Most people are familiar with the Chinese proverb “tell me and I will forget. Show me and I will remember. Involve me and I will understand. Step back and I will act”. Theatre in education is the embodiment of this sentiment. Embracing the pupil as an active participant in the learning process. This empowers the pupil, giving them a sense of ownership of their learning journey and their engagement with the subject. Through this engagement pupils develop a deeper understanding and a confidence which enables them to progress, deliver and achieve within their chosen field.
Theatre in education derives from the sixties, a time of radical change, and a need to move away from outdated methods. The aim was to replace these methods with a model which enabled pupils to “learn through experience”.
The learning process is a hot topic for academic debate, with various theories identifying three to eight different learning styles. A common theme, however, seems to be a practical element that utilises a variety of skills. A visual element is usually present, the utilisation of images and a spatial understanding. Auditory aspects such as sound and music as well as the voice can be found. A physicality, the use of the body and the senses can also be identified in various learning models. All of these approaches are fundamental in theatre and the use of drama in education. From this, we can surmise that in a class full of pupils with a variety of learning preferences, a large percentage of those pupils would most likely have a leaning towards one of the above learning styles. Therefore there is a high probability that they would be able to access the topic and the learning objectives effectively if the topic were to be explored through drama.
Theatre in education has the potential to make the traditional “stand and deliver” approach to teaching a thing of the past. Making the curriculum accessible to pupils is only one aspect of drama in education. Pupils benefit hugely from the opportunities theatre in education provide for personal development.
All children in the UK are entitled to an education. Why? To prepare them socially, emotionally and intellectually for adulthood and the world of employment. With professions that differ as Antarctica and the Sahara, how do you prepare young people for the workplace? Transferable skills provide pupils with strong foundations to build on.
Transferable skills is a phrase that is often thrown around, with little consideration. The application of it in this context, however, is more than appropriate.
Before pupils can think about having a job, they have to be able to recognise their skills and strengths. Konstantin Stanislavski, the grandfather of acting technique, believed that acting requires a mastery of the self, a development of critical thinking and analysis, a key skill that can be found in a variety of sectors.
Good interview technique requires confidence, presentation skills, people skills, listening, acting and reacting. These are all key skills inherent within theatre. Team work, conscientiousness, discipline, motivation and initiative are all desirable qualities in an employee and are all intrinsically linked to drama and theatre in education.
Relationships can take years to build and seconds to destroy. So much of human interaction is dependent on the successful negotiation of relationships. A key feature of understanding relationships is empathy. To be able to not only put oneself in another person’s position but to make a personal emotional connection. It is through this window that we can start to glimpse understanding. Understanding of a different time or different people. Theatre in education utilises this concept to initiate investigations into hard to stomach areas such as bullying, terrorism and e-safety.
How can a twenty first century pupil understand what it was like growing up in Nazi Germany? Explorations into forum theatre and acting technique can make this possible.
Why is this important? In the last century we have seen the invention of the airplane, the internet and amazing medical advancements such as face and heart transplants. There have also been moments of great tragedy in the history of humanity. There is a disparity here; despite our technological advancements, humanity still engages in crimes that are centuries old. We must ask ourselves; does mankind have the ability to become as evolved as the technology we create?
By harnessing the power of theatre in education, of empathy and understanding, we are giving the next generation the tools to learn from the mistakes and pitfalls of their predecessors. We are giving them the potential to evolve. To make that mental shift in thinking and pave the way for a brighter future.