Wednesday, January 17, 2007


( By Joe Chelliah @ Johami Abdullah)

THE deplorable level of understanding music should become an immediate and principal concern among Malaysians at all levels, particularly policy- makers. This is because the average Malaysian is unable to talk sensibly about almost any aspect of music, even in a most basic way.

Music, together with the other arts, reflects the sublime and universal aspects of humankind and should, therefore, be a primary subject and receive meaningful focus in school curriculum, especially at the pre- school and primary school levels. The arts have always been a very strong indicator of the progress level achieved by any society. The arts, which are collectively referred to as the fourth "R", besides the traditional 3Rs - reading, writing and arithmetic, must receive equal emphasis in the curricula. This is definitely not the case in Malaysia today.

This regretful situation has come about as a result of decades of negligence and apathy of the general Malaysian populace and policy-makers towards the fine arts and, if I may digress for a moment, sporting activities, too. The over-emphasis and "obsession" showered on science-based subjects has been glaringly apparent since the early 1970s with the mushrooming of science, technical and vocational schools almost everywhere. While this development in itself is not wrong, it is sad that it had to happen at the expense of the arts.

A learned gentleman once told me that in Chinese culture, no one is considered a true scholar unless he/she can (also) play chess, recite poetry and sing. What this means and points to is a well-rounded curriculum. It may surprise many that this indeed is the main intent and purpose of our National Education Philosophy (NEP). As such, music was formally introduced in the Kurikulum Baru Sekolah Rendah (KBSR) back in 1983.

But 20 years down the line, the situation appears to have worsened. The curriculum (i.e. the educational experiences children actually undergo at the school level) has not been in congruence with this particular aspect of the NEP. Today, the number of As solely measures a child's scholastic achievement and ability in any of the summative public examinations that punctuate a child's education process. Due credit is never afforded to a pupil who excels in sports and in other areas of the so-called co-curricular activities which, to me, are core curricular activities. It is time for some serious re-thinking. I hope that each and every Malaysian will look into this "gaping hole" that will jeopardise our national aspiration.

for Malaysian Association for Music Education

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