Could tech save music education? | Features | MN2S

Music education is threatened with budget cuts and disinterest from pupils. Could technology be its saviour?

There’s not enough music in Wales. At least when it comes to education. Wales is a nation known for its musicality—angelic choir vocalists, opera stars like Katherine Jenkins, chart-toppers like Tom Jones, and alternative rockers like Manic Street Preachers. But the future of the country’s musical output is in jeopardy.

Like many public services, the government has cut music education funding over the past several years. In this case, rather than cut directly, the UK government handed over the cuts by devolving educational funding to local councils. Strapped for cash as they are, most councils in Wales and the rest of the UK opted to spend money on services other than music tuition.

Deemed less ‘necessary’ than subjects like Maths and English, music’s underfunded lessons have been turning off students, leading to lower and lower take up numbers at a secondary school level (when some subjects become optional).

Many have blamed the potential ‘extinction’ of secondary school music pupils on the pressure they face to take more ‘traditional’ subjects which boost schools’ league table standings. But there’s more to it than that. If these lessons were inspiring students, they wouldn’t cave to the pressure not to pursue them. Most music teachers are passionate about what they do, and highly skilled at it to boot. But the funding they don’t have has made it difficult to inspire the next generation of musical heroes, from Wales or elsewhere.

Last week, many Welsh music tutors reached the end of their tether and called for a new national body to fund music education. The idea is that this objective body wouldn’t be driven so much by the austerity doctrine of making endless cuts, but rather by an analytical assessment of what is needed to nurture the musical talent that the entire UK needs.

Although the subject is treated as less-than-essential by those dishing out the funding, music is really one of the most important subjects of all. The music industry brings £4.4 billion into the UK economy every year, and employs hundreds of thousands of people. On a global scale, it’s music that puts Britain on the map. From The Beatles to Adele, many of the biggest global superstars have been British, but without music education, this could all come to an end.

Why technology could be the answer

It goes without saying here that more funding, as the bottom line, is the answer. But technology could be too. Music education at an institutional level has not been afraid of the industry’s technological direction. Discussions of pop music production have been a staple of music exams for years, as has writing, recording and producing a brand new song. But much of the nitty gritty of music tech has been relegated to a less popular subject called, aptly, Music Tech.

While it is great that there’s a specialist subject dedicated to the nation’s future sound engineers, integrating elements of Music Tech into mainline Music lessons could help motivate young students to take part. Crucially, Music Tech is only offered as an A Level. The only music-related GCSE is Music. Those who were more interested in music’s technical side — an increasing number in the current landscape — may not be as interested in studying the work of the classical masters. In a world of budding Soundcloud producers and bedroom DJs, it only makes sense.

Attracting more interest from potential pupils is one way technology could help save music education. But it’s not the only one. There’s also the matter of funding. It’s clear that the government and local councils see spending on music education as a low priority. But if spent well, funding for technology could prove extremely cost-effective. Schools’ music budgets could be boosted in a one-off to purchase new computers, mixers, DJ decks, samplers, keyboards, and other high-tech instruments. This would safeguard the departments for years, giving them the equipment they need to attract new students, and teach them accurately about the music world as it is today.

Read more: How electronic music is saving music education

Main image by rodtuk. Licensed under CC 2.0

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