Discovering Life through Art
By Oh Moo Tan
Page One Academy,
Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Malaysia is a multi-cultural country, with a unique culture influenced by a British
colonial past. Race and religion are always sensitive issues. Everybody tries to
tolerate each other to avoid stirring up sensitive issues. Within this environment,
Malaysians strive to preserve their own culture, mother-tongue and privileges. In
the process of doing so, we neglect appreciation of other people’s cultures.
1.1 In response to a serious race riot known as the May 13 Incident in 1969,
The Rukunegara or "National Principles" was declared as the national philosophy
instituted by royal proclamation on Merdeka or National Day, 1970. The incident
proved at that time that Malaysian racial balance and stability was fragile at best.
Among the many ways the Malaysian government sought to foster unity among
Malaysians was to encourage unity through the Rukunegara based on five guiding
1. to achieve a greater unity of all her peoples;
2. to maintain a democratic way of life;
3. to create a just society in which the wealth of the nation shall be equitably
4. to ensure a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions;
5. to build a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and
• BELIEF IN GOD
• LOYALTY TO KING AND COUNTRY
• UPHOLDING THE CONSTITUTION
• RULE OF LAW
• GOOD BEHAVIOUR AND MORALITY
The Rukunegara principles have been injected into the school curriculum through
activities and experiences from young. In line with the new educational reform
and policy, the number of non-government or private art educational institutions
has increased. These institutions play an important role as they contribute to
bring about changes in our education system especially in social construction and
2.0 Case study and rationale
Set in the scenario thus outlined above, my paper attempts to record a case study
of how a private art educational institution develops and educates children
through the teaching of art based upon national social cultural concerns to
awaken children’s inner love. Known as Page One Academy, it advocates the
fundamental values of Humanism, Discipline and Cross-cultural-based Education
in its curriculum. To fulfill its goals in art education, the curriculum is built to equip
children to prepare themselves ahead of time, to face the challenges of the future
and to fill their hearts with love!
2.1 Our concerns
We are very concerned that many of us in our society have lost the touch of
human relationships, love and kindness among ourselves partly due to
Our society and family structures have changed as a consequence of
dual-income families and the emergent trend of women leaving home to work.
These developments have influenced the way the new generation parent,
particularly the mother, inculcates their children’s moral values.
When asked about their hobbies, strengths and dreams some of the children are
unable to answer for a variety of reasons. They had never thought about such
concerns. They don’t even seem to care about their family, siblings and
grandparents. So, how do we expect them to be creative, innovative, think
critically, and be grateful persons when they grow up? How do we achieve the
country’s mission and vision?
2.2 Our Views on National Education Plans and Art Education
To achieve a harmonious society or nation, we believe that the national
educational plans should not only encourage the citizen to understand arts and
culture, but also to inculcate tolerance, love and gratitude. Continuous exposure
to Arts education may influence a person’s character. Therefore, arts education is
not only taught as a discipline itself but also plays a vital role in uniting the nation
and to build a harmonious society.
3.0 Why did we develop our art educational plans and how did we do it?
To achieve a harmonious society, we have to nurture people in their cultural
diversity and to stimulate their inner love from young. Children need to
understand, accept and appreciate themselves first before they in turn will be
thankful for what they have, consequently extending love to other people. We
have therefore, developed a series of programmes based on the nation’s
principles and contributing to the country’s goals.
3.1 When we envisaged that art education could be a powerful tool to nurture
children and help to build a harmonious nation, we decided to design and
implement a series of art programmes, called, “Who Am I?” for different age
3.2 Our art programmes
“Who Am I?” was broken into several age categories such as, “Searching
ourselves” for the pre-school students, “Time Machine” for primary elementary,
“Root” for the middle primary, “growing up Journey” for the higher primary, and
“Me” for secondary school students.
Age group Title Goals Programmes
Value aspect Art aspect
Pre-school Searchin To understand ourselves To build interest 1. Self-portrait
g myself 2. My family and I
Primary Time 1. To understand To enhance 1. Making a time machine
elementary machine ourselves creation ability 2. Happy memories when young
2. To uncover own 3. When my daddy and mummy got
3. To find out own 4. Self portrait
hobbies 5. My strengths
4. To build a dream 6. My ambition
Primary Roots To appreciate the To enhance 1. “Grandparents’ story” storybook
Middle family creative thought making
2. Grandparents’ portrait paper
3. Memories of grandparent and I
4. The corner that my grandparent
Primary Growing To review finding To enhance 1. Me in three different periods
Higher up happiness in the creative thought 2. New year
journey growing up journey 3. My statue
Insight own feeling
Secondary Me Analysis To enhance artistic 1. Hand, foot
expression 2. Three pieces of artwork related to
Programme A- Searching myself
In this category, pre-school children used different methods and media to express
Programme B- Time machine
Recognising that 7-8 year old children are playful and curious, the “time machine”
art program was designed to let children use recycled materials to form an
interesting 3D artwork - Time machine. They used this time machine to explore
and express a whole series of programmes. They were asked to imagine how
their parents welcomed them when they were born, the game that they liked most
when they were young, using print making to show their self-portrait, share with
their friend their strengths and even reveal their dream.
We dare the children to be brave and to imagine a dream through this program,
as well as to dream for their future and to be thankful for the wonderful memories,
in addition to cultivating their inner love and gratitude.
The ‘Time machine’ art program covers 3D craft making, printing, painting and
Programme C- Roots
It is inconvenient for children to interview their grandparents and bring their
grandparents’ photos from home to make a grandparents’ scrap book. Since
social and family structures have been gradually changing, most families have
parents who both work. Many young families live away from grandparents and
where children are normally taken care of by child care centers or maids. As a
result it is difficult for working parents to help their children bring their
grandparents’ photos to our art centre.
We also found that parents always fulfill the children in material needs instead of
spending more time cultivating moral values in them. The new generation also
forget to be thankful and care for their family, being too busy in their work or
business. This program gives the children an opportunity to reminisce about the
people who have contributed to the family and to be grateful to them.
In the ‘Roots’ art program series, children created a book named ‘My
grandparent’s story’ through activities such as paper cutting, 3D craft making,
imagination and ink painting.
Programme D- Growing Up Journey
Children in the 11-12 year old age group are gradually changing to teen age both
physically and mentally. ‘Growing Up Journey’ series involves making a cube box.
The children are allowed to make the cube box with any appropriate material that
they think is suitable to express their ideas. The surfaces of the cube are to show
the different themes, such as “When I was in Pre-school”, “Childhood”, “New
Through their artwork, we see not merely the relationship between themselves
and their family, reflections of friendship, but also insight their thoughts. At the
same time, we also discover how they face stress, manage their money and
solve their problems - which are seldom discussed in the classroom. But through
their painting, they use space, colour, images, and art material to express
Programme E- Me
In this session, the program was divided into two parts. The junior category
focused feet or hands as a theme to create their artwork. The senior secondary
school students were asked to present three works that represented their family
members. The students used pencil, charcoal or water colour to create
meaningful artworks which were really impressive. From their works, we saw the
reflection towards their growth, and what they had experienced and what inspired
4.0 What were the outcomes of our art programmes ?
As we have envisaged the value and interest aspects of the art education
goals are evident in the students presentations and performances.
4.1 Ong Xinzhi 12 My Self-Portrait Sculpture
“No ears?! No eyes?! No lips?! No nose?! No tongue?! Isn’t it strange?! I don’t
think so. Don’t say I am odd because I have my reason. If you ask a foreigner,
“What is the shape of a hornbill?” Maybe they don’t know but they will think
Hornbill. Do they look like monkeys, elephants, rhinoceroses, reindeer or mice?
Try asking a blind person what a hornbill looks like. Is it an oval, triangular, square
or a rectangular shape? Ask them once again, what is an oval shape? They might
say “like an egg”. They can’t see. They just use their hands, ears and mouths to
taste, touch to know the shape or the taste of the object. I am not just talking
about a blind person. Think about other special persons in the world. Now, tell me.
Are you not fortunate?”
When Ong Xinzhi was required to create her portrait statue, she asked the
teacher whether she could make a portrait statue without features, the teacher’s
answer was yes but it had to have a meaningful purpose. In the progress of
creating, Xinzhi kept telling the teacher about her opinion of the statue. She said
that everybody has to be grateful especially for their health. Compared to
teenagers who are crazy about firm stars or fashion trends and concern
themselves to fulfill their own material possessions, she thought deeply on the
understanding of life.
4.2 Tan Yuan Yi 14 The Hand Story I Mixed Media
“This artwork represents hands put forward in cooperation. I drew two people
climbing the mountain. One person has no energy to climb up to the top. If the
other person doesn’t stretch out his hand, they can’t accomplish this mission.
Helping is a good deed, not only for good returns, but also for happiness. I used
the colour black to represent the most sorrowful and painful time when people
need help the most.”
Tan Yuan Yi understood that power of corporation is important in the
accomplishment of mission. Team spirit and teamwork is important in the 21st
century. He understood the pain and helpless of people in need. Through this
artwork, we know that Yuan Yi, a 14 year old teenager felt care, love, tolerance,
understanding of people and society.
4.2 Annette Elaine Yong 14 Step to greater heights Mixed Media
“Growing up is part of life. We should treasure each and every step. Thunder,
lightning and strong winds may come our way, but would definitely pass. Learn
from all these setbacks, and pick ourselves up when we have fallen. It is because
of all these happenings that we are what we are now. We may be at the bottom,
but one day, we will find ourselves at the world’s tallest peak, enjoying the breeze.
Colour pencils were used, as it is able to give the picture a light touch, and
capable of letting it stand out as well.”
Every day we read in the new papers about people killing themselves because of
failure in love, poor exam results, a quarrel in a parking lot, etc. We sometimes do
not really know what young men want. Confidence? Acknowledgement?
Acceptance? Actually children should be nurtured to be full of confidence and
love through the basics of education.
All this has been neglected when academic results become the main theme in
school. A child should learn to be self-motivated. Then only will they appreciate,
understand and tolerate people and society. Annette realized that people who are
grateful and who treasure every part of their lives will be able to overcome and
help others when they are faced with problems.
4.3 Tong Chia Sin 15 The Newspaper Game Pencil
“In Malaysia, we live in peace and harmony with all the different races, namely
the Malays, Chinese and Indians. Through this artwork, a close band of friendship
between the races is portrayed. In this newspaper game, the members of the
group work together to ensure everyone’s feet remain on the newspaper. They
grab and hug each other with all their might to avoid being eliminated from the
game. At the same time, this game also tests our stability. Can you stand steadily
for a minimum period of two minutes? Although this period of two minutes may
seem a very short time, it is really not, when considered in terms of endurance. ”
When the political leaders are fighting for power and for their own good, Tong
Chia Sin created “Newspaper Game” which has impressed me a lot. When most
of the teenagers are concerned with relationships between boys and girls, Chia
Sin discussed about mutuality between races, which is important especially in a
multi-ethnic country. During the process, she used her hand phone to capture her
classmates’ feet as references. The artwork shows her kind and initiative
character, also her thoughts about friendship and relationships with one another.
4.4 Ong Kar Wei 17 Alone Faithfully Mixed Media
“Always very amazed and fascinated with elderly people because of their exciting
life experiences and life philosophies, I cherish every moment I spend with them.
The loss of my grandfather and the suffering as a result of it were the inspiration
behind my artwork. My grandfather went with the clouds before I was born,
peacefully. Without having a clear picture of him in my mind, all I could do was to
imagine a vague picture of him whenever my family talks about him. Without my
grandfather, my grandmother had to move on alone.”
4.5 Chee Ven Jiun 17 A Man in the Family Chee 1 Pencil
“This person in the artwork is my father. He always moves around in society, so
his face is always sorrowful. When I ask him why he always takes off his
spectacles, uses his right hand to rub his eyes and then coughs a few time. He
just replies me with a smile. Sometimes this makes me think that he is getting old.
He is stressed, used to this kind of life and is tired. He just hopes he can become
a useful man in the future in exchange for his efforts. The two huge and tall files
represent the stress and pressure of society. This is the scene of an office. The
bright light that never shines brightly has brought darkness to the heart of the
Many teenagers are rebellious and they don’t understand their parents’ hardship.
But Ven Jiun appreciated parents’ sacrifice and willing to share responsibilities for
his father’s burden. If teenagers understand and are grateful for what the parents
have to go through, then it will reduce lots of social problems. When this artwork
was put on display at an exhibition, we saw tears in Ven Jiun’s mother’s eyes.
5.0 Our reflection: what have we learnt?
Art Education is not merely a subject where we learn about technique, but also
build up children’s confident in trying to express themselves.
When children start to create their artworks, they are not clear about the concept,
however, when they discuss their thought with their teacher, materials applied,
they are also encouraged to note down their thought to concrete their self-esteem
and confidence. They also need to be caring and loving. Their lives will be made
better when they are grateful and respectful persons.
Children thereby learnt to think deeply about relationships between human
beings, between humans and the environment and between humans and the
nation. This merely enhances the development of their thoughts and to think in a
wider and different perspective. They share their opinion through pictures, words,
and language in their artworks with other people in order to get the
Art Education functions in stimulating children mentally, instill love and care for
people and environment, think from different perspectives, be more flexible and
6.0 What are the stumbling blocks or challenges?
We have faced many stumbling blocks due to several factors which include
society, parents, children, teachers and the pull between enterprise and the
6.1 Our society:
We, as a developing country have not made enough efforts to pursue or desire
the arts when compared to more advanced countries which may have a longer
history of art and civilization. The reason is that as a developing country, we
emphasise on developing our economy (the economic growth) and their priorities
are to eliminate the gap between the rich and the poor and other priorities; such
as increasing the literacy and numeracy level of their people. Generally,
developing the art education or even understand the arts are not priorities. Thus,
the demand for art education is not prevalent.
6.2 Our parents
Owing to the government national school education system having a dominant
view with some mis-interpretations on the aims of arts education, parents think
that art is only a piece of colourful drawing. As a result, parents would rather
prefer their children paint a colourful drawing than come out with a creation that
could not help to increase the school examination marks. Parents are only
interested in the colourful pictures, not the technique, content nor the aesthetics.
These parental misconceptions always make the teachers and children frustrated
and upset, because it makes children wonder whether painting is for their growth
or for the school results.
6.3 Our children
The societal structure has seriously affected children’s daily life. Many young
families have shifted from their home town to the city to make a living. Most
parents send their child to childcare centre or leave them with a foreigner maid.
Because of this, children seldom get to experience to daily explorations.
Therefore they lack thinking, analyzing, solving and adapting abilities. As a result
of that, they take things for granted and were insensitive to filial piety and cannot
appreciate family values. The teachers have to spend more time to inculcate this
6.4 Our teachers
The government has reduced the art lesson from the 1970’s and for the last forty
years, there has been a serious shortage of art teachers. Generally, people who
are able to appreciate art have reduced in number, as well as people who can
paint or good in art. Besides those who are really keen in art, people consider art
as an entertainment only.
People who do not understand art education, can’t understand the benefit
brought by it. Thus, it is difficult to have in a teacher who can understand art
education as well as a passion in teaching. First of all, the teacher must love
education, love children, love art, and also love life, has a strong mission towards
human beings and the environment. With these basic characteristics only can we
achieve the objective of the lesson.
6.5 The pull between enterprise and conviction
As a private art educational institution, we have to balance getting a reasonable
income with advocating our art education concept. We do not have any
sponsorship from the government or anyone else sponsor to support our
education concept. Therefore, we have to make a decision between idealistic
concept and market forces. Often, we have come to the cliff, but the strong
mission and passion we have makes us continue our commitment.
7.0 How do I reflect on this case study?
The benefit and function of Art Education should not only be a slogan of art
teachers or art educators, but it must be known by everyone in general. Art
education can enhance children’s thought, be innovative and adaptive. People
with a sense of gratitude, care and tolerance love themselves, other people,
environment and the world at large. All this leads to peace among people.
8.0 Where do we go from here?
We are aware that there are many more stumbling blocks in front of us. We have
proven in this case study that inculcating national values in children through art
programmes has gave them more chances to insight their feeling and thought
that they had never experienced before. The result of art education will take a
long time to be appreciated. However, it would help if the teaching and the
dissemination of such art programmes can be multiplied and expanded
8.1 Our Way Forward
Therefore, we aim for the following:
1. To be a role model to children not only in teaching the technique of art, but also
the gratitude, care and tolerance love attitude.
2. Train good quality teacher and build up their passion and mission towards
education, art, and even life.
3. Give talks to parents, parents are our main consumers who send children to
our art school, who are the direct supporter to our financial.
4. Help the school teacher in handling art education lessons by give talks,
seminar or workshop to the school art teacher.
5. Raise awareness among the publics towards the importance of art education
by activities such as exhibitions, speeches, seminar, etc.
In this case study, we have found that children’s inner love can be awakened by
art education in the appreciation of beautiful artwork, good behavior, and
gratitude for what they have.