gifted blossom?

Will the gifted blossom?

ON A SATURDAY MORNING IN September, some four hundred twelve-year-olds will eagerly attend one of four centres spread across the breadth of Singapore. They arrive early, prepared for the day's activities with pencils, pastels, erasers, watercolours, a selection of brushes and small, sealed containers of water in which to wash their brushes. The more enterprising will bring along such additional paraphernalia as hand-held fans for expediting the drying process of their artistic endeavors. Each will be vying for one of only eighty places in the highly regarded Singapore Art Elective Programme.

While the youngsters undertake the two hour selection test inside the classrooms, anxious parents wait outside. Occasionally, a parent will press his/her nose against a windowpane, hoping to get a glimpse of how the child is faring inside. The expectations of both parents and children are high and the competition fierce.

The Art Elective Programme was conceived in the early 1980's. Following an overseas fact-finding mission, consultation with the Cambridge Exam Board, England, and the appointment of a test consultant, the aims, objectives and curriculum for the programme were formulated by the Republic of Singapore Ministry of Education.

The programme began in two secondary schools. Nanyang Girls High and Chinese High, employing two full-time teachers and a project officer. Fifty students were enrolled. Now in its fifth year of operation, the programme is fully established and has been expanded to incorporate three additional school sites. The programme now has an enrollment of about 450 students. The eleven full-time art teachers the programme now employs, represent art education training or teaching in Australia, Britain, Canada, Singapore, Taiwan and the United States, providing a rich mix of international experience.

Competition and selection

Unlike many education systems, high school students in Singapore do not usually attend their regional high schools. This is because entry into a high school is selective, being based on the Primary School Leaving Examination taken at the end of primary school. Entry into the more prestigious schools is highly competitive. On any school day in Singapore, as early as six in the morning, students neatly attired in their respective school uniforms can be seen commuting from one part of the island to another. Indeed, it is not uncommon to find students who commute over one hour every day from across the causeway in neighboring Malaysia to attend one of the more prestigious schools.

To qualify for the Art Elective Programme, students must not only perform well in the Art Selection Test, but also meet the entry requirements of one of the five schools where the programme is offered. Consequently, students enrolled in the Art Elective Programme tend to be both artistically and academically gifted.

"My primary school teacher first told me about the A.E.P....woodcarving, watercolours, posters and sculpture were things I had never tried. Having loved artwork since I was very young, the activities sounded very attractive to me, so I became very interested," recalls He Shaojuan, a student of the programme.

Since the programme's inception, the selection procedure has been substantially modified. Originally, an on-the-spot drawing and painting test was combined with the Torrance Creativity Test to provide candidates with a composite score. However, it was felt a better selection procedure could be devised. In 1986, Dr. Gilbert Clark from Indiana University was appointed Test Consultant. The recommendations he made have been adopted with minor modifications to suit local conditions. The art selection test to be held this year consists of an observational drawing test, a drawing test employing the Clark-Gareri drawing instrument and a self-evaluation questionnaire.

The curriculum

Students entering the Art Elective Programme undertake study in four broad areas: Drawing and Painting, Design, Project Work and A Study of Art: Historical and Critical. This is a much more demanding syllabus than that for the General Art Programme, the ordinary art course that is taught in all secondary schools in Singapore. Students in the General Art Programme are required to study only three of the four areas outlined above. Other features that distinguish the Art Elective from the General Art Programme are: greater emphasis on art appreciation, much more time allotted for students' art studies, all teachers hold a graduate degree, heavy funding by the Ministry of Education, exposure to a greater range of experiences, media and skills, and enrichment enrichment activities conducted as an integral part of the programme.

Traditionally, enrichment activities include a three day, live-in camp for all Secondary Two students (14-year-olds), and a one-week painting and drawing tour to destinations such as Malaysia and Thailand for Secondary Three students (15-year-olds). Such tours provide students with a source for artistic expression outside of their normal environment. Students visit areas of cultural importance as well as handicraft centres. Sketches, watercolour studies and photographs are made of places of interest. Other enrichment activities have been as diverse as an Art History Tour of Bali and Java for junior college students, participation by representatives at the Indiana University Summer Arts Institute and participation in a Summer Arts Camp In Sapporo, Japan.

Tours to museums, galleries, studios, exhibitions, sculpture parks and workshops are regularly organized for class groups by their teachers as an important part of the programme. Artists and guest lecturers are invited into the schools, and visits to places of interest such as the zoo, gardens, birdparks and local islands provide a rich source of ideas for the students' work.

The eleven teachers in the programme are encouraged to work in close cooperation. Regular meetings provide the opportunity to share ideas and experiences as well as to formulate policies and direction. Teachers are required to upgrade their skills and knowledge continually through attendance at in-service courses, workshops and lectures. The idea of the artist/art teacher is fostered through the annual Teachers' Art Exhibition held at the National Museum Art Gallery.

Although the curriculum is carefully structured, it provides enough flexibility for teachers to modify it to the specific needs of their students. One student may work in a traditional Chinese brush-painting style alongside an expressionist working in acrylics in the same drawing and painting class. Likewise, the design curriculum allows for specialization in either graphic, environmental or structural design, or fashion, fabric and jewelry design. Graphics alone includes poster, record-cover, package and book-cover design as well as calligraphy. Students are encouraged to develop an interest in a particular area.

The art history component is also diverse. A study of Singapore Art and Architecture and influences on its development, Chinese, Malay, Indian and Colonial, is compulsory. A study of Nineteenth Century Painting, Twentieth Century Art or the Art of Asia are elective areas, of which at least one must be studied.

With the evolution of the programme it is becoming evident that each of the five centres is developing distinguishing characteristics as they tend to specialize in various areas of project work dependent on the interests and needs of the students and the expertise of the teachers. One school tends to specialize in printmaking, ceramics and sculpture, while the next emphasizes photography, costume design and puppetry.

Considering the academic ability of the students qualifying for the programme, most will set their sights on a university education and a professional career and it is likely that few will directly enter the arts field. Of those graduating from the programme in 1987, about twenty percent continued their studies in art. Students entering the Art Elective Programme receive an enriched and accelerated programme in the arts, providing them with a broader education and outlook. They will have been exposed to a wide range of artistic experiences, media, skills and techniques, developing specialization in specific areas and their understanding of the creative process. But perhaps most importantly, it is hoped that they will be imbued for life with an understanding of the history of art plus a heightened aesthetic awareness and a sympathy for, if not a love of, the arts.

PHOTO : Fifteen-year-old Dee Chia shows her completed lino block print.

PHOTO : Earthenware forms from art camp for 14-year-old students.

PHOTO : "Dog and Dolphin," an acrylic painting by Koh Ying Fung, age 16.

PHOTO : Reduction lino block print by Mei Ling, age 16.

PHOTO : Two earthenware pots by Huang Lihua, age 16.

PHOTO : Self-portrait by 15-year-old Ma Shufen.
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Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:the Singapore Art Elective Programme
Author:Ellis, Neville
Publication:School Arts
Date:May 1, 1989
Previous Article:Child to child.
Next Article:Faith Ringgold: artist-storyteller.

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