Arts Education in the Middle East

In keeping with our recent blog post on the rise of arts based education in Asia, this op-ed from Maysa Jalbout at the Brookings Institution sheds some light on the importance of arts education, especially in the Middle East. The intro to the piece: “new evidence suggests that arts education helps students develop 21st century skills such as creativity, imagination, communication and teamwork,” strikes at the very heart of the Pursuing Your Passions study guide. The lessons and activities from the study guide all touch upon the concepts of creativity, imagination, collaboration, communication and mastery, among others.

Using a recent report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Arts for Art’s Sake, Jalbout makes a case for the region to make arts education part of its overall development plans. Some results from the OECD report:

  • Music education strengthens IQ and academic performance, and may facilitate foreign-language training.
  • Theatre education strengthens verbal skills.
  • Visual arts strengthen geometrical reasoning.
  • Drama enhances empathy and emotion regulation.
  • Infusing the arts into schools makes their culture more inquiry based.


Citing research, she argues that artists bring invaluable tools to the workplace, especially in innovation, where they work in collaborative teams in areas such as product development and marketing and hence the need for the region to embrace the arts in their schools. The future marketplace depends on it. However, the often-cited argument that an arts education doesn’t lead to well paying jobs is a major concern for families in what is still a relatively impoverished region.

The overall effect of increasing and expanding arts based education would be huge for the Middle East. Jalbout recommends the job of restructuring the education system to include the arts is a shared responsibility among governments, academics, the private sector and philanthropists. This is especially true in the Middle East as Islamic Art and overall Arab culture has long been hailed as one of the finest in history and with many in the region fearing that globalization is eroding their rich culture, a return to the arts, especially in schools, will be a great way of preserving that culture.