eBASE, effective basic services:Arts Participation Local Summary

Arts Participation Local Summary

Summary of the research evidence on the impact of arts participation on the educational attainment of primary and secondary school students in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).


The text below is a summary of the research evidence on the impact of arts participation on the educational attainment of primary and secondary school students in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). The information here is valuable for African school leaders, administrators and policy makers. It is even more valuable for parents who maybe thinking of better ways to improve on the educational attainment of their children.

Effective Basic Services (eBASE) Africa developed this summary using available research evidence while also taking into consideration prominent themes arising from key informant interviews (KII) and focus group discussions (FGD), particularly FGD with teachers and students. The research evidence in this summary is acquired from a detailed and replicable search protocol used on a wide range – listed below – of research databases for related studies in low- and middle-income countries in general and sub-Saharan Africa in particular.

Definition of the strand

Arts participation refers to the involvement of students in artistic and creative activities like dance, drama, music, painting or sculpture, either as a core component of the curriculum, or as extracurricular activities. Involvement in arts-related activities may be designed as weekly or monthly activities, or intense programmes like summer schools or residential courses. The focus is on the impact of arts participation on educational attainment, although arts-related activities have educational value in themselves (Higgins, et al., 2016).

Why is this strand important?

According to Amegago (2011), arts was a constitutive element of the traditional African curriculum although this was relegated to the background during the period of colonisation. Accelerated efforts to revalorise African arts, combined with some evidence indicating positive, albeit low impact of arts participation on learning suggests that it could be a valuable pathway towards improving learning outcomes in Sub-Saharan Africa. This strand therefore provides guidance on how arts-related activities in SSA could improve on education attainment in this region.

Summary of research in Sub-Saharan Africa

Some researchers in SSA have in recent years sought to demonstrate the importance of arts participation in education at the primary school and secondary school levels.

According to a qualitative study evaluating the learning outcomes of music and dance instruction in Ghanaian high schools (Le Petrie, 2018), students reported that music and dance contributed to their success in subjects such as English, geography, history, literature, science, and Akan. They also reported other benefits of music and dance instruction, such as improved test preparation, improved cognitive skills in all subjects and improved focus and discipline. A study evaluating the goals of art education in North East Nigeria reveals positive student perceptions of arts participation, suggesting reported improvements to pupils’ self-expression skills, imagination, observation, communication and critical judgement skills (Udeani & Kayode, 2018). Similarly, Devroop (2012) notes that instrumental music instruction has a positive social-emotional impact on economically disadvantaged students in South Africa, within an environment characterised by high dropout rates. Students in the study reported that participation in instrumental music performance positively affected their self-esteem, happiness, optimism and perseverance.

A study by Khudu-Peterson (2007) in Botswana suggests that the educational system is not favourable to non-Tswana people as they are unrecognised culturally. The small-scale qualitative study explores the feasibility of Intercultural Arts Education (ICAE) and recommends that ICAE could serve as a bridge between learners and the school as its implementation in the Kweneng West Sub-District in Botswana increased non-Tswana pupil’s participation in class activities.

Nonetheless, arts education in SSA faces some major challenges. Based on a study in Kumasi, Ghana, Richmond (2010) suggests that the teaching of arts education is hampered by the lack of specialist trained arts teachers in primary schools. The available teachers fail to teach practical aspects of arts due to inadequate knowledge and skills. Likewise, Opoku-Asare & Siaw (2016) identify some factors hampering visual arts education in rural and peri-urban Senior High Schools in Ghana such as inadequate specialist teachers, ineffective teaching strategies, insufficient instructional time for visual arts elective subjects, low academic standards, low criteria for admitting students into visual arts, large class sizes and insufficient funding for practical lessons.


Some qualitative studies on the importance of arts education in SSA reveal positive self-reported benefits for learning outcomes. Studies in Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa suggest that engagement in the arts can increase student’s perceptions of their own cognitive, communication and critical judgement skills. Other qualitative studies suggest that arts education may contribute to the social-emotional skills of economically disadvantaged students, by supporting their self-esteem, optimism and perseverance.

Nevertheless, some studies highlight major challenges to art education in SSA. These barriers include lack of specialist trained arts teachers, ineffective teaching strategies, low criteria for admitting students to arts courses, large class sizes and insufficient funds for practical lessons.

Despite the available qualitative evidence on the impact of arts education on student engagement in SSA, there is need for large scale, high-quality experimental studies to establish a causal link between high-quality arts education on learning outcomes in SSA.

Impact, Security, and Cost of Local Evidence

The available evidence investigating the impact of arts participation on learning outcomes is positive. However, the evidence base is very limited. Research that is more robust is therefore recommended.

The cost of arts participation in SSA, particularly in the Lake Chad Basin is likely to be moderate given that it entails mostly professional development for teachers.

Search terms

Arts in education, arts/​fine arts/​performing arts participation, music education, drama education, dance education

Databases searched

EBSCO (ebooks, ERICS, Education Administration Abstract, Education Abstract)
Google Scholar


Amegago, M. (2011). An African Music and Dance Curriculum Model: Performing Arts in Education. Durham: Carolina Academic Press.

Devroop, K. (2012). The socio-emotional impact of instrumental music performance on economically disadvantaged South African students . Music Education Research 14 (4).

Higgins, S., Katsipataki, M., Villanueva-Aguilera, A., Coleman, R., Henderson, P., Major, L., … Mason, D. (2016). The Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit.’ Manual.
London : Education Endowment Foundation.

Khudu-Peterson, K. (2007). Intercultural Arts Education: Initiating Links between Schools and Ethnic Minority Communities, Focusing on the Kweneng West Sub-District in Botswana (PhD Thesis). Edinburg : University of Edinburg .

Le Petrie, J. (2018). Advancing student success: assessing the educational outcomes of music and dance education in Ghanaian senior high schools. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and Internatioanl Education.

Opoku-Asare, N. A., & Siaw, A. (2016). Curricula and Inferential Factors that Affect Student Achievement in Rural, Urban and Peri-Urban Senior High Schools in Ghana: Evidence From the Visual Arts Programme . SAGE Open.

Richmond, B. A. (2010). Creative Arts in crisis: Teaching and learning of creative arts in selected public primary schools in Kumasi Metropolis (Master’s thesis) . Kumasi: Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology: Department of General Arts Studies .

Udeani, N., & Kayode , F. (2018). Evaluation of the goals of art education programme in the North East, Nigeria. International Journal of Education and Practice 6 (2).