Music can help get our kids out of the literacy rut, but sc…
(MENAFN – The Conversation)
The 2005 National Review of School Music Education found that many Australian students had no music education, with huge disparities between states. In 2020, our research for the Tony Foundation revealed the same issues, despite the fact that the Australian music curriculum should ensure some level of consistency.
We now have evidence that we should care about music education not just for the enjoyment of music itself, but also because of its impacts on language learning and literacy. Research into how participation in music affects the brain — a field known as neuromusical research — has taught us a lot about how the brain processes language. Significantly, it treats language the same as music.
If we want to improve literacy, we need to ensure that the cognitive foundations our students need are in place.
In short, we need to view music education as a powerful complementary learning experience, not a “nice but not essential” part of the curriculum.
Read more: Music training can speed up brain development and help build literacy skills
So what are states doing?
We have yet to see this knowledge put into practice across Australia.
Before and after the 2005 review, Queensland had strong music programs in state-funded primary schools since the 1980s. The state has a whole-school classroom music program ( where a teacher is available) and a low-cost instrumental music program for some students. A campaign is underway in Queensland to preserve these programs and ensure that every pupil receives a music lesson every week.
The same cannot be said of other states. Despite steps taken to improve music education in some states, there are still inequalities.
South Australia created a Music Education Strategy and Music Innovation Fund in 2019. Victoria developed a Quality Music Education Framework to guide best practice. Tasmania, Western Australia and the ACT have specialist music teachers in some state primary schools. In New South Wales, general state school teachers are responsible for teaching the entire curriculum, including music.
But how much does music really matter?
Music can advance literacy
Although music education has been found to improve a wide range of cognitive functions, consider literacy development as an example. If literacy scores are below required or expected levels, it seems obvious that the solution is to spend more time on literacy learning to improve those scores. This is the approach taken over the past five years.
Yet, we did not see a significant increase in NAPLAN results. In fact, the dial has moved very little.
Read more: Progress in reading declines between grades 5 and 7, especially for advantaged students: 5 graphs
Thus, the obvious “more time” approach does not produce better literacy outcomes. Could we then look to research outside the literacy field for the next steps in improving literacy in our schools?
The answer is yes. One area traditionally a stone’s throw from literacy – music education – has dramatically improved understanding of how the brain develops language comprehension and application.
Neuromusical research has identified the brain mechanisms and interactions that decode the sounds of language to understand and develop language syntax through to understanding and creating meaning through language. This led to the enlightening discovery that the human brain processes all language as if it were music.
What does this mean for literacy and the current measure of its effectiveness, NAPLAN? This means that we may be missing a fundamental foundation of language development – the development of the auditory processing network to its highest level so that our students can effectively interpret the sounds of language.
Simply put, if a child can’t hear the sound of language – that is, properly process sound through their auditory network – they can’t speak it. And if they can’t speak it, they can’t read it.
Thanks to music, children are literally in tune with the sounds of language. Shutterstock
Read more: Engagement and achievement in music predict higher grades in math, science and English
The costs of inaction are high
Research on the potential of music education to enhance cognitive development is extensive and compelling. This clearly shows that consistent, high-quality musical learning improves overall student learning. Thus, learning music is not just for those who want to become musicians, it benefits everyone.
The cost of waiting, of not solving the problems of music education across Australia, is high. It is a matter of fairness. If the state in which a student is schooled affects their fundamental cognitive development due to the lack of quality music education for every child, then every child is not receiving an equitable and effective education.
The longer we wait to address inequity, the fewer qualified music teachers we will have in Australia. In our report, Music Education: A Sound Investment, we identified that we are on a skill cliff of qualified music educators in this country. In addition to the general shortage of teachers, there are now only a few universities offering a specialization in elementary music education. Urgent action is needed to ensure that there are enough music teachers in all schools, so that children do not miss out.
In education, the fact that politicians and policy makers ignore research evidence is not new. But failing to see the big picture of every child’s development has lasting effects.
The goal of education should be to provide the cognitive preparation for a full and productive life. And music is integral to providing students with the best possible foundation for their education.
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