It’s time for Malaysian schools to start prioritising arts stream

Science stream is for smart students. Arts is for those who don’t get the goods grades. That’s just how it is in Malaysia.

I’m sure we’ve all heard that before, whether it was blatantly declared, or told to us in a more subtle form. It’s true, is it not?

Arts stream students are constantly referred to as “budak kelas last”, the class filled with underperforming students who are either delinquents, or simply bad at studies. Just gather them together in one class and segregate them from the science students. Better to focus on the ones that have potential, right?

In reality, this is a problematic and prevalent perception of arts students. The stigma surrounding the arts stream is so ingrained in our society that it’s planted into our minds from young, that science stream is the “better” option. And it’s an existing issue.

Students are pressured into taking science stream even if they’re not interested in it, or if their passions lie elsewhere. This can take a toll on them.

Consequently, those who take arts stream because of their passion for it would be forced to endure the prejudice and stereotypes that come with being an arts student, which could diminish their love for it. And the vicious cycle continues.

This mindset that claims arts to be inferior to science creates a disparity among the arts stream students and the science stream students – they’re playing on unequal ground.

To make matters worse, some teachers share these views and impose them on their students, depicting the arts stream as an “easy way out.”

The fact that this perception has endured for generations is quite demoralising. As we continue to develop into a better country, it’s time to quash erroneous stereotypes and let go of these unfair insinuations.

Arts subjects do provide a vast range of job opportunities. Companies value the experience in quite a number of them. Subjects such as accountancy and business are attractive to employers, and they are lucrative as well.

Perceiving arts as something that leads to freelance jobs paired with financial instability is a common misconception that imbues fear in students. Financial stability doesn’t come with merely pursuing science-based subjects.

Arts majors can build high-quality lives as well. Though the arts stream does not solely consist of art and design, the majority of the stereotypes come from the perception that it does.

Art is something that plays such a significant role in our culture, and it shouldn’t be looked down upon. Certainly not in a country where its rich culture is celebrated and promoted.

Students need to be able to express themselves in creative and original ways. Isn’t the expression of our imaginations something to be recognised and appreciated? We need to reform our attitude towards the arts, and begin to appreciate them for their merit.

We should encourage our students to express themselves in unique ways, and be more assertive in supporting their pursuits.

So, how can we ensure that arts subjects are being prioritised as well?

The government has already abolished the old system of streaming, in which there were only two categories to choose from, and is now allowing students more flexibility to choose subjects that they want with electives.

However, most parents are complaining that there is not much difference between this new system and the old way of streaming.

The reason may be that students have not been briefed properly on how the new process works. Due to this, the traditional perception of arts stream and science stream persists, hence students regress to this mindset when selecting subjects using the new system.

The solution is simple – schools should brief the students and parents clearly on how to select their subjects so that they can make informed decisions for their future.

Examples of various possibilities and the reason for them can be explained. In addition, just as there are Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programmes and campaigns conducted in schools, the same should be done for arts subjects as well, to equally cultivate interest in both.

Schools should invite successful alumni who took arts stream to talk to their juniors and share their education journey to inspire them to follow in similar footsteps. This would also assist in reducing the stereotype of arts students having limited career paths and ensure that the students are clear on what to do after school.

It’s 2023 – it’s about time we started acting like it. The stigma revolving around arts subjects should have been eradicated a long time ago. We’re all guilty of not having corrected this unjust perception, sooner.

Arts stream students are just as capable as any other student, and they deserve the chance to achieve greater heights without something as inconsequential as society’s perception, stopping them.

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