Tuesday, February 17, 2009


A Primary School Choir of 1970's

Poor music education in Malaysian public schools, to my mind, is one of the main causes for the many ills that we see in the music scene in Malaysia. The most famous saying of Confucius on music education might be: “To educate somebody, you should start from poems, emphasize on ceremonies, and finish with music.” Confucius insisted that we should teach good music and strongly promoted music in his own educational practice.

Believe me when I say that I have seen all kinds of educational reforms and innovative attempts to improve education in our country since the 1950’s. Music education too has had its fair share of such changes. School goers from the 1950's and 60's generations (now mostly senior citizens) will remember some form of fun music activity in the classroom as well as choirs and marching bands which they had as co-curricular activity.

With noble intentions, specialist teachers in music were trained for this purpose at the Music Department of the Specialist Teacher Training Institute (STTI) now known as Institut Perguruan Ilmu Khas since the early 1970’s. Teachers qualified in other subjects but who had clear musical abilities were chosen to be music specialist teachers. Then came another noble effort when music education was made an integral part of the Kurikulum Baru Sekolah Rendah (KBSR) in all primary schools in 1983. Many were overjoyed and welcomed this move. But it appears that quality has been forsaken at the expense of quantity.

The status of music and what actually goes on in the music classroom since 1983 with the introduction of KBSR music can even be said to have gone backwards. Some schools even have non-music related lessons during the music class. The government per se on its part has spent perhaps billions since 1983 to develop music and to be fair, has been quite consistent in this matter and would be the last party to be blamed. However, something has gone seriously wrong in the implementation process though. Why?

I have several reasons to state here.

  1. The higher levels of music education planning and management have always been in the hands of local non-music educators who are rarely in touch with reality.
  2. Such educational planners have been functioning with an overall misunderstanding of whatconstitutes quality music education.
  3. No meaningful expatriate expertise has been sought in the field of music education planning till now.
  4. There is poor or no meaningful coordination between the various divisions of the Ministry of Education for music education such as the Educational Planning and Research Division and the Curriculum Development Centre.
  5. Valid ideas from trained music educators are shot down by higher ranking educational managers and/or policy makers.
  6. Poor quality control in the recruitment of music teachers resulting in non-musically inclined persons with "not so good" academic credentials being selected as trainee music teachers continue since the early KBSR days.
  7. Non-music trained teachers are asked to teach music in the primary schools while music graduates in secondary schools are forced to teach non-music subjects.
  8. Lack of basic musical competency among most music educators at all levels.
  9. Some major misconceptions among the higher echelons of educational planning and management must include the following:
    · Music education is not that important.
    · Anyone can be trained to teach music - even the non-musical ones
    · That Math and Science are not important for a music teacher to function well.

    We can only hope for some meaningful intervention by the Minister of Education himself to address the above mentioned ailments that our children are actually being exposed to in public schools today. Otherwise, it has just been a waste of good public money.