Over the years and outside the classroom, several local organisations have come up with creative ways to make learning fun for youths.
In Penang, Arts-ED, a non-profit organisation that innovates community-based arts and culture education; and George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI), the state agency for heritage that protects and promotes George Town’s architectural and cultural inheritance; work together to organise the Cultural Heritage Education Programme (CHEP), which has been running since 2016.
CHEP aims to teach youngsters about local cultural heritage through creative educational projects. One of their endeavours is the Youth Arts Camp (YAC), which is endorsed by the Penang state government.
YAC is a place-based learning programme that uses creative arts workshops as a device to help students understand the cultural heritage of a local wet market. It engages students with “real place, real people and real issues,” says Chen Yoke Pin, project manager of CHEP.
Adults playing a Bos Bansan game with the students.
Last October, YAC took place over nine days. As many as 55 students aged 13-16 from three secondary schools – St Xavier’s Institution, SMK Georgetown and SMK Abdullah Munshi – participated in the camp; 10 creative arts education team members facilitated the workshops.
The 120-year-old Chowrasta Market in George Town, located within the Unesco World Heritage Site, was chosen as the research spot. Arts-ED president, Dr Molly Lee, explains that the market “can be used to inculcate good values such as cultural diversity and the importance of conserving cultural heritage.”
For the first eight days, participants embarked on three tasks: interviewing market vendors, customers and the management for data collection; learning an art form at YAC’s workshop; and fusing data and art form to produce original works that display the cultural aspects that were learned. Participants then got to showcase their finished works to the public at Chowrasta Market on the final day.
Making Learning Entertaining
The three workshops held last year were titled “Bos Bansan”, “Fruitvengers” and “Hikayat Hang Buah” – names as colourful as the activities. Each workshop uses a form of art to teach participants about Chowrasta Market’s cultural heritage.
From left) CHEP project manager Chen Yoke Pin, with CHEP YAC workshop facilitators Goh Choon Ean and Adeline Chua.
Bos Bansan – Hokkien for “market boss” – uses board game design to teach participants public market management; Fruitvengers uses stop-motion animation to educate participants about supply chains and the cultural usages of fruits; while Hikayat Hang Buah employs contemporary wayang kulit to guide the students on the pros and cons of buying local or imported fruits.
“We go to the schools to recruit to make sure that the students know what they are signing up for – the kids must be personally invested,” says Fruitvengers facilitator, Charis Loke. During the recruitment drive, students get to try teaser activities from each workshop. For instance, Fruitvengers facilitators set up a stop-motion time board for the students to test out; those who choose to join YAC pick one workshop to sign up for.
Apart from learning about Chowrasta Market’s cultural heritage, the students are encouraged to develop teamwork, communication, problem-solving and leadership skills – necessary attributes for their future undertakings, be it in varsity or in the workplace.
When the participants were queried on what they had learned from the camp, “soft skills” was the echoing response. Syahir, 14, said that he learned cooperation through working with the other participants; and from interviewing the vendors and customers of Chowrasta Market, he acquired useful communication skills.
Through the interviews, participants were exposed to the features that make up Chowrasta Market’s culture, and had to judge which interest group came first when the market management faced a problem. For example, in Bos Bansan, participants had to address problems such as fires, floods or homeless people occupying the space. They then had to decide who to call to solve the problem, e.g. the fire department or the security guard. After that, they were tasked to allocate a certain budget to solve the problems based on the level of urgency. These three elements taught the youngsters to solve issues while taking into account a certain group’s welfare or culture.
Place-based learning was deployed by YAC to draw the young away from their phone and computer screens to explore realms around their homes and school. It links theoretical knowledge with practical reality – when students are immersed in local culture and heritage, they can better understand language, geography, history and economics.
Behind the scenes of Hikayat Hang Buah’s shadow puppetry.
According to Chen, “Ignorance is higher and higher now. Maybe parents are just too protective for a variety of reasons. Students can learn all sorts of things in textbooks, but we have kids who do not even know about things such as the temple outside their school or the poor community around them. Students should open up a bit more not only in their schools and families, but in their communities as well. We use the arts as a tool to do this.”
For example, when a group of participants were brought to the Goddess of Mercy temple, they encountered pineapple-shaped candles, which the Chinese use as prayer paraphernalia. They learned that some cultures see fruits not only as food, but as medicinal and prayer items.
YAC, under CHEP, has successfully debunked the stereotype that student participation and critical thinking are a luxury enjoyed in international schools. “The soft skills and values instilled stay with participants for many years to come. On top of that, those who found last year’s programme beneficial came back to help,” says Chen.
To watch the stop-motion animation clips and wayang kulit performances by CHEP participants, visit www.youtube.com/user/ArtsEDPenang/featured. Follow Arts-ED’s Facebook page for their upcoming events at www.facebook.com/artsedpenang.
Lynette Low is a freelance writer and a law graduate from the University of London. Passion is her compass in life.