The Power Of Music Education

Image Credit: ABC iView
Graham Strahle
| October 29, 2019

The ABC’s documentary Don’t Stop the Music last year can be credited with generating a good deal of public attention on the transformative effect music can have on young lives, so good on the national broadcaster for following it up with a panel discussion in the Q&A TV series. Hosted as usual by Tony Jones, ‘The Power Of Music’ in its Q&A panel program was aired on 30 September and had four very worthy panellists: Jonathon Welch, Katie Noonan, L FRESH THE LION, Tex Perkins and Mojo Juju. The episode can be viewed here and a transcript can be found here.

Jones introduced this Q&A episode as being about “the power of music to transform lives, and the untapped power of the music industry itself”, and while it roamed around rather a lot it did generate some good discussion on two topics.

Asked a wide-ranging question about public investment in music what needs to change to bring more economic, social and cultural benefits from Australia’s high rate of musical participation, Jonathon Welch said investing in music education should be a much bigger priority in this country.

“I don’t think we can have this conversation, really, without talking about music education and what’s happened to music education in this country as well too, and the issues that we have with, not just funding,” he said.

“The funding is in the education and the training of teachers, and particularly primary school teachers, going into the education system…the real issue that we have is in the training of primary-school teachers in particular, at pre-service stage, when they’re being trained. Apparently, there are only something like two out of three primary schools – government schools in this country – that have a music program.”

And he’s right. Music Australia’s figures show that as few as 23 per cent of state schools are providing an effective education for their students. So it means that the majority of school kids in this country are missing out on this vital area in their education. The situation is vastly better for private schools, where the figure is closer to 88 per cent. Welch picked up on this latter statistic, adding “the reason that the independent schools are making this investment into music – because they know it gives them an academic advantage.”

Welch mentioned that the amount of time given to music education in teaching degrees in Australian tertiary institutons has dropped over the past two decades to about 17 hours. Again this is right: this is the figure given by Professor Katrina McFerran, head of music therapy at University of Melbourne, in her research.

An earlier point was made by Katie Noonan that federal spending on music and the arts in general has declined alarmingly and that this makes no sense given the high return this investment brings to the national economy.

“The fact is that in, I think, the ’17-’18 year, the arts culture in Australia gave back…you know, contributed over $111 billion – almost $112 billion – to our federal budget, to our federal economy, to our economy, which is 6.4% of our gross domestic product. However, the funding in the arts in Australia is approximately 1% of the government spend,” she said.

“It’s been a pretty dire decade, and actually, the federal government now invests almost 20% less per capita in each Australian person. That’s an inexcusable statistic.”

Elsewhere in the program discussion moved onto the remuneration of artists publishing their material on YouTube and the contribution that music makes to mental health. Good points were made on both of these topics as well. All in all it was a productive and timely discussion. A new documentary by the ABC entitled ‘The Show Must Go On’ looks further into how mental health issues plague the entertainment industry. Screened on 8 October during Mental Health Week, it can be replayed on iView.

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