Are the Arts and Humanities a Dying Breed?

In an increasingly digital world, the pressure to be tech savvy is growing fast! Whether it’s schoolchildren with online homework tasks, university students being taught remotely or the new #workingfromhome trend, it is undeniable that our society is increasingly centred around screens.

This, to me, is obviously linked to the obsession with STEM subjects. Big schemes about getting women into STEM and the value of jobs in science have pushed careers in Science and Technology to the forefront for the impressionable student and the curious career changer. I am a firm believer in the promotion of accessibility, whether this is an issue of gender, race or class.

2020 has made it clear that there is a systematic devaluation of the Arts and the Humanities in the UK. In a time of national lockdown and widespread fear, so many of us found ourselves gravitating to film, literature, music, games – all forms of art. And yet, when asked, the Government took far too long to provide the essential injection of cash into the arts sector. The ‘lifeline’ came far too late for far too many, and left many people disillusioned with the efforts made. The creative industries contributed £111.7 billion in 2018, which works out as £306 million per day.* The growth in this sector is up 7.4%, which is more than five times larger than the UK economy’s growth as whole.* As a sector that has so much growth and potential, both creatively and financially, it is baffling as to why we would discourage people pursuing these careers.

Within the last week, we have seen a continuation of the Humanities and the Arts being labelled unimportant or unsuitable as career options. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is encouraging the nation to consider new opportunities in light of the pandemic leaving so many jobless, but the subsequent infographics seen across social media have been all too targeted towards the arts. Many of us will be familiar with the ‘Fatima’s next job could be in cyber‘ adverts that are circulating, and with the accompanying mockery that is being made of these types of ads.

This narrative suggests that a career in the Humanities and Arts requires you to retrain later in life, or that it’s not worth training in the Arts at all. This is a narrative that we simply must reject. For one, the job market is already saturated with trained applicants, so raising the competition for the already limited roles available will cause more problems than it could ever solve. Second of all, this is pushing a dangerous message that people should all be searching for jobs that require degrees and higher education. This is not an option for everyone; it may not be accessible for some and will not be suited to others. Finally, and arguably most importantly, the careers available for non-STEM backgrounds are both viable and valuable in and of themselves. No one person can say that their life is void of the services that Humanities and Arts can provide. Both the intrinsic and instrumental value of the Humanities and the Arts are so great and we should be encouraging people to pursue what they are passionate about, not striving for a technological, cultureless society.

The announcement of teacher training bursaries for 2021/22 may be unfathomably damning for the survival of the Humanities. Bursaries for Arts and Humanities subjects such as English, RE and History have been scrapped altogether. Bursaries for Computing, Physics, Maths and Chemistry sit at £24,000 for the year. £24,000. The bursary for an RE trainee is £0, in spite of the fact that it is a shortage subject and has too few specialists already. Many people believe that the bursary afforded to trainee teachers is too high, and to some end I agree. But what should be recognised is that the year of Initial Teacher Training is incredibly time-consuming, and this means that it is rarely possible for someone to have a part-time job alongside their studies. The bursaries trainees receive make teacher training accessible to people of all backgrounds and certainly enables people to pursue their passion. Because of this blatant preference for STEM, teaching the Humanities and the Arts will become inaccessible to a great number of potential teachers and leave these subjects without specialists – and potentially lead to them being dismissed altogether.

Fostering an appreciation for the Arts and the Humanities in young people is essential. The escape they can provide, the cultural understanding, the simple entertainment. There are endless reasons for us to find value in the Humanities and in the Arts, and we must continue to be aware of those. This is not to say that maths, engineering and sciences aren’t of value; they’re just not superior! It is crucial that we celebrate the subjects that give us culture and foster our sense of self. We certainly cannot dismiss them as useless and unimportant, and we must challenge the narrative that they are inferior.

Photo courtesy of Khara Woods

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