I was very disappointed that the 2005 National Review of School Music Education did not have as part of its brief what occurs in music education prior to so-called formal schooling.That is, what happens in pre-schools, childcare centres and with private music education providers for the Under 5s?
It is essential that this aspect of music education in Australia be addressed, as little is known about the content and practice of early childhood music programs. However, research does tell us that early childhood teachers do not feel confident about teaching music, believing they lack requisite musical knowledge and skills. Some early childhood researchers are critical about the delivery of music instruction in early childhood settings, noting that day care and early childhood programs are often lacking in musical direction, with an absence of planned music lessons. Others have criticised early childhood music programs for being teaching, rather than learning, oriented and advocate for more child-initiated music activities.
In her 1998 survey of childhood music education programs in Australian music centres and private music studios, Nita Temmerman provides the most comprehensive examination of music instruction in the nation's early childhood music settings. Forty music education programs were surveyed, indicating 'that early childhood music programs in Australia attempt to include what music educators agree are the essential elements of a music program for young children. These are active participation in a variety of music-making experiences aimed at fostering children's enjoyment of music'. Aims of such programs focus on enjoyment of music, rhythmic games, proficiency in singing and singing games, along with listening, creating, moving and aural activities.
Although research points to the important role carers can play in these settings and music skills that childcare workers value, the focus of research in these centres has tended to be on children's free musical play, sidelining the role childcare workers play in providing music-making opportunities for the children in their care. That is, there has been little focus as to what childcare workers actually do when it comes to providing ongoing music-making opportunities for young children (there are exceptions, namely the work of Susan Young in England.
In Australia, childcare is viewed as being in a state of crisis, with an absence of nationally recognised measures that explore early education issues (ABS, 2002). In a 2001 report to the minister for Family and Community Services, the Commonwealth Child Care Advisory Council recommended the formulation of a national agenda for childcare, focusing on professional development issues in childcare settings, and aiming to retain and attract skilled workers in centres. In terms of music programs in childcare centres in Australia, there is little guidance for staff in terms of state or national standards, unlike America, where MENC (The National Association for Music Education) has formulated Prekindergarten Standards for Music Education, under the content standards of singing, playing instruments, creating music, responding to music and understanding music.
In order to be accredited, childcare/daycare centres in Australia have to provide programs that foster creative and aesthetic development using movement, music and visual-spatial forms of expression. However, there is little guidance from the Council as to how this should occur.
With so much unknown about the delivery of music in childcare centres and preschools in Australia, I am surprised - and disappointed - that the 2005 review did not include this in its brief.
Peter de Vries Originally published in Music Forum, August-October 2006. Entered into knowledge base 7 April 2008.