Government Must Prepare Teachers for Music in All Schools

Effective music education in Australian schools requires both specialists and primary school generalists to be involved in the teaching. But those working to give every student access to music lessons are faced with a severe dearth of confidence and skills among educators. What must be done to overcome this obstacle?

Quality Teachers Essential

While a national music curriculum and easily accessible resource materials are much needed, it is the human resources – that is, well-trained teachers of music – that will be the key to effective music education in schools. As a matter of high priority, education systems need to provide specialist music teachers to whom every primary school in Australia will have access. At present such people are in extremely short supply, so initially it may be necessary to give many of them the role of training, coordinating, and supporting qualified generalists across a number of schools who opt to move into the music field. Perhaps this scenario is the only way of bringing effective music education to very small and rural schools.

Campaign to Ignite Music Education

In a culture where music education needs much higher status, the Music Council of Australia drives a campaign to spark enthusiasm among the staff and students of schools. With the title IGNITE, it aims at schools where little or nothing is happening in music. Notable successes are recorded. For instance, in one Sydney primary school which had previously been musically inactive, two teachers became enthusiastic about teaching music in their classes and a piano teacher was employed to teach 20 eager students. The principal attributes the change to the IGNITE campaign. This sort of approach through inspiration is an excellent initiator, but once the teachers are eager they need considerable support. Where will it come from?
Music Education

Education of Teachers

The key to providing quality teachers is excellent training before they enter the role and ample professional development during their career. Since about 1990 or even earlier, the amount of time in pre-service teacher education allotted to music methodology for primary generalists has dwindled alarmingly. Few, if any, of the teachers entering primary classroom roles each year are prepared for giving any effective music lessons to their students even at the simplest level. Thus, it often happens that if there is no specialist available the children learn no music at school. Teaching education must include adequate sequential learning of music skills and concepts through all years of the course.

Vanishing Support for Teachers

Over the last fifteen or so years support services for school music specialists have been steadily reduced by most public education systems in Australia. Distinct gaps in knowledge and skills have developed, especially in the area of technology. And, even when professional development programs are offered, the sessions tend to be outside of school hours. Teachers, already under increasing workloads, are frequently loath to participate. To make matters worse collegiate support networks are few and far between.

Professional Development Essential

Recognizing these problems, the report of the National Music Workshop recommends to the Australian Government that materials and resources are made easily available online for professional development of specialist teachers. In the longer term, a force of specially trained PD providers should deliver ongoing programs at multiple levels in public, Catholic and independent school sectors.

Music In-service Courses for Generalist Teachers

General classroom teachers already in the schools need regular, sequential in-service courses of professional development to equip them with enough skills and confidence to provide a certain amount of musical experience to their classes each week. Even in a school where a specialist is available this sort of lesson is valuable, particularly if it involves singing.
Firstly, it can reinforce what the specialist is teaching. Secondly, it helps to show that music is part of the mainstream of education for all children. Thirdly, the generalist teacher can integrate music lessons with other learning areas, thus using the power of music to facilitate academic and social progress.
The teaching profession must accept that some basic musical skills are essential to quality teaching in primary school education.

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