The attitude of creative inferiority
The ‘creative subjects’ are neglected as ways of offsetting the stress of rigorous academia rather than holding their own intellectual merit. They are often condescendingly regarded as therapeutic outlets, as studying them (of course) expends no real effort; a sentiment echoed only last year by Lord Nash, then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department for Education, when he claimed that these subjects are chosen “because they [are] easier”. They should, however, be recognised as ways of cultivating our potential as creators and innovators equipped to readily engage with the world and our society.
The (mis)conception underpinning the view of creative inferiority is that this work is of little value to society and the modern world. However, it is naïve to think that we can live without the products of art or creativity. The entertainment industry – for one – would inevitably collapse: where is the provision for future filmmakers, writers, actors, musicians, artists and performers? Our culture will greatly suffer while our work lives are stifled by algorithms and utilitarian manual labour.
Consequences of STEM priority
The regressive practice of disparaging academic disciplines betrays the ultimate objective of education and work, preventing a diverse study programme and promoting competition above collaboration with a subject hierarchy. Instead, this attitude engenders a monopoly of subjects controlling the graduate market and consequently both employers’ and students’ autonomy. Equally, it challenges and undermines the reasons for which people are employed: is it to mechanically calculate equations and perform functions any computer or robot could manage more efficiently, or for their logic, initiative and communication proficiency?
Devaluation of non-STEM subjects also contradicts the student experience where the focus is surely on introducing a variety of subjects in which to find their own interests; we cannot promote independent, free-thinking proactivity whilst impeding students’ opportunities to employ this. The stigmatisation misleads students away from the wealth of employment options – with estimations of up to one million UK jobs created in this field by 2030– ultimately denying them the support to freely choose their own career. It seems counter-intuitive at best that, in a time when increasingly fierce competition and a volatile economic climate threaten career variety, we are discrediting such a significant sector.
Importance of non-STEM subjects
Financially, it is a vital and substantial contributor to the UK economy, earning the country £91.8bn in 2016 (DCMS Sectors Economic Estimates 2016, GVA Report, November 2017). Not that the focus should be centred upon profitability, but the maintenance and expansion of its financial efficacy depends on the supply of talent and interest. With one in eight UK businesses serving creative industries in 2016, it is an abundant market whose prosperity should be supported rather than suppressed.
Career sectors cannot be neatly compartmentalised into STEM and non-STEM skills, as they require a hybrid of processes. Placing greater importance on one is futile; neither is indispensable. It is inadequate and counterproductive in the modern climate to operate on the illusory belief that creative investment can be separated from the process of useful output.
Teaching staff, government ministers and other educational authorities can continue to perpetuate the exclusion of important subjects from the common agenda, denying their crucial co-dependency and damaging the education and employment systems. Alternatively, we can redress the priority imbalance with a model more resembling ‘STEAM’ (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics), acknowledging the inescapable reality that the world needs more than formulae.