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Bring creative arts into school examinations

With the appointment of Kirsty Coventry as Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation minister, it is hoped that she will liaise with the Secondary Education ministry to include music and creative arts into the ‘O’ Level and ‘A’ Level syllabuses and examinations.

In the groove by Fred Zindi

In its new curriculum framework for primary and secondary education (2015 to 2022), the ministry introduced Visual and Performing Arts, Theatre Arts, Dance, Music and Film Production as learning areas, but I am yet to see these subjects as part of the ‘O’ Level and ‘A’ Level examination process. I would also be truly elated if music and art became compulsory ‘O’ Level and ‘A’ Level subjects.

Some readers who do not care much about the arts might think this suggestion is grossly crazy, but here are my reasons:

Music has an important function in the development of culture in any society. One would therefore think that since Zimbabweans are so proud of their culture, they would include music as one of the compulsory subjects within the school curriculum in the education system.

In 2004, the ministry made the teaching of music compulsory from Grade 1 to 7 in primary school. The Zimbabwe Primary School Syllabus, which had been drafted as far back as 1989, was put in force, but the majority of teachers in these primary schools were not trained in music and therefore could not implement it. Due to the fact that it was not an examinable subject, the music syllabus was done away with by most schools except those who had the expertise. Attempts by the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (Zimsec) to establish an ordinary level music syllabus for secondary schools were met with the same fate. Only those who had expert music teachers such as Prince Edward School and Churchill Boys High School in Harare and Falcon College in Esigodini organised music lessons as extra-curricular activities for boys who were interested. Some notable jazz bands came out of these schools.

Music has been noted to be an important subject in the holistic development of learners. Nurturing children’s music talent also promotes the development of skills in key academic areas such as mathematics and science. In a study conducted by Whitthall in 2002 it was scientifically proved that there is a link between music and mathematical performance in school. Music, therefore is as important as the three R’s and the socalled “intellectual” subjects such as Science , Mathematics and English.

A recent study carried out in Germany by Jacobs (2013), showed that schools with strong music departments achieved higher academic standards when compared to those with little or no music departments. Therefore one would expect Zimbabwe in view of its strong cultural links to take advantage of these findings and make music a compulsory and examinable subject in all schools.

For years, Zimbabwe’s music educators have been engaged in endless struggles to justify the inclusion of music in school curricula. Even before Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, Alan P Merriam (1964), a renowned anthropologist and researcher in music education, identified 10 functions of music which he used to justify the inclusion of music in the school curricula.

These functions have been adopted by many protagonists of music education as significant justifications for the inclusion of this subject in the general school curriculum.

Curriculum planners should seriously consider including music education in every school syllabus and embrace it as an examinable subject.
Although a variety of strategies can and should be applied to foster learners’ emotional lives, the potential contributory role of music education in Zimbabwe is not always recognised.

Music education has the potential not only to nurture the emotional development of Zimbabwean learners, but also to enhance harmonious social interaction between these learners.

The government should re-align the Education Act to ensure that Arts and Culture are also given priority in the school system.

The Zimbabwe community must first understand that children who excel in the arts but struggle with academics can learn a lot through music and may benefit from playing an instrument and singing if they fail academically. By playing an instrument, one’s self-esteem is automatically boosted to a higher level and inspires them to have something they can boast about to friends. This high
self-esteem will lead to better performance in other academic areas.

Music is currently taught in some schools as an extra-curricular activity or as an optional subject. There are a few schools in Zimbabwe which have placed music education in their syllabuses. However, those timetables which include music are often rendered ineffective as many teachers prefer to use the music periods for extra mathematics or other subjects which they consider to be more important.

Although teacher training colleges such as United College of Music and Mutare Teachers’ College train their students to teach music, after graduation, these teachers concentrate on the “more important” academic subjects and leave music out of their main timetables. Thus, very few schools benefit from the training these teachers would have received.

It is mainly through the efforts of one or two private institutions that formal music education is provided in Zimbabwe.

The Zimbabwe College of Music situated in the capital, Harare, teaches students to read and write music, to dance and to sing. In addition, they also teach communication skills and practical lessons in the playing of musical instruments such as the piano, guitar, drums, violin, mbira, keyboards, marimba, ngoma, flute, oboe, trumpet saxophone and other wind instruments.

These courses can be taken at the national certificate in music level, bandmasters’ diploma level or degree level.

In 2013, Music Crossroads Academy was established in Harare. They teach both traditional and western musical instruments. Students enrolled at the academy graduate with a diploma in music.

Another college of note is Kwanongoma College of African Music which is situated in Bulawayo.

Today, most musicians who can read and write music received their formal training through the Zimbabwe Academy of Music, Zimbabwe College of Music or United College of Music. Universities such as Midlands State University, Great Zimbabwe University and Africa University have also joined the bandwagon and are now involved in the training of musicians. Very soon, there will be a flood of music graduates.

There is therefore the need to increase the number of entries to ‘O’ Levell and ‘A’ Level music examinations in Zimbabwe. Many subject experts blame the government for not doing so. If arts and music are to be made compulsory just like science and mathematics, then the government must show its commitment in this regard instead of prioritising academic subjects over creatives.

A rather frustrated school teacher with a grade 8 piano certificate who also teaches Shona at a secondary school in Harare fails to understand why her time-table does not include music. This is what she had to say: “After four years of training as a music teacher, I am now relegated to teach Shona only. All my musical knowledge has gone to waste as I cannot impart it to those children I care about. I only give private lessons from home. The school I teach at does not even have a piano, yet there is music on its curriculum. What kind of nonsense is this? We need to act now in order to find ways to support schools to offer sustained music education for all.”

I also discovered that trained music teachers who fail to teach their subject are also having an impact on the school workforce. Music teachers I interacted with reported that they often teach outside their subject area to “fill gaps” in “core subjects”. One music expert remarked: “Much as I would love to teach music, the school head does not have time for that. Music is not even on the timetable. Instead, I am asked to teach mathematics to ‘A’ Level students whenever the maths teacher is absent, yet I only studied mathematics up to ‘O’ Level and came out with a D grade. So you can imagine what that is doing to our students.”

“Music’s place in the secondary school curriculum continues to be precariously balanced or disappearing in a significant number of schools,” warned another senior teaching fellow at a Harare secondary school.

“Without that change to require a balanced curriculum in all schools, we are in danger of music education becoming in many cases the preserve of those who can afford to learn it privately and those who can pay. Make music a compulsory part of the school curriculum and bring it into school examinations, then it will be taken more seriously,” he lamented.


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