Let’s get with the beat!

A truly African education, undoubtedly, has to include music education!

Africa as a continent has had so many struggles over the last few hundred years.  As a result, the education of its children has suffered. We have missed the industrial revolution and all the technological revolutions since. As it stands currently, we are consumers of technology rather than producers. But finally, our continent seems to be mobilising.

These are exciting times; pockets of excellence are springing up everywhere. Significant effort and attention is going into quality education as a means of turning the tide and preparing our youth to be meaningful contributors to the fourth industrial revolution.  But while we race to compete academically with the rest of the globe we mustn’t forget the latent talents that we already have. Natural talents that set our continent apart. Our music.

Africa is truly remarkable in its music. Our children have raw musical talent in abundance. It is an integral part of our continent with its diverse people and cultures. Around the world, choirs sing African traditional songs, fascinated by their polyphonic rhythms and multiple harmonies. Djembes and Marimbas are played throughout the globe. While the rest of the world is trying hard to match up to talents that exist effortlessly on this continent, we should not take these for granted.  In doing so we run the risk of devaluing our own cultural heritage, and ourselves. While our African continent may be economically poor; it is through music that we are able to re-ignite the true wealth of our diverse cultures.

But music is so much more than just culture.

Beyond building a cultural identity, there are considerable benefits to a musical education for our children. Research has shown both academic and social benefits. Academically, nothing fires up all areas of the brain simultaneously as does music. It is a complete brain workout. Children who study music show a higher general intelligence. They have better literacy, language, reasoning and memory skills and are generally better co-ordinated. Not only that, through understanding rhythm and harmony they develop a more ordered and mathematical left brain. Research even suggests that music education can reduce the academic gap between rich and poor students. But there is more.

Music education can also make a significant contribution towards the social and emotional well-being of our children. The emotional and creative expression of music fires the right side of the brain. Making music has been shown to have a very positive effect on behaviour. It creates a sense of achievement and develops a positive self-image. Music is all about collaboration, and not competition. As such, it fosters the spirit of community: I am because we are. It has the power to build cultural awareness and understanding of others. Surely, nothing connects diverse people better than singing or playing music together?

In short, music ticks all the boxes in developing those 21st century skills that progressive education groups are working hard to achieve. With absolutely heaps of raw talent on our African continent, and so many positives in favour of music education, can there be any doubt about the importance of it being at the core of our curriculum? Already, many of our schools, especially the private schools, are doing a great job in this regard. But we need more. Much more.

We need ALL our children to learn to play instruments. We need ALL of them singing in choirs and playing in bands, from Marimba bands to Jazz bands, and from Djembe drum circles to Orchestras. The knock-on effect will be immense.

Parents and schools: let’s work together! Let’s all get with the beat!

Written by Amber Vishwakarma

Amber is the Grade 1 teacher at Future Nation Schools, Lyndhurst.