Methods

Art and Poverty   The gap between the rich and the poor is increasing, and education, despite its indisputable role in closing this gap, nevertheless seems less and less capable of meeting this challenge.   Our institution is located in Eastern Hungary, in the town of Berettyóújfalu, one of the thirty-three most disadvantaged settlements in Hungary. Established twelve years ago, our school offers art education to 650 children each year from six different communities. Seventy percent of our students are disadvantaged, and among them 200 are severely disadvantaged.** Reflection on the multiple problems students from these kinds of backgrounds present led us to devise a unique, complex model that would allow us to approach this problem from various angles, create opportunities for our students,  nurture their talents, and help them bridge the gap.   We needed to understand that education in itself was inadequate to deal with current social problems. Thus, in our work we step beyond the school walls in an attempt to get acquainted with and understand the problems of individual children, and see them within the context of their family and their narrower and wider social environment.  For us it was obvious that art education had a role in helping children overcome their disadvantages. For children living in abject poverty a sense of achievement is key, since in school they experience a serious of failures, and within a couple of years they lose their motivation and thus any opportunity to gain knowledge. The first step we take is to try to offset the children’s disadvantages, and in doing so we consider the child and his or her circumstances as a whole. Our next step is to nurture their talents, which involves not only expanding their tools of visual expression but also acquainting the children with other school subjects. Developing their cooperation skills is also essential.  The fundamental characteristic of our method of education is differentiation, which means we achieve our goals through the use of appropriate topics that appeal to the students’ varied interests, emotional states, and levels of development. Using the tools of art, we aim to educate children who can interpret the visual cues of their environment, who accept their own individuality, who see their uniqueness as a value, and who appreciate what makes them different. We know we are on the right path when we look at the children’s competition results (annually our students win approximately 500 awards at various local and international competitions), the improvement in their communication skills and level of motivation, and the increase in their self-confidence, as the school takes on greater importance in their lives. We are convinced that an essential tool in the integration process is art education. Without it, and without a complex approach to the problems of disadvantaged children, the school will not be able to educate people capable of managing their own lives or contributing to the creation of a more livable society. ** In British English they would say: Seventy percent of students are deprived and 200 have multiple deprivations.

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