Cherielene Smith – Head of Visual Art at Nexus International School Malaysia

With over 20 years of teaching experience in secondary and further education institutions in the UK, New Zealand, China, Thailand, Cherie now leads the Visual Art department at NISM.

Photo: Nexus International School Malaysia

As well as teaching within the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) for more than 10 years, Cherie has taught both iGCSE and A Level classes. We asked about how art enriches a child’s educational journey, what the art programme is like at Nexus International School Malaysia and what her thoughts were on the advantages of an international school education.

Why did you decide to pursue teaching art as a career?
I always loved art and actually wanted to go into filmmaking, photojournalism or animation (I like storytelling as well as visuals). While I was at university, I went to the States to work at a summer camp and LOVED it. I realised that I wanted to work with young people for the rest of my life. I love how art helps a child to gain confidence, create outcomes that are totally new and experimental, and gain a voice.

What are your views on how art enriches a child’s education?
I have been teaching for 20 years and time and again in every class without fail, I have seen children make great progress in their art technical ability. In addition they develop their skills of organisation, analysis, communication (both visual and verbal), creativity (through finding connections, thinking on your feet and outside the box), problem solving, attention to detail, discipline and time management. They also learn about perseverance and dedication, focus, risk-taking, confidence and receiving constructive feedback. These are all key life skills. Wouldn’t you want to employ someone who has these skills? I’m delighted that art is a fantastic vehicle through which to develop these skills in young people; especially those who struggle socially.

Tell us more about the arts programme at Nexus through the key stages.
We have a rich curriculum in the Middle Years that covers fine art (drawing and painting), design and 3D modelling. Through all of these, learners analyse and use as inspiration the work of other artists throughout history. At IGCSE level, students who choose the subject get a general grounding in all areas as above including photography, graphic design, fine art and 3D modelling. Then after six months or so they can specialise in one area if they prefer or continue with a general art program. IB learners also have a general grounding and after that they are free to let their creativity flourish. They can work in almost any area of interest including painting, street art, fashion, architecture, animation, film, sculpture, photography and so on. We also offer art-based activities outside of school for learners who want to do artistic activities but who haven’t opted to take art in the curriculum. For example, Warhammer and screen printing which are offered as part of our Co-curricular Activities.

By taking Art for IB / A levels, what university / career options are available?
Art obviously follows young people into careers like media, graphic design, architecture, film, fashion, illustration; but it also supports careers like dentistry, medicine and forensics. In fact, in the US, several medical faculties at universities are including observational drawing as part of their medical programs as it helps learners become more perceptive.

What are the education trends for 2020 with regards to arts subjects?
Definitely the embedding of digital techniques like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), but also an expanding interest in web-based design and using social media platforms as visual concepts for art. Also, an increase in film possibly due to an increase in accessibility to professional level software.

How does teaching in Malaysia differ from the other countries you’ve taught in?
It is actually surprisingly similar. I have taught in the UK, New Zealand, China and Thailand. Most international schools fundamentally want the best for their learners, and I believe it is about finding the right fit (as a teacher) but also for your child. I love the atmosphere at my school and appreciate that I am able to have quite a bit of say with what we teach and how we deliver it.

From an Art educator’s point of view, what are the advantages of an international school education?
The wonderful mix of staff and learners that you work with on a daily basis as well as the wealth of inspiration in the surrounding countries. Also, more recognition as an expert in the formulation of the curriculum and having the opportunities to deliver using fantastic ideas like virtual reality.

The Nexus Open Week will be held from now till 30 November from 10am to 12pm. Get a first-hand look at the school and boarding facilities, attend talks by the senior leadership team, meet student ambassadors and get an application fee waiver (terms and conditions apply). Register your interest here.


Tags: Profiles, Advertorial, NISM, IBDP, Alevel, IGCSE
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