Calls for Australian schools to boost music education

Music can lift learning outcomes, say education experts, with a rock festival this weekend on Lord Howe Island set to highlight some of that success.

Extensive research into the social, behavioural and academic benefits of music being taught in schools underpins a new decade-long music education strategy in South Australia.    

And now there are calls for all states to follow its lead.

Award-winning neuromusical educator Anita Collins says a similar strategy is needed Australia-wide.

“Wrapped up in music are all of the components that help the brain to grow,” Dr Collins told Small Business Secrets.

“And we‘re only now starting to understand why music helps children’s brains perform more effectively.”

Children take part in a musical performance on Lord Howe Island.
Source: Supplied

Dr Collins advocates globally for better access to music education to improve numeracy and literacy.

“Music processing and language development share an overlapping network in the brain,” Dr Collins said. 

“The first thing that music education really develops in a child is their language and this comes from the fact that music really is our first language, and from that we then learn how to speak.”

Music really is our first language, and from that, we learn how to speak.

- Anita Collins, Neuromusical educator 
Dr Anita Collins is an expert in music education and childhood development.
Source: SBS

Dr Collins says music education is especially effective with children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“It’s actually addressing some of the fundamental underlying cognitive issues that they’re dealing with,” she said.

“I do a lot of work with disadvantaged communities, many of them in remote areas, where children are living very challenging lives.”

“When we look at the Year 3 NAPLAN results in disadvantaged schools, the kids are always below the state or the national average and, unfortunately throughout their school career, they never really catch up.”

“However, about nine months after they start [music education] we see a real change in attention levels, and attention is one of the first ingredients we need for learning.” 

Island leads by example

Dr Collins welcomed the recent expansion of music education in one of Australia’s most remote communities, Lord Howe Island, east of Port Macquarie, NSW.

Children at the island’s only school had limited instruments until a Sydney music school supplied ukeleles and some musical inspiration.

The remote Lord Howe Island has vastly expanded its school music program.
Source: Supplied

“The school kids were just wide-eyed with delight when musicians turned up with electric guitars and plugged them in,” said David Berkman, who owns Sydney’s Big Music store with his brother.

The school has since vastly expanded its music program, with students setting up bands and performing songs, culminating in performances during the annual music event Rockfest, held this year between 23-29 March.

“I am very proud and amazed at what Rockfest has become because it’s the biggest event on the island's calendar,” said Mr Berkman, who also founded the festival. 

The kids were just wide-eyed when musicians turned up with electric guitars and plugged them in.

- David Berkman, Big Music co-owner and Rockfest founder
Brothers Richard and David Berkman at Big Music in Sydney.
Source: SBS

Rockfest unites the community, with island locals performing on stage alongside leading Australian bands during a week of live music.

“Parents have written songs for the children to perform, and the community is currently tutoring singers and choreographing a dance performance,” said Leanne Hedt, the principal of Lord Howe Island Central School.

“It gives the children an authentic opportunity to perform for hundreds of people, in front of peers, parents, locals and visitors in one of the most scenic locations in the world.”

“It is an opportunity for partnerships to strengthen, and for children to see live music and the value locals place on creative arts.” 

Big Music recently won a prestigious industry award in the US city of Nashville for its work on Lord Howe Island.

"We would have never imagined when we started Rockfest, that we’d be receiving an international award for making a difference to a community," Mr Berkman said. 

The brothers collect a Music Makes a Difference award in Nashville.
Source: Supplied

Dr Collins applauded Lord Howe Island on its enthusiasm for music.

“It creates connection within the school and connection within the community,” she said. 

“Live music like this helps the kids in other ways too, improving  teamwork and those executive functions, which are very hard skills to develop all the way through school.”  

Dr Collins hopes Lord Howe Island's example will inspire change across the country.

“We need to look at ways to resource schools, with a better range of instruments, and more importantly, spaces for good music education to happen."          

Dr Collins recently set up an education program called Bigger Better Brains, based on her interviews with 100 researchers in labs across the world.

Published 23 March 2019 at 8:19pm, updated 23 March 2019 at 9:39pm
By Sandra Fulloon