THERE were no arts or music classes when Geoffrey Rush was at school, just playground inventions that led to a school drama club.
Rush credits the skills he learned when putting on these amateur productions with contributing to his ability to move off screen and into roles behind the camera.
''There wasn't even official drama on any level,'' he said. ''We did plays at lunch time - that was our sport - but we ended up running our own school drama club. When I got into the production side of films, I was thinking, 'I learned this skill when I was 16 because I had the responsibility for looking after the finances of putting on Arsenic and Old Lace in year 11'.''
The Australian of the Year and his Young Australian counterpart, Marita Cheng, visited the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence yesterday as part of a national tour.
While admiring the Redfern facilities, Rush reflected on the place drama and the arts have in schools today.
''As an educational tool, you're asking kids to engage in a state of play to improve skills, their knowledge, their intuition about the world. It's the most obvious and crucial effect that's needed, not at all a luxury item.
''There are some people who don't understand the need for right-brain activity to balance the logic structures of left-brain activity, which is why we're all very cluey about economic language now, but we're losing more and more intuitive, or creative, or daydreaming sense of the world that can lead to creative thought, lateral thinking.''
The idea that the arts are considered as supplementary to education frustrates Arnold Aprill, a director, producer and playwright from Chicago who is working at the University of Tasmania.
As a co-author of Renaissance in the Classroom: Arts Integration and Meaningful Learning, he is engaged in encouraging the inclusion of arts as a core part of the school curriculum.
Aprill laments that arts education is often the first thing cut from school participation during economic hard times and says the concerted focus on testing for academic scores leaves students poorer.
''We do know in the United States that a focus on testing has resulted in the 'thinning of the curriculum' - that 71 per cent of schools have radically cut back on science, social studies, arts, music,'' he said.
Instead of worrying that children are becoming too focused on digital media, those technologies should be recognised in creative and innovative ways, he said.
Aprill will speak on Thursday at the University of Sydney about the need to put the arts back on to centre stage, where parents, teachers and communities can be involved in developing the creative and spiritual needs of school children.
''It's also about the teachers learning how to reclaim some of their creativity,'' he said.