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Let’s hit the right chords


Primary school pupils playing the recorder, an introductory musical instrument. Music lessons are enjoyable and encourage teamwork. – File photo

Primary school pupils playing the recorder, an introductory musical instrument. Music lessons are enjoyable and encourage teamwork. – File photo

There is a need to train more music educators for the nation’s schools as the subject is not drawing sufficient intrerest from aspiring teachers.

THERE aren’t enough music teachers in national schools. As a result, other subject teachers much to their chagrin, are being instructed to teach the subject.

It is not right to expect other non-music teachers to fill in, says National Union of the Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Harry Tan, especially when they aren’t properly trained in the subject.

Schools nationwide must have enough teachers who are suitably qualified because it is an important subject, says Tan.

But Deputy Education Minister Datuk P Kamalanathan says that interest among teacher trainees for music has not been as encouraging as it should be. The ministry, he assures, would do its best to continue to promote the subject.

Tan believes that music can motivate students to go to school, which can lead to an overall improvement in the other subjects.

“Even migrant workers tell me they’ve had formal music lessons during their school days in their respective countries, so what can be done for our students here?” he asks.

In Singapore, it was recently reported that music education would be promoted at preschool level.

Realising the importance of the subject, its new National Institute of Early Childhood Development will focus on preschool teachers and develop curricula with different specialisations such as music and art.

Music, Tan opines, enhances the imagination and memory, and stimulates intellectual growth. These, he says, are the basic building blocks of acquiring higher skills.

Chai says that learning music is like mastering a new language. It helps the brain develop in a different way.

Students become more confident, improve on their communication skills and vocabulary, and learn to overcome their fear of socialising.

Music classes are enjoyable, encourage teamwork, and help students learn about other cultures, he adds.

MIC president Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam said recently that there was a shortage of teachers in Tamil schools for subjects like music and art.

He said the reason for the lack of non-core subjects teachers was because those entering Institutes of Teacher Education Malaysia (IPGM) were opting to teach core subjects like English, Tamil, science and mathematics. Not many were choosing music or art.

Core subjects are compulsory subjects that students must take, while non-core subjects are elective subjects that are offered in schools, a ministry spokesman explains. Overall there are some 188 core, and elective subjects, taught in primary and secondary schools.

Calling on the ministry to ensure a balanced intake of teachers in core, and non-core subjects at the training institutes, Subramaniam said the shortage had hampered the government’s efforts to ensure a holistic education for all schools.

The ministry, Kamalanathan says, will do its best to encourage more teacher trainees to take up the subject.

The lack of music teachers, however, is a perennial problem.

In 2015, only six of the 60 music teaching positions available, were filled, according to the IPGM.

Kevin Chai, 33, recalls how learning music scores, or taugeh (bean sprouts), as his classmates called it, ignited his passion for song. The knowledge, though basic, was invaluable, he shares.

“The recorder, which we learnt, is very similar to the saxophone and clarinet. The triangle and castanet – despite being the instruments most made fun back then, are among the most difficult instruments to play in an orchestra setup.

“Percussionists playing these instruments must have a good beat-sense because they determine the tempo of the whole orchestra,” he notes.

Learning music, he says, ‘re-wires’ the brain.

“Learning music is like mastering a new language. It helps the brain develop in a different way. I wonder how beautiful the world would be if everyone knew music.”

An engineer by profession, the passionate musician runs a studio at night and on weekends. He recently helped compose, and record a song, for his wife’s school.

“We did a live recording of the students singing, and playing the piano.”

The father-of-two also sends his boys for weekly music classes.

Schools must have qualified teachers for the subject and not expect non-music teachers to fill in.

Parents, he says, pay for private music classes because of a shortage of music teachers in schools.

Though he didn’t have the luxury of attending private classes, he remembers enjoying music lessons during his primary years.

“Most of us felt it was an insignificant subject then. We always had a good laugh playing the recorder, melodica, triangle, and castanet. Those days, I didn’t even know the name of the instruments we were learning.

“Little did I realise how important those lessons were as a fundamental platform for my music career today.”

Kamalanathan points out that all subjects are equal, so the perception that certain ones are better or more important than others, is wrong.

The requirement to be selected as an IPGM trainee is the same for everyone. All trainees must get at least 5As in the SPM no matter which option they choose to study at the IPGM, he stresses.

“For languages, science and mathematics, we have no problems. But for certain subjects, take up is not as encouraging.

“For example, we need 200 Bahasa Melayu teachers, but we have 500 applicants. At the same time, we may want 100 music teachers, but only 70 have applied. There’s a mismatch.”

So, those who want to become teachers must be aware of the nation’s needs if they want to get into the IPGM, adds Kamalanathan.

“If your ambition is to become a teacher, take whatever opportunity that’s available to achieve that dream. It doesn’t matter what subject you end up teaching later on.”

The recruitment of teachers in the ministry’s schools are from the IPGM and public universities, says the ministry spokesman. 

The shortage of art and music teachers in primary schools will be addressed with graduates from new intakes coming in, and the redeployment of teachers. These yearly exercises are carried out in phases, he adds.

“To ensure adequate supply of teachers for every subject, the ministry will forecast the intake projection for teachers based on a subject’s requirement, and the number of vacancies, for the next five to seven years.

“In doing so, the ministry determines the number of teachers needed according to options, or subjects. These includes art, and music. We advise the IPGM of future needs so that it can better plan their trainee intake,” shares the ministry spokesman.

Related story:

Singing a new tune

Education , music , art , teacher shortage

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