There’s general acknowledgement that music is not only good for its own sake, but has attributes that may improve a child’s abilities in learning and dexterity in other tasks.
One only needs to recall the nursery rhymes or the songs by generation after generation of children on the playground that many adults are surprised to hear still being sung accompanying games they also played as children.
Other than entrenching social cohesion, such a song-filled environment in interactive is often advantageous for children’s language development.
Beyond the playground, however, research shows that learning music in a structured classroom curriculum can help children excel in ways beyond the basic ABCs.
It can not only improve test scores and personal discipline, but learning music can also, among others, enhance mathematically oriented and visualisation skills, described as spatial-temporal skills, that come into play in solving multistep problems one would encounter in various fields, including engineering, art, architecture, gaming, and computer wizardly.
However, while this research has mainly been in the West and demonstrates the potential for all of us, it remains scanty in Africa for one to adequately gauge impact of music in our local schools.
Nevertheless, recent investigations such as a baseline survey titled “African Music Resource Development and Application” that sought to determine the presence and types of music activities in primary schools in East and Southern Africa offers some insights.
Focusing on selected schools in South Africa, Kenya and Zambia, the survey found that teachers’ ability was not only marked by limited musical knowledge, but that there is a general lack of adequate resources occasioned by limited funding for music (and other arts). This is addition to lack of skills to adapt what is available for classroom use.
Notably also, the survey found that music is primarily conceptualized as singing, with songs and dances abundant in schools.
This means that, since the schools are poorly resourced, the actual transfer of music knowledge through teaching is minimal with recourse to traditional song and dance often being the only available option.
The survey findings may resonate in Rwanda. Specifically, when the country’s Ministry of Education officials working under the Quality of Education Enhancement Awareness Campaign sought to find out what happened to some 2,000 digital pianos donated to the government in October 2015 by a Korean company, it was to some disappointment. (See, “Musical instruments gathering dust in many schools”, The New Times, May 15, 2018)
As a stopgap measure, it is reported that the concerned Rwanda Education Board officials urged the primary schools officials to “get the instruments out of their covers and collaborate with community” or available musically skilled people to activate musical education in their institutions.
While the time that has elapsed since delivery of the musical instruments donation reveals the extent of the lack of adequate skills, it also presents an opportunity for a concerted effort to actualise the existing music curriculum for schools.
It also presents an opportunity for further appraisal. It should serve as a prod for more study in the area locally, as well as across the continent.
Given the benefits, inclusion of a music curriculum may not need to be emphasised. Indeed, the survey revealed goodwill from teachers to have music entrenched in the curriculum. They indicated a desire for the integration of music in all areas of learning. The pupils expressed interest in music study and performance.
The only rider here is that, as researchers elsewhere emphasise, teaching music in our schools is not necessarily because it will lead one to being a highflying musician or make one smarter.
They observe that while parents may hope that enrolling their child in a music program will make her a better student, the primary reasons to provide your child with a musical education should be to help them become more musical, to appreciate all aspects of music, and to respect the process of learning an instrument or learning to sing, which is valuable on its own merit.
In the meantime, many of us will remain appreciative that music is often a personal “thing”, whether one is into classical music, jazz, rock or hip hop. And, for those of us of a certain age who had the opportunity, many still remember with fondness learning our “doh-reh-mi” in music class.
It is also testament that not many of us – at least none that I can recall from “those” days – ended up becoming a musician.
Beyond belting a favourite song out-of-tune in the shower or humming along to a popular number while waiting in the jam listening to the radio, our musical ambitions went no further, except for a deep appreciation of the art.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.