Monday, 27 Sep 2021

Music education neglected but instrumental

Music education is vital when it comes to engaging young people with their learning.

Three out of four primary schools lack a specialist music teacher.
Three out of four primary schools lack a specialist music teacher.

A number of campaigns have helped highlight the importance of music in learning. The ARIA Music Teacher of the Year Award celebrates the influence Australia’s top music educators have on our students. The powerful 2018 ABC documentary series Don’t Stop the Music followed one school’s journey as it introduced a large-scale school band with the help of the Salvos. Academics such as Anita Collins highlight the neuroscientific benefits of music on the brain.

The most compelling body of research comes from a seminal study conducted by Professor Brian Caldwell and Dr Tanya Vaughan, which found student engagement, learning outcomes and social wellbeing were all improved by the introduction of teaching artists in schools.

Additionally, an analysis conducted by PwC in the UK confirms a £15.30 ($25) social return for every £1 ($1.50) invested in arts learning programs.

Nonetheless, music and arts learning remains a neglected area. This is disappointing.

There is an increasing equity gap in education. Australian children from disadvantaged backgrounds start school academically behind their more advantaged peers, and fall further behind as they progress.

Meanwhile, three out of four primary schools lack a specialist music teacher, and teaching degrees only average around 15-20 hours of instruction in teaching the arts. So even if the school will is present, often the capacity and capability to deliver high quality music education is absent.

So how can this be addressed? How can schools help their students academically and socially through music and arts learning? And how can the skills of generalist teachers be built to enable them to effectively teach music and the arts?

One practical solution involves sending specialist music teachers into classrooms to help generalist teachers. This enables teachers to blend professional learning into their daily schedule rather than having to find time outside classroom hours.

Providing greater access to arts learning resources such as videos, lesson plans and instructions is another effective way of helping teachers. When these resources are designed to be adapted to particular skill levels, it enables teachers to build their capabilities with confidence.

Encouragingly, a number of government authorities have recently committed funding to music education, recognising it is as an effective way to help students academically and socially.

The Song Room, an organisation I chair which delivers arts learning programs to schools, has partnered with the Victorian Department of Education and Training to provide a music education mentoring program in 80 government schools this semester.

Song Room students from Debney Meadows Primary School performing at the Melbourne Town Hall.
Song Room students from Debney Meadows Primary School performing at the Melbourne Town Hall.

Professional learning for generalist primary school teachers in music education helps teaching staff, school leadership and students alike.

We all stand to benefit from evidence-based programs that help close the education equity gap.


Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

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