Starting them young: Pros & Cons of an early arts education

12 April 2021

with Mdm Fang Yuan, Principal, School of Young Talents

In June 2020, The Sunday Times released results of a survey on Singaporeans’ opinions of essential jobs in the context of a pandemic. 71% of the respondents indicated that artists are the least essential during these times. Regardless of the intent, semantics, definitions and parameters surfaced to contextualise and justify the survey later on; the article triggered many within and beyond the local arts community to speak up on the importance of the arts.

Reflected in the invaluable offerings and works that artists bestow upon humanity, the value of the arts can also be substantiated through arts education and the impact it has on students, journeymen, and the wider society. To understand this better, we spoke to Mdm Fang Yuan, Principal of NAFA’s School of Young Talents, to hear what she has to say about the value of an early arts education.


  1. Mdm Fang, you have been the Principal for NAFA’s School of Young Talents and Head of the Junior Music Department since 1999 and have had many successful students and accolades. Can you tell us more about your role and some of your more memorable moments?

My role as Principal for NAFA’s School of Young Talents (SYT) is aligned to the ethos of SYT itself - to discover and nurture young talents for Singapore. NAFA provides great infrastructure and facilities (hardware) for its programmes, while I also ensure that the curriculum and system (software) is effective in building our students’ foundations to fulfil our mission.

Before I became Principal in 1999, NAFA already had ongoing classes for children’s art, dance and music programmes. We eventually centralised all our junior departments to form SYT. I also started the Gifted Young Pianists Course in 1991, because I found there were lots of talents who would have benefitted from professional training at an early age. As an educator, it is my duty to bring them to excellence. This was an important step for developing Singapore’s arts education.

 

“It is beneficial in fostering positive values such as discipline, determination, resilience and perseverance early on. This helps in building a positive learning attitude to overcome different obstacles and challenges that our students might face later in life.”
  How to feel and enjoy the music — Mdm Fang and her student Zhang Yi Fan in class.

Our experiences and achievements in the past 20 years have proven that SYT is a successful arts’ education model and we are traversing along the right path. Thanks to the efforts of dedicated teachers and supportive parents, many talented individuals have benefitted from our programmes. For example, 11-year-old violinist Chloe Chua, whom we had trained for seven years, won first place in the Junior Category at the Menuhin International Competition. Out of the 550 awards our department has garnered so far, this one was particularly special as it brought great pride and honour to Singapore, and our little red dot shone bright in the music world.

Of course, recognition from across the globe as well as acknowledgement from our President and various Ministers gave us great encouragement and spurred us on along the way. Moving forward, SYT continues to strive to be the national and regional leader in arts education for children and youths.

  1. Based on your experience, can you tell us about some of the pros/benefits of having children starting young in learning the arts?

There are various advantages to developing artistic talents from a young age. It is important to establish a solid foundation early, especially for the performing arts which involves various physical developmental aspects. At the same time, it is beneficial in fostering positive values such as discipline, determination, resilience and perseverance early on. This helps in building a positive learning attitude to overcome different obstacles and challenges that our students might face later in life.

 

“If we can recognise that learning art is about developing one’s potential, instead of being competitive and focused on winning medals and awards, then we will not feel discouraged, frustrated, uninspired or defeated when faced with mounting responsibilities or any difficulties.”
  The SYT 20TH Anniversary Celebration Gala Concert (Regional)

We believe that these qualities are also imperative for developing character. Over the years, SYT has proven this by not only producing great artistic talents, but also developing outstanding individuals, winners of presidential scholarships and various awards, who have been eminent in their chosen fields.

  1. For parents and guardians who wish to enrol their young children in arts classes, do you have any words of advice for them?

To pursue art, one must establish goals and carry a positive attitude, if not they will not go far. If we can recognise that learning art is about developing one’s potential, instead of being competitive and focused on winning medals and awards, then we will not feel discouraged, frustrated, uninspired or defeated when faced with mounting responsibilities or any difficulties.

  1. Do you have anything else to share with our readers?

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges to our educators and challenged parents and students. As teachers, we must adapt to new teaching methods and models while delivering a high standard of lessons. Parents and students also needed to focus on long-term training goals for building up strong characters and maintaining learning enthusiasm. I want to encourage parents, students and teachers to keep going during this period and not to give up. I wish you all well during these trying times. Let us continue moving forward for the development and improvement for the arts!

 


Mdm Fang Yuan is the Founder of the Gifted Young Pianists Course at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in 1991 and was appointed as the Founding Principal of the School of Young Talents (SYT) and Head of Junior Music Department in 1999. Students of the Junior Music Department have won more than 550 prizes in international and national competitions. In recognition of her teaching excellence, she was also invited by the 2nd World Piano Conference in Slovenia 2003 and the 27th European Piano Conference in Manchester (UK) in 2005 to showcase her teaching methods.

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