Omar Gilani:

Arts and Education For All: Tech for Good in The Time of Covid-19

Not only has my home turned into a school with my living room floor strewn with cut up bits of colour paper and felt-tip pens, it has also turned into a theatre for Berlin Philharmonic and The Royal Opera house and sometimes The Met or galleries from across the world.

I have always believed that technology is a democratising force, so that not only someone with the “right” upbringing could access art but also anyone who has a laptop, tablet or mobile could hear the music and see that ballet, so that people have access all areas who would otherwise be shut out.

So during these times of empty concert halls, theatres and museums, thanks to the ease of access of technology, we can experience what was once so inaccessible to many.

My parents were not only passionate about education but also the arts, as well as using new technology to expand our imagination. Even though we lived outside the capital, they made sure that we saw plays, dance performances and movies that were essential to our enrichment. In my father’s study we would look in awe at animated fractals or learn geometry by positioning and docking spaceships into their landing bay or give a floor robot instructions to move down the hall to the dining room. My mother helped us to become ever more familiar that we were living in a connected Europe by taping (yes taping, do you remember those VHS tapes)French and Spanish programs late into the night so that we could re-watch them on a Saturday morning to help with our languages classes. This was so that our holidays on the continent seemed natural and connected to our daily lives back home where technology, as primitive as it may have been at that time, was a bridge for us to understand our belonging to a larger Europe and not just an isolated island. By the time I was old enough to drive I would take my best friends to obscure French movies that they would never would have visited otherwise. This was luckily due to a arts house cinema tied to the National Media Museum. Unfortunately it was often only peppered with a few people, mainly because it was so unknown to many.

It wasn’t until later at university when I recognised that it was unusual to have such a broad understanding of diverse art. I began to realise that my parents had given me a unique experience that not everyone had had.

As technology became more streamlined and not so clunky, there was an ease of access that enabled us to start making our own art and education. We could reach audiences across the globe which we never thought we would with our mini cameras and heavy laptops, but we were still often shut out of many of the experiences that were reserved for higher paid audiences.

Having grown up in a household of educators, I saw how they used technology as the means to reach their students that were so often excluded from the arts, languages and different ways of being educated. What was previously reserved a small elite, I saw first hand how technology and education became a strong democratising force for the arts.

This democratising force is strongly highlighted during the Covid-19 outbreak. Access all areas is now almost overwhelming. I can do Battery Dance school classes from New York in the afternoon and see the excellent Berlin Philharmonic and National Theatre performance in one night.

However, like the eager student who is keen not to miss out on any lecture, seminar or event, you could end up in a whirlwind of consumption never really digesting, understanding or learning much.

This is where the pedagogical aspects of Digital Learning really come into play. How can we turn these experiences into being meaningful. A first step is to understand how these arts experiences are connected to our current knowledge, instead of just more interesting TV. It is easy to get wowed by the spectacle, but we can pause before going on to the next shiny piece of entertainment.

There are now a range of ways that we can go deeper. Most theatres are now offering interviews with the actors about the play or with the director. You can explore the texts online and delve deeper into the meaning behind these texts. Or perhaps you want to explore the composers life, where they lived what kind of life they had and in which times they lived. With the Royal Opera House streaming A Winter’s Tale, I can finally delve into The Norton Complete Works of Shakespeare, reading not only the text but also the context to understand the subtle complexities of emotional states as well as the Jacobean patriarchal structures of power and order. Why were the men so tortured? What was their relationship with women? What was the typical social order and what threatened it? Bringing performances into your living room there is the possibility to explore in depth the social context and areas of interest that are aligned with the learners experience, knowledge and interest. Furthermore, being able to pause and ponder, as well as replay and revisit, we can understand not only the social contexts of the art forms and what was going on in the times in which they lived and created, but also to take time to integrate these influences into our daily practices. The Shakespearean presence of Jacobean England brought into 2020, may reveal new insights into the power struggles between men and women in our present times. Watching musicians from many nationalities come together in times of crisis and continue to play The Concert of Europe, has the capability to bring not only hope but uplifts our spirits when times are dark.

Dialogue is essential to the learning process. Now more than ever we can watch a concert or performance together synchronously or inspire each other asynchronously. A writer can just as well talk to an animator or a set designer about the set design of a ballet.

Arts with the power of technology can reach people who are perhaps estranged from their families and are who are unable to find solace in human interaction and company to be transported with the help of technology to more enlightened realms. Navigating complex emotions can be difficult in isolation, but with the arts, we can be immersed within a world that goes beyond the ordinary. Organised structures such as the way that Monet uses colour and light to depict those calming gardens or how Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is structured in such a way to depict anger and chaos, but also collective joy and hope. This variety of art forms that is now so accessible to us are able to give our inner complexity externalisation, so that our emotional states have actuality and clarity through these different forms. Social and emotional complexities can be explored in our safe space, our refuge during this time of crisis.

The incredible adaptability of humanity is inspiring, but it can be terrifying. Technology can help us to access the arts that in turn enable us to cope. Whereas education can expand our imagination and hope for an alternative future, leaving behind everything that was broken and harming our humanity. It is this combination of humanities with technology that could contribute to our saving grace.

This post can also been read on Jtamsin:




Research Mentor for EdTech Startups. Bridging Education, Technology and Creativity. Founder of Thinc Charity. Author.

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Research Mentor for EdTech Startups. Bridging Education, Technology and Creativity. Founder of Thinc Charity. Author.

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