Situated in the Riverina region of western NSW, 145 km north of Griffith, lies the small farming town of Hillston. The K-12 state school there, Hillston Central School, boasts just 170 students and works hard to overcome the geographical isolation the local community faces. And with almost 20% of the student population being Aboriginal, it pays special attention to their needs and to closing the achievement gap for ATSI students.
One of Hillston Central School’s success stories is music. In 2007, the Australian Children’s Music Foundation (ACMF) began a teaching program there through the efforts and initiatives of Rachel Scott, a Sydney-based cellist and music teacher. Many Sydney concertgoers know her from her intimate Bach in the Dark recitals years in the crypt of St James’ Church in King Street over many years. She began visiting Hillston three days each term and, among other things, was able to start a program of one-on-one lessons for musicians in the school’s band via video-conference. “These mentoring sessions have given these kids … access to lessons from some of the finest musicians in the country,” noted ACMF way back in 2014.
Fast forward to 2020, and online teaching delivery has of course come right into its own. ACMF successfully rolled out a fully digital learning program at Hillston this year with the help of staff and teachers at the school. Music Australia caught up with Ben Sibson, ACMF’s programs manager, who told us how things went and what the future presents.
“At the moment, the program that we have been running via remote learning is the music program at Hillston Central School. This arose out of necessity due to the COVID lockdowns (during which several of our programs had physical teaching replaced by online learning in differing formats) and was extended out over terms 3 and 4 as a precautionary measure to protect the community, as there was some concern about a Sydney-based teacher flying out to Hillston with limited health resources.
The remote lessons were conducted by ACMF teacher Rachel Scott for entire class groups (K-6) using Zoom, and broadcast interactively in real time to the children using a smartboard in a dedicated space in the school. Although the lessons were very successful, they would not have been possible and as successful for all involved were it not for the ‘on the ground’ support of the classroom teachers at the school, who have had ongoing training and teaching resources provided by Rachel over several years. There are obvious difficulties with the time delay inherent in streaming technology, which required some testing and planning to overcome, but once these methodologies had been established classes ran smoothly and the kids had a great time!
While the ‘road testing’ of remote lessons is an unexpected positive that has arisen from COVID, and the ACMF is investing in the development of more online resources that can be delivered by generalist classroom teachers, it must be said that the biggest lesson reinforced by the experience is that there is no substitute for having an experienced music teacher physically present in the classroom with the children. It would be tempting to see this technology as an inexpensive solution for access to music by children in remote areas, and it can certainly be used as a reinforcement tool for physical programs, but the experience for both children and teachers is undeniably inferior – not to mention highly dependent on technology at both ends of the connection.”
See our earlier story on the Australian Children’s Music Foundation to learn more about what they do. Founded in 2002 by Don Spencer, erstwhile presenter on ABC TV’s Playschool, it provides tuition and instruments to children from disadvantaged backgrounds and youth who are at risk.