Music Education – preparing children for the future

Music in Australian schools can be found in many different forms, across a wide spectrum of participation, approaches and demographics. Northen Beaches Christian School and Kamaroi Steiner have very different approaches to education but for both the importance is placed on student centered learning and preparing the students for living in the 21st century. I think when discussing what approach is best for teachers to take in the classroom it is important to think about what the world we are preparing our students for will look like. Traditional schooling practices often don’t teach life skills, as Ted Dintersmith talks about in his Tedx presentation.


But what life skills are needed? The structure of the world that students will eventually be living in is significantly different from their teachers and parents, and certainly the policy makers of 50 years ago. A different skill set is needed to succeed in an economy that has less structured jobs than ever before and where every workplace is demanding advanced collaborative people skills. The purpose of school education in the 21st century is no longer to fill the empty heads of students from the teachers wealth of knowledge. In today’s technology rich world students have access to almost any information they could ever need, through their phones, laptops and other devices (See 2014-2015 growth of internet and mobile phone usage info-graphic below). What we need to do as teachers is to teach the skills to allow them to succeed in a world that demands “empathy, inventiveness and connection” as Kamaroi’s principal, Virginia Moller so beautifully puts it. I believe that music education and participating in collaborative, creative musical experiences teaches these life skills.


Social Media Growth 2014-2015

NBCS is an extraordinary school, and its seamless integration of technology makes its saturation of both simple everyday devices and more advanced musical technologies such as recording equipment seem very natural. As someone who can occasionally struggle with technology I can vouch for the frustration that can come from using clunky and poorly designed tech. However the fact that the spaces in the school and classroom are specifically designed, the jam rooms and stages ready for students to plug in and get working straight away feels to me like technology used to its highest capacity. The students are able to use the technology to actively experience making music. NBCS has worked hard to create a school that looks a lot like the workplaces of the future, focusing not only on the collaborative and creative skills needed but also the technological literacy. This is where they differ from Kamaroi.

There is no question that our world does not look the same as it did almost 100 years ago when the first Steiner school  was opened in 1919. Kamaroi Steiner is not, as Virginia Moller states, against technology or stuck in the past, instead they focus more on the over arching life skills, introducing technology at a later time.  The thinking being if the critical thinking skills and creativity is there the technological literacy can come at a later point. I enjoy this approach as it focuses on experiential learning, and having come from a singing and choral background I value the physical experience of singing or performing in an ensemble as the most engaging and enjoyable parts of my musical education.

I don’t feel that either school has the best option or best approach completely, and as they both deal with different aged students I don’t think they can be directly compared to each other and a clear winner pronounced. I find value in both approaches, and both schools offer hands on experiences with making music. Perhaps an ideal school experience would start at a Steiner primary school and move into a technology focused high school? I feel that a well balanced pluralist approach is going to cover all bases, and so would like to apply this ‘everything in moderation’ approach to my own teaching. I would like my students to experience acoustic sound to the highest level through classical performances but also to have ease of accessibility through technology to create and compose. However I do recognise that as a classically trained musician who does not identify as a ‘tech head’, I am somewhat biased towards a more traditional approach. I think it is important that when I am teaching and implementing my own programmes I am evaluating what is really working. I can’t stick to the comfort zone of my own world, because that is not the world my students will go out into.