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SA school music education in ‘crisis’

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UPDATED | Music educators and industry workers have welcomed a State Government-led review of music education amid concerns South Australia’s school programs are inadequate, poorly staffed and under-resourced.

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The then Labor Government last year announced it would invest $5.12 million across four years in the delivery of music education in state schools, with a consultation process and the development of a new music education strategy.

The public consultation, which involves calls for submissions, public surveys and school visits, is currently underway under the new Marshall Government, with the survey and call for submissions to close on June 1.

There are differing views about where the blame lies, but the key players in the field spoken to by InDaily all agreed that school music education needed greater investment.

There are also concerns for the amount of time dedicated to music education in university teaching degrees.

Adelaide Symphony Orchestra managing director Vincent Ciccarello, who was influential in setting up a music education roundtable in 2014 and lobbied for the State Government to develop the new strategy, said the state of music education in South Australia was at “crisis” point.

“We are actually seriously depriving our children of something that could be a fundamental good for their intellectual, emotional and personal development by not providing a quality music education along the way,” he said.

“For me, the alarm bells are ringing that we’re not recruiting South Australians to the orchestra and also that we’re having a diminishing pool of suitably qualified and experienced casual musicians that we can call upon.

“It suggests to me that there is a problem further down the chain.”

Ciccarello said he was “hard-pressed” to name a South Australian musician who had been recruited to the ASO in the last year. He said recently the orchestra had been recruiting about three-quarters of its musicians from Queensland, regarded by many in the Australian music industry as the leading state for school music education.

“That really talks about a pipeline to the creation and development of professional musicians in South Australia,” he said.

The Australian Society for Music Education said South Australia’s national standing in music education has gradually slipped over the past 25 years.

The society believes South Australian universities are failing to equip future teachers with the skills they need to confidently teach music literacy.

“We’re feeling that the reduction in specialisation in teacher training across the arts, especially early education, needs to be addressed,” said ASME national president Antony Hubmayer.

“In a lot of teacher training courses now, the experience of the arts is a multifaceted one between four of the performing arts – dance, drama, music and media.

“That gets allocated out of a four-year course something like 16 weeks. When you divide that up between the arts it’s not a very big experience.”

ASME state branch council member and music teacher Christine Narroway said music education training had “diminished” in the tertiary setting and what was offered was “tokenistic”.

“I do some work at UniSA and I do an arts-intensive where, with undergraduates and some postgraduate masters, they put them through this intensive course where you really only have four hours for each subject,” she said.

“If you had no background in it (music) at all, the confidence that you would develop over four hours would be fairly limited.”

Narroway, who works in the public system, said while music education was strong in most eastern suburbs schools, there needed to be more equity in music education across the state.

“We need not just best practice in schools like Rose Park and Marryatville and Burnside but we need to look at how we can have best practice in Paralowie and Blair Athol and Enfield,” she said.

“I’m part of the national teachers’ mentoring program and I go into Enfield Primary School and work with early years teachers – teachers who want to teach music in their classroom.

“The government funded me to go in for a period of time and work with two teachers, which worked really well, but it’s still only two teachers. There are other teachers that were interested in learning more but the school can’t afford to have me in there all the time.”

She said the mentoring program should be expanded, with greater government funding.

Narroway said music teachers were increasingly under pressure to teach more generalist arts courses, in part due to what she described as a “broad-brush” approach to arts education in the Australian Curriculum.

While music teachers once specialised in music alone, the broader approach to arts in the Australian Curriculum meant they were under pressure to teach other subjects like dance, drama and media which, in turn, meant that budgets were spread more thinly.

“I’m hoping this new strategy will dig us out of that hole a little bit.”

Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts at Adelaide University, Professor Jennie Shaw, described South Australia’s music education as “inadequate” and in “desperate need” of more instrumental music teachers.

Instrumental music education in state schools is currently organised by the Instrumental Music (IM) program, which sends designated music teachers from 19 state schools into other schools to teach instrumental music classes.

“There might be only one teacher working over a number of schools and that teacher might be a fantastic piano teacher, for example, but they can only teach the student that one instrument,” Shaw said.

“That limits the opportunities for the students. We need to offer kids variety so they can find something that suits them.”

ASME representatives said funding for the IM program had not increased with inflation.

“There were about 85 teachers in IM four or five years ago but the government hasn’t replaced the teachers that have since retired or gone part-time,” Narroway said.

“Queensland has a primary music specialist in every single state school. It would be fantastic if we could have the same.”

Shaw said a better music education in schools could develop better-trained music teachers later down the track.

“This state has not had much financial investment in music education compared to other states like Queensland,” she said.

“What Queensland did was to invest in its teachers so that the students are receiving quality education from the get-go. We can’t just leave it to TAFE and universities to provide that education.”

Shaw said the Elder Conservatorium of Music’s enrolments had remained “steady” over the past three years, with last year’s final enrolment figure coming in at 382 students.

She said the university had reintroduced its Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Education double degree and students had the option of studying music education as a major at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

“What is a problem is the fact we produce a lot of graduates but there are also employers interstate and overseas and if the job isn’t here then our students don’t stay here,” she said.

“We have a responsibility to keep our young people here and provide them with the opportunities to pursue their music careers in their home state.

“Given that we are a UNESCO music city, partly because SA supports so many festivals, we have this responsibility, and yet we often recruit from interstate for our music positions.”

Department For Education executive director of strategic policy and external relations, Karen Weston, said it was not yet possible to estimate a cost for the new Music Education Strategy.

She said the music education consultation would help the department develop a strategy “based on robust evidence, expert advice and best practice research”.

“We will aim to put the most effective directions in place to lift the standard of how music education is delivered.”

Music education consultation surveys are available for all the public to participate in and can be accessed through the Department for Education website.

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