This issue of Drama Research is unusual in that all the articles focus primarily on work with Primary age young people and in countries other than England: Turkey, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland.
Dr. Andrew Killen and Pauline Cooney in their article, Discovering the value of ‘not knowing’.. Using drama for a deeper understanding of pedagogy and learning, are taking their first excursion into research by focusing on the benefits for primary school teachers from using autoethnography methodology to support them in an ever increasing challenging working environment facing the profession, particularly in Scotland but also more widely.
For those not familiar with the term, autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience in order to understand cultural experience. As a method, autoethnography is both process and product.
One of the key challenges to teachers that the researchers identify is the problem of a diminishing sense of autonomy. Government initiatives have created an environment largely of compliance with such initiatives; and so the concept of professional development has shifted from one of developing competence in subjects to one of knowledge of the latest requirements and how to achieve externally imposed targets.
This has resulted in an erosion of autonomy for teachers: within a wider context, a target‐driven instrumental process and framework have resulted in
‘reflective practice becoming a chimera, denuded of most of its original
meaning’ (Bradbury et al 2010:194).
Their argument is that developing a process of autoethnography, especially while teaching a programme based on Drama, has the potential to restore this autonomy and sense of ownership of the teaching process and makes the process of reflective practice a meaningful undertaking. A teaching body which is disempowered, they argue, is a teaching body that is ineffective.
Their fascinating and well researched study outlines the components of an approach through autoethnography and Drama, the challenges for the teachers and how those challenges were met, and some of the issues that arise through the demands of rigorous reflection and self-reflection.
By way of contrast, the focus of study for Hasan Akbulut and Ruken Akar Vural is an outward rather than an inward one, so to speak. In Drama in Education as one of the Opportunities of Cross‐Cultural Pedagogy they describe what is meant by ‘Cross-Culture’ and different approaches to Pedagogy which are at the service of facilitating this approach. ‘Cross‐cultural pedagogy’ can be defined as
‘..learning how we perceive what is different from us. It is based on ourselves. It is related to our friends and how we work together to create a just society. It is related to how societies can be associated to each other to support equality, cooperation and opportunities for everyone. It is related to place respect and support esteem especially in cases where some take place in minority and some in majority’ (Gillart et al 2000: 97).
At the heart of their argument is the concept that Drama is an aspect of this kind of social learning which
‘covers the ability to put oneself in others’ shoes and feel what they feel, in other words empathy, tolerance, accepting the cultural differentiation, and getting over self and race centred behaviours and destroying prejudices’ (Auernheimer, 2003: 129).
The authors evaluate the effectiveness in this respect of a theatre piece by Big Brum Theatre Company, Suitcase, in China and in Malta; and of a Sibling Tales Workshop conducted with children from Turkey and Syria; and, in conclusion, draw up a list of eight suggested actions which can make cross cultural pedagogy more accessible to the world’s children.
In their article, The Impact of Live Performance in Primary Schools in Ireland: A Case Study of the Abbey Theatre’s Priming the Canon Programme, Dr. Carmel O’Sullivan, Heidi Schoenenberger and Philip Kingston report
‘..on a study conducted with the Community and Education Department at the Abbey Theatre, the National Theatre of Ireland. It evaluates the impact of high quality theatre performance in primary schools, and the relationship between artistic integrity and curricular demands.’
The background to the study was the publication by the Irish Government in 2013 of the Arts in Education Charter which
‘heralded the way for a national discourse around the provision of high quality arts in education experiences for children and young people in Ireland.’
Teachers in the UK may regard with some envy their colleagues in Ireland who are blessed by the fact that the Irish Government has made such a public requirement for the arts to be valued by schools and has made
‘new obligations on arts organisations in receipt of public funding to include arts in education as part of their programme of work.’
However, the authors identify a number of issues relating the concept of ‘arts in education’ as stated by the well-meaning Charter:
‘The ambition expressed in the Charter belies the reality of arts practice where a traditional divide between high art and culture is still at a considerable remove from arts education in schools. A perception that involvement in educational endeavours necessarily involves a dilution of the art form still prevails, and posits that art and education cannot work together in a way that surpasses the rudimentary.’
This well researched and well written article explores and evaluates the tensions arising from such lack of definition particularly in Drama/Theatre education in Irish Primary schools through the lens of a theatre in education programme, Me, Michael, organised by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. With the comprehensive range of evidence gathered from pupils, teachers and actors alike this study must stand as an important contribution to the discussion about the effectiveness and direction of the Charter and the place of the arts in Irish schools that it seeks to promote. Fortunately its conclusion is a positive one:
‘This study testifies that where an arts organisation remains true to its core mission, there is no dilution of the arts experience for students in schools, and there is every potential for a truly meaningful partnership between artists and education.’
It is a very heartening conclusion, located as it is in the Irish context. Perhaps it holds lessons for the arts in education in the UK but I fear that the issues facing the arts in schools in the UK are of a totally different dimension. There is currently no place for them in the UK Government’s new English Baccalaureate (EBacc) programme, and it is hard for teachers of the arts in the UK to conceive its own Government introducing an Arts in Education Charter. However flawed such a Charter may be, it is, perhaps, something that teachers of the arts in the UK would find most welcome in the current educational climate.
Viv Kerridge, Amanda Kipling, Chris Lawrence and Nicky Toneri.
Drama Research Editorial Board.