Performing arts still education underdog
Although Jamaican culture is lauded internationally, the performing arts (music, dance and drama) are scorned by many school administrators.
That was clear during a recent performing-arts workshop organised by Excelsior Community College's (ECC) School of Performing Arts at its Church Street, Kingston, campus.
During his opening address, Marlon Williams, senior education officer in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information (MOEYI), pleaded "Teachers, sometimes you have to encourage the administration of your school to recognise that this subject is just as important as any other subject."
Ironically, he went on to say it is sometimes looked down on because the teachers treat it with scant regard.
Later, there was an exchange involving two high-school teachers and Matthew Silpot, the ministry's music education officer.
Teacher 1: "At my school, the dunce students are given the practical subjects, including dance and music. The students can handle the practical subjects, but they can't write an essay and can't handle the CSEC programme, which calls for a lot of written papers."
Teacher 2: "We have to change the culture in the school administrations who think performers are dunce."
Silpot: "We do have to change that culture. We [the performing arts] are not the refugee centre. We do not want to be treated as mere entertainers."
Teacher 1: "We have to start with the principals."
Participants also heard that, at one school, music is taught only in Grade 7, only because the ministry said it can afford one performing arts teacher.
Another teacher said her school has not had a music teacher in two years. Before that, it had employed them part-time. A third teacher said that, at Titchfield High School, the music teacher is "stretched", teaching grades 7 to 11.
This followed Silpot's presentation on music education in schools.
When he taught at St Catherine High, the administration used to see the performing-arts programme as "a remedial one and sent all the troubled kids there."
However, he said, "Those same kids turned out to be the head boys and head girls of the school and, after graduation, became the lawyers and the doctors, and so forth."
Music entries in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams have been increasing.
"We had about 230 candidates in 2014," he said. "In 2015, it went up to 259."
Silpot said music educators want students " ... to be keen listeners, not passive, but active. We want them to be competent performers and we want them to be creative practitioners. Those areas form the parameters of music education," he said.
As the sole MOEYI music education officer, he wants to organise a music-educators' conference.
"All of the music educators will come to discuss what is going on in our schools and we can share how we teach. We may need a revamping of the curriculum," he said.
Another objective is to have candidates for the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Education (CAPE) music exam. There have been none so far but Silpot announced, "we're having workshops so teachers can come on board. Our biggest problem is that the students are not grasping the theory of music component."
The shortage of trained music teachers is a challenge. "We're leaning heavily on the teachers' college and the School of Music".
Trained teachers are particularly important at the primary level, "because we don't have music specialists there at the stage where the students are open to learning so much about our culture. The students are not really growing enough [musically] to get to the high school level."
Silpot said training is taking place to ensure "a more student-centered approach" to teaching music in the new school year.