Interpretation is based on Archive Record Inventory of the programme, entitled: “PROGRAM SENI KREATIF, USM” as well as participants’ recollections. Download the Archive Record Inventory (PDF)


Between the 60s and 70s, teacher training colleges and higher education institutes began to include arts as a subject in their curriculum. As a result of this development, school teachers were encouraged to pursue degree courses in Universiti Malaya, the UK, and USA which enabled them to later take on positions as lecturers in local institutes.

Leading arts educators of the time included Datuk Tuan Syed Ahmad Jamal, Lee Joo For, Grace Salavnayagam, Anthony Lau, Jolly Koh, and Yeoh Jin Leng who taught art at STTI; Vijaya Samarawickrama who taught language and drama at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia; Mustapha Kamal Yassin and Noordin Hassan who taught drama and language at the Language Institute (Lembah Pantai Teacher’s Training College); and Khoo Soon Teong, Nazri Ahmad and Basil Jayatilaka who taught music at the Specialist Teachers Training Institute (STTI) in Kuala Lumpur.

Lecturing in institutions of higher learning provided these educators with an opportunity to contribute to the development of the arts curriculum, and to transmit their artistic and pedagogical knowledge to diploma and graduate-level students, who were orientated towards careers as art teachers or artists. Arts pedagogy and theories of child development were incorporated into the visual arts curriculum in the 70s, while music education transitioned from performance to pedagogical orientation in the late 80s. 

About this time, the 1969 political and racial unrest triggered a wave of discussions, rethinking and reshaping ideas about ‘Malaysian’ arts and culture, and identity. A National Cultural Congress was called which paved the way for a National Culture Policy (NCP). The policy – which gives precedence to the Malay arts – was to influence artists, educators, and the development of arts curriculum in the 70s and 80s.

By the 80s, post-colonial sentiments had taken root at local institutions, dominated by a Malaysian academic community trained in western academic culture but determined to promote Asian form and content, theory, methodology and techniques alongside Western ones, in both research and curricular. Graduates students coming out of this new school of thought and practice, contributed towards the development of interesting experiments in contemporary Malaysian arts education which took place within institutions, as well as outside the school environment. The teaching curriculum and creative work became more infused with indigenous forms and content.

To an extent, the educational and political developments in the 60s and 70s brought arts and culture to the fore; leading to a surge in support, mentoring, and programming for the arts by academic institutions and government agencies. Arts at a tertiary level, arts in schools, and non-formal arts programmes for young people began to emerge, marrying new ideas of child art and art-making with local content and form.


Examples of such programs include the Komplex Budaya Negara Children’s Theatre Program led by Elizabeth Cardosa and Janet Pillai (1978-82), the course in children’s theatre at University Sains Malaysia led by Zainal Latiff (1979-1985), drama and puppetry programmes at libraries such as Pustaka Bimbingan Kanak Kanak and the National Library (Perpustakaan Negara) and the Children’s Creative Classes at the National Art Gallery (Balai Seni Lukis Negara)

The Program Seni Kreatif at Universiti Sains Malaysia can be catagorised as one of the non-formal initiatives in arts education from the 80s which consciously experimented with the application of pedagogical theories of learning and development; while making drama, music, and art with children. The exposure of the two initiators of this programme to early Malaysian arts educators and arts institutions explains and contextualises the orientation of the programme.


Programme Initiator(s): Sugu Kingham & Janet Pillai

Producing Organisation(s): School of Arts, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang

Programme Instructor(s): Sugu Kingham (Visual Arts), Janet Pillai (Creative Drama)

Guest Instructor(s): Mohammad Jufri (Traditional Music)


In 1985, Kingham and Pillai sent a proposal entitled USM Children’s Theatre Program to the director School of Arts (Pusat Seni) at Universiti Sains Malaysia. The programme was proposed as a service programme, Kursus Jangka Pendek, for children of the University staff and was conceived as an experiment in integrated arts education. The programme however, only took off in 1986 and evolved over a period of 6 years from 1986-1991. Archival evidence records 4 of the projects that took place over the course of 6 years. The duration of each of the projects was between 4-6 months.

As this programme was conceived as a university service programme, participants in the initial years were mainly confined to children of university staff. Recruitment was conducted within the university by word of mouth and the usage of fliers. From 1990 onwards, recruitment was widened to include students from schools around the University, which required permission from the State Department of Education.

Each project involved a group of between 7-20 participants. Participants in the Program Seni Kreatif USM were aged between 10-14 years old; with one exception of a 17-year-old. The children of the university staff sometimes participated in more than 1 project, this enabled them to develop more skills. Classes were free of charge and were held on weekends, and during the school holidays.

Supporting Archival Materials for Programme Description

USM Children’s Theater Program (1985)


Integrated Curriculum

The outstanding aspect of this programme was the focus on integrated arts which challenged the conventional separation of art disciplines in the formal school curriculum. The orientation towards integration in this programme was perhaps influenced by University Sains Malaysia, which at the time promoted an interdisciplinary school model. The different curricular found on record for the 4 projects indicate that the instructors may have been exploring the challenge of integrated arts using several entry points.

In some projects, space was the integrating factor; where participants were assigned specific tasks in a specific location. Working in a living space, participants would subconsciously become cognisant of movement, sounds, visual, and dramatic elements while interacting in or observing the space. 

In another project, story was used as the integrating factor. Participants conducted field-work together, shared notes and ideas, then went away to worked on separate mediums such as the visual and dramatic aspects of the story, before coming together again to integrate their final output.

Sometimes ‘materials’ were used as a common denominator and explored via sculpture, movement, drama, and music lessons. In one project, the basic elements of art (such as line, colour, tone, level etc.) were used as the integrating factor; an example being exploring ‘line’ through drawing, poetry, and movement lessons.

Art-making as an encoding experience

Kingham and Pillai were very much affected by the idea of ‘progressive education’ a view of education which emphasised the need to learn by doing. In their various curriculum, the duo emphasised art as an experience, as well as the need to guide and develop the creative instincts of the child. Classes valued play and creativity through direct experience with the material, natural and social environment.

The Programme Seni Kreatif USM proposal put less emphasis on training and skill building, and instead focused on providing a means for children to express their own ideas in tandem with their abilities, and their stage of cognitive development and learning. This was a different approach from training a child to master an instrument, a technique, or a skill. The curriculum exposed children to several art mediums such as dance, movement, mime, improvisation, puppetry, drawing, etc. It stressed the connectivity between art and daily life by drawing on local themes, images or soundscapes with children. Drawing, dramatising, and making music was presented as a way to explore and encode shape, colour, feelings, texture, and the sounds around us. Arts education was viewed as one way of knowing the world.

Projects naturally incorporated fieldtrips to everyday spaces such as markets, busy streets, post-offices, nature parks, etc. Participants spent a good amount of time in these spaces, observing, documenting, collecting materials, and sometimes interacting with the space physically.

Supporting Archival Materials

Proposal – Kursus Jangka Pendek Teater Kanak Kanak (1986)

Proposal – Kursus Jangka Pendek Teater Kanak Kanak (1987)


  1. 1. Program Seni Kreatif USM (1986/1987)
    2. Project Wayang Kulit (1988/1989)
    3. Zam Zam and the Money Lender (1990/1991)
    4. Illustration of Folktales/Stories (1992)
    5. Integrated Arts Program (1992)

Click HERE for Project Summaries of all five projects


Zam Zam & Peminjam Wang, 1991

Zam Zam & Peminjam Wang, 1991