Music educators have long known, through scientific research and practise in their field, that students who learn music significantly improve their academic performance and behaviour. This scientific fact seems to be unknown among other educators and policy makers in Jamaica. By teaching music in all high schools, we can kill three birds (poor grades, bad conduct, and music illiteracy) with one stone (music education). Retired educator Paulette Chevannes achieved this with the Change from Within Programme. So, too, did saxophonist Dean Fraser and other musicians who taught music to pupils for a period. The same extraordinary feat was achieved by the late psychiatrist Frederick Hickling and his team at the Caribbean Institute of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (CARIMENSA). The CARIMENSA team taught primary school teachers in the Dream A World Programme to use the cultural tools of drama, song and poetry to deliver the curriculum. The quality of the popular music produced in Jamaica will also improve.
The scientific evidence is clear, music education can do a lot for our children. This kind of education can rescue the large numbers of students who get less than five Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) subjects, yearly, at the end of high school. Music education will rescue Jamaica from some dancehall songs that become hits with the singer singing out of key and the large number of musically illiterate Jamaicans who embrace these songs. Such an education will also provide more students who aspire to be professional musicians and they can matriculate to the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, and local and overseas universities. The quality of the popular music produced in Jamaica and consumed, globally, will also improve. Not to mention the high rates of violence in high schools that would be significantly reduced if our children were exposed to effective music education.
There is, currently, music education in some schools, but it must be in all schools, and receive much more support from the government and other stakeholders including teachers. The Monitor calls on the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture to ensure that there is a functioning choir in all public high schools. These choirs should be empowered to participate in the annual high school choir competition and the Jamaica Cultural Development annual competitions in honour of our independence. These government ministries should also mandate that all public high schools have a band (not a just a drum core) which performs in an annual high school band competition. Jamaica has many active old boys’ associations and past students’ associations that might be mobilized to fund a band in their alma mater. Finally, the Jamaican Government should lobby CXC to offer music as a subject in Caribbean high schools. Jamaica will benefit tremendously from this music education to grade eleven because it will create more musically literate students with huge positive spinoffs for the Jamaican music industry, and it will also significantly improve the academic performance and behaviour of our children.