Music education takes a back seat in Australian classrooms [opinion]

Despite available resources, Australian primary schools choose to invest in sport over music education – a systemic bias with future economic consequences, writes Amplify CEO Ricky Kradolfer.


Like many people reading this, I grew up in a house full of music.

When I was around seven years old, the Catholic primary school I attended in Adelaide decided to offer instrumental lessons. The only catch was that you had to cross the road to the girls’ high school to get them.

They didn’t have many takers. In fact, it was me who took the opportunity to learn the guitar.

As a young boy who didn’t have any sisters, getting into an all-girls high school was pretty daunting, but carrying my guitar made me feel really cool. This is my first memory of feeling like “me”. And even though I seemed to be starting my musical journey alone, I knew it was the start of something.

The confidence continued until my early days in high school where I was lucky enough to attend an all-boys college that had an established music program. I spent many lunches in the music room hideaway with my music-loving friends, sharing songs from bands that blew our minds. And although I loved playing the guitar, I was frustrated because the upbringing I’d had since I started at age seven now felt somehow limiting and in conflict with what I wanted. make.

After finishing my studies, I started playing in bands and writing my own songs. That was music for me. I’ve been lucky enough to tour the world, get my songs played on the radio, write a song that’s been selling gold, and have a hell of a good time doing it.

Fast forward to now and I am one of those making an impact in the lives of young people.

As a music educator working with primary school children, I was shocked to learn that more than a million primary school children do not learn music as part of their daily education, even though it is one of the four programs used in Australia. . After further research, it became clear that there are several reasons why this is the case.

The first reason is geographical. Australia is a large and vast country and many schools are quite isolated. In New South Wales alone, there are just over 300 primary schools with fewer than 50 pupils enrolled. Finding teachers for regional and rural schools is difficult, let alone specialist teachers. Speaking of specialist teachers, they are a rare gem! It is estimated that only 23% of public schools in Australia have a specialist music teacher. For those who don’t, the responsibility lies with the teacher to teach music according to the curriculum, but most of the time they don’t have the knowledge or the confidence to be able to do it in a way who connects with their students.

Pictured: Natalie and Ricky Kradolfer, co-founders of Amplify

The benefits of music education in a primary school are widely researched and reported. Using my school program Amplify, which I co-founded with my wife, Natalie Kradolfer, all of the above challenges can be overcome instantly. Amplify can be used in any school, anywhere in Australia (and one day hopefully the world) and enables mainstream teachers to deliver contemporary, relevant and real music lessons to their classroom that meet all program outcomes. We let teachers do what they do best – help students acquire, retain and apply their knowledge, regardless of their musical abilities – it’s all done for them.

However, a fundamental change must occur with the value placed on music. Wouldn’t it be great if education leaders talked about the importance of music the same way they talk about literacy, numeracy and, dare I say, sports? And that change has to happen in elementary school, because by the time students get to high school, it’s too late.

Throughout the pandemic, governments have continually shown a preference for sport over the arts, both at school level and in society at large. Schoolchildren were allowed to return to school and interscholastic sport while music was still on the ‘maybe’ list. When I talk to schools about using Amplify for music, more times than you might think, a school will say “we’re putting our budget into sports” or “we’re focusing on sports this term.” For clarity, I love sports and believe it’s a very important part of a balanced upbringing, but the decision of “music OR sports” just shows the systemic imbalance in value.

Countries that place a higher value on music education and regard it as essential, such as Finland, South Korea and Denmark, all outperform Australia in global rankings such as PISA (based on academia) . It is not a coincidence. Finland has about a quarter of the population of Australia, but our music industries generate about the same amount of money (pre-COVID comparison). Again, this is no coincidence.

Using technology to make music education widely accessible will not only benefit student outcomes right now, it will completely change the value that is placed on music and the arts in the future.

When I look back on my musical upbringing, I’m so thankful I had the balls to be the only kid in school to learn guitar because it made me who I am. Anything I would change about that, I do and more with Amplify and seeing the results first hand is amazing. I know the value of music will change, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

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