Art for art's sake boosts learning in our schools
From shooting a film to watching a play, participation in the arts improves a child's education.
A real-life Pope Francis appears and blesses the Mayo football team, hoping to lift the curse that has supposedly bedevilled the county since they last won the All Ireland in 1951.
Dr Eva from Operation Transformation appears on film to advise the Mayo team to eat pumpkin seeds, while another character travels by time machine to 1951.
This is not some wacky comedy show on RTE 2 on a Wednesday night, but a video produced by children at the one-teacher Killocraun National School, near Ballina, Co Mayo.
The video is one of the finalists in this year's FíS Film Festival, a scheme for schools, where classes make short films themselves.
In another film by children at Lauragh National School, Killarney, the story is told of two gruesome murders in a valley on the Beara peninsula.
The growth of FíS (Film in Schools) is part of the new emphasis on the arts and creativity in schools. The film project is jointly backed by IADT, Dun Laoghaire and the Professional Development Service for Teachers.
A recent Arts in Education charter produced by the government emphasised the importance of boosting creativity in schools.
The primary curriculum states that arts education is vital in helping to promote thinking skills, imagination and sensitivity.
Sean Gallagher of the Professional Development Service for Teachers says: "Forty years ago, everyone's ability in school was gauged by a child's ability to write. Now children have the opportunity to express themselves through the visual arts as well.
"If they have fantastic ideas and stories in their heads, they have a new way of expressing those ideas and making them come to life in a film.
"Writing is still important, of course, because they still have to script the film. They have to put together the stories and develop the characters and theme."
The video entries for the FíS Film award are enormously varied in content - from re-enactments of local events such as battles to science-fiction fantasies and comedies.
Last year's winner was St Colman's school, Ballymote, Co Mayo. Children from the school recreated the life of pupils at the school 80 years previously.
This was based on a filmed interview with a local 94-year-old, Tom Finn, who had attended the school. He told how there was no running water and the children walked to school in their bare feet.
Sean Gallagher says: "There is educational value in making these films. The primary- school curriculum is based on active learning methodologies. There is a strong emphasis in the curriculum on collaborative and co-operative learning. Film-making really brings these to the fore.
"The children can also acquire acting skills, and learn about camerawork and costume design. It also builds digital proficiency in students. Some school might have expensive cameras but a lot of the films are made using fairly basic equipment such as iPads."
The charter on Arts in Education emphasises importance of active involvement of artists and theatres in schools. The charter published last year indicated that subsidised artists would have to give two hours of their time in schools.
Theatres and concert halls would have to offer discounted tickets costing €5 to schoolchildren.
At the Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar, access officer Orla Henihan believes it is hugely important to offer high quality arts experiences for children. Next week the centre hosts the annual RoolaBoola Children's Arts Festival. It includes theatre performances, Sean Nos dancing and workshops on illustration, puppeteering and circus skills (for the programme see thelinenhall.com).
So how do you engage primary school children with the arts?
Orla Henihan says: "You have to present top quality work. Live theatre helps to fire the imagination of children and boosts literacy.
"It is the teachers in school who deliver the curriculum," says Ms Henihan. "By putting on theatre performances and holding visual arts workshops for 3,500 students every year we hope to enrich the school experience."
Make drama out of crisis
Research at the University of California by Dr James Catterall shows that consistent participation in the arts by school pupils greatly improves academic performance.
The study of 25,000 pupil found that children who get involved in the arts also have greater community involvement and are less likely to drop out of school. The benefits of music, drama and visual arts apply across all socio-economic groups, the research says.
The arts are important in the school experience, Dr Catterall says, because they have been shown to promote cognitive development.
To take one example, Dr Caterall says, music instruction can help in the perception and comprehension of mathematical structure.
The researchers also concluded that the arts are linked to greater student motivation and engagement in school.