How public schools stop the music for our kids

Nov 21, 2018 by

By Richard Letts –

Has anyone ever seen a child more ready to absolutely explode with hope than Anastasia? She’s the girl with the remarkable voice in 6th class at Challis Primary. She has just been accepted at a secondary school with a music program and suddenly sees a future as a singer. Life has been tough. Not much money and her mum has had two cancer operations. But now this!

Or there is the little boy, aged about 7, almost beside himself after singing along with his class and Guy Sebastian playing drums. “That was the best thing that ever happened to me in my entire life!” he shouts.

Well, I’m writing about events on Don’t Stop The Music, ABC TV’s documentary series about the introduction of a music program into this Perth primary school.

Anastasia has always had her voice. The other kids were not so blessed. But for seven weeks (as of episode two), they have had musical instruments. Their early struggles are often painful – for us; them, not so much. Kyla decides she would love to play cornet, but she can’t blow a raspberry with her lips. With wonderful persistence she at last can get a sound out of her cornet. Some of the most talented can’t remember to bring their instruments to lessons. We see an intricate display of personal flaws and triumphs. Teachers tackle kids and their problems one at a time.

Then in the seventh week, the brass band and the string orchestra give their first concert. Too early for the sound to be pretty. But the kids are elated and so are the parents.

If you are a NSW parent, you could by now be asking why there is no music program in your child’s primary school. Because if it’s a public school, it almost certainly doesn’t have one (unless affluent parents pay for it).

In fact, music is a mandatory component of the NSW primary school curriculum. Mandatory – but it is hardly taught. Why? Because the teachers do not know how to teach music. Why? Because, on average, universities in NSW give trainee primary teachers only 12.7 hours of music preparation – this to teach the mandatory curriculum from kindergarten to 6th class. And the Department of Education accredits these graduates. It is a form of dishonesty.

NSW kids miss out on music, and also on music education’s other benefits. A rigorous OECD survey found, in very brief summary, that: “Music lessons improve children’s academic performance and their IQ, and they improve phonological awareness and word decoding” (related to reading skills).

Australia worries about its decline in the international PISA rankings of educational performance. Its overall rank has descended from 6th at inception to 21st. We discover that these countries that are most decisively our superiors – Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, China-Macau, Estonia, Finland, South Korea, China, Slovenia – all have far better school music education, usually taught by specialist music teachers. In South Korea, music is taught by classroom teachers, but with 180 hours of music education, not 12.7 hours. The Finns have had 350 hours.

A good music education has not been an obstacle to superior academic performance. Indeed, it may have contributed to it.

Richard Letts is the director of The Music Trust.

Source: How public schools stop the music for our kids

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