Arts education in South Africa -reflections from Janet Lindley, Board Secretary

1 Mar 2024

ASSITEJ South Africa and Arts Education in South Africa

When South Africa was democratised in 1994, an inherent understanding of the role that the arts play in assisting to ensure the integrity, strength and success of any society was powerfully demonstrated by it being included as part of the cultural policy of the new South African Constitution. In this document it is stated that access to, participation in and enjoyment of the arts, free expression of all cultures and the preservation of one’s heritage are basic human rights; they are not luxuries, nor are they privileges, as one is generally led to believe.

This statement was also highlighted in the White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage which was adopted by the new South African democracy in 1996, with a recommendation that Arts and Culture be offered in all schools. The then Department of Education incorporated this aspect of cultural policy when devising their new educational policy, and Arts and Culture was introduced as a compulsory learning area in all South African schools as part of the Outcomes Based Education (OBE) system that was launched as Curriculum 2005 (C2005) in South Africa in March 1997 by the National Department of Education.

There were many institutions, organisation and individuals who played vital roles in ensuring that the Creative Arts remain an integral part of the learning experience of every South African child during this time of tumultuous change and reconfiguration of the national education system. ASSITEJ SA picked up the baton when founded in 2007 and became an active participant in an ongoing process. Yvette and her team achieved this through an incredible amount of advocacy, hard work and a number of amazing and innovative programmes and projects, one of which is the Kickstarter Education Empowerment project which commenced in January 2015 and has since empowered a number of creative arts teachers and local artist facilitators within many South African contexts.

The Kickstarter programme is based on the Creative Voices’ programme which was established in South Africa in 1999 to address the shortage of skilled Arts and Culture teachers in South African schools at the time. It was set up in partnership with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London and the National School of the Arts in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. The goal of the programme was to enable primary school Arts and Culture teachers to introduce music, dance, drama and visual arts to their learners through the facilitation of democratic, student-led and process-driven arts education sessions.

The Creative Voices programme was based on the “Write an Opera” (WaO) course designed in the USA in the 1980s to be a non-threatening and inclusive way of introducing opera to young children. It facilitated young people through a carefully crafted, democratic process which enabled them to write their own original operas. This model was adopted by the education programme of the Royal Opera House (ROH), Covent Garden, London, in the early 1990s and implemented in primary schools as an arts-enrichment course for teachers. The focus shifted slightly from being an introduction to opera to a methodology for teaching music, drama and visual art in the classroom through the creation of original operas. Creative Arts teachers attended workshops facilitated by arts and education specialists and were then mentored through the process of implementing the content of those workshops within their own classrooms. The workshops were curriculum based in order to ensure that they did not increase the workload of the teachers, but they encouraged a far more inclusive teaching methodology than is often used in classrooms.

When this education programme was introduced in South Africa through Creative Voices in 1999, the material was adjusted to suit the South African National Curriculum Statement (NCS) Outcomes Based Arts and Culture curriculum of the time, and a dance component was added. A consistent reworking of the material was achieved through ongoing consultation with leading South African educators and arts practitioners in order to ensure it was relevant to current educational requirements and always embedded within a uniquely South Africa context. The resulting programme also took into consideration that the teachers may have no formal or informal training in any of these arts disciplines at all. One aspect of the original programme that was not amended, however, was that the methodology had to be such that the creativity and originality of the child was never questioned, imposed upon or compromised; it had to be assumed from the outset that each child was perfectly capable of contributing positively towards the design and composition of an original opera.

The Creative Voices’ and Kickstarter programmes have been offered to thousands of appreciative teachers and learners throughout South Africa from 1999 through to today and have created an inclusive and innovative teaching methodology that will hopefully be continued successfully into a new and exciting future for both Kickstarter and Arts Education.


I believe, as expressed by Jacques Rancière, that the “words and images, stories and performances” that we find in all art forms have the potential to “change something of the world we live in”[1]. The arts provide children with a space, not only to listen, but to tell their own stories. Both the storyteller and the listener become persons engaged in constructing and reconstructing the realities around them. The inclusion of quality Arts Education in our schools through the ASSITEJ SA Kickstarter programme empowers our teachers and learners to tell their stories in ways that enable the teaching and learning process to become fluid and shared; an enriching experience for all involved that can positively impact the way our young people engage with themselves and the ever changing world they inhabit; a world we are all responsible for positively impacting in order that it may, in turn, offer the same to the children of its future.

[1] Rancière, J. 1991. The Ignorant Schoolmaster. Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Translated by Kristin Ross. California: Stanford University Press

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