Through the curriculum and development centre, the Ministry of Education has included music in the curriculum. However, this is not examined on the national level, which, according to educators, has kept its relevance invisible.
In fact music education is being offered less with a number of schools excluding it from their curriculums to make room for other subjects.
Among other obstacles, some schools say they can barely afford musical instruments that would otherwise aide instruction and that this is why even those who try to teach music offer theory lessons.
According to Ronald Wandira, the head of the humanities department at Riviera High School and year leader—advanced level—at Rwanda Education Board (REB), music is an extremely important subject for all children to learn and can lead to better brain development, increases inhuman connection, and even aide stress relief.
This is why he believes that if music is removed from schools or given less attention by stakeholders, children will no longer receive these benefits unless they enrol for private lessons, which is way too expensive for some families to afford.
The importance of drama and performing arts cannot be overemphasised. Wandira explains that studying music and drama not only engages students with their creative side of the brain, it also provides an ideal balance in students’ patterns of study.
“It’s easy for children to become swamped in a sea of theory, which is why subjects that offer practical learning are essential,” he says.
He however notes that students gain important life skills as they learn the value of critical feedback- both positive and constructive, adding that learners as well have the opportunity to celebrate the richness and depth of human expression in all of its forms.
“Through creative expression, students learn to comprehend our world better and are therefore better equipped to navigate the challenges they might be faced with upon graduating from secondary schools,” he adds.
Development of cognitive abilities
Julius Zigama, an entrepreneur, visual artist, poet, and art trainer for children and youth believes that drama and performing arts provide an avenue to develop cognitive abilities that complement study in other disciplines.
For instance, he says drama students learn to approach situations in an array of different manner which can help to develop creative thinking and new study techniques.
He further notes that this builds confidence which creates public speaking opportunities, adding that the talent that students discover through arts can form habits which transcend all areas of study.
Various studies have found that engagement with music can lead to an improvement in brain development in children. It also increases in IQ points for children who are engaged with music.
Zigama says communication between peers is accelerated as students are exposed to group activities. This experience, according to him, provides opportunity for students to possess cultural and leadership qualities.
“Music education is also important because it gives students a way to connect with other people. Children are naturally very social and it’s important to encourage them to build these relationships by providing them with experiences to share with each other,” he adds.
How it should be done
Wandira says creating a school band or small ensemble, or encouraging participation in a choir will allow children to work together.
This, he says encourages bonding and will provide students with something to reminisce on together in the future.
At Riviera High School for instance, he says it has been proven time and again that having people of all ages play or listen to music together helps to create bonds.
He adds that having an impromptu drumming circle or listening to and enjoying a piece of recorded music can connect people through sound, singing and even movement or dance.
He further notes that musical experiences such as these can bring back a fond memory or create new ones.
In fact, he says some students find their voice while studying the arts.
“They may discover that they are natural problem solvers or leaders. Creative expression is a great way to build self-confidence and can be particularly beneficial for introverted and reserved children,” he says.
Zigama says arts can also be a source of solitude, a place where a child is able to shut out their surrounds and immerse themselves in a creative environment.
“This process allows the imagination to thrive, aiding internal exploration. It’s a natural precursor to a well-developed sense of self,” he says.
The arts can act as an agent through which a variety of emotions can be learned, rehearsed and practiced, according to Zigama.
Drama and performing arts serve to generate a rich array of reciprocal benefits for both students and the community.
Emmanuela Mahoro, a Kigali based psychologist and counsellor says that adolescents can find it difficult to express their emotions and so the arts provide a great outlet for children to express a wide range of feelings including delight, anger and unhappiness.
This experience, she says can define a child’s growing sense of independence and interdependence.
Jean Marie Habimana, IT and school enrichment manager at Ready for Reading Library at Rwinkwavu, Kayonza in Eastern Province says music education is also a great way to enhance reading comprehension abilities in children.
He says reading is an important skill for all children to develop because it is needed for all subjects, even those that are not related to English literature will involve reading.
For example, he says math word problems require excellent reading comprehension abilities in order to answer them correctly. This is why he notes that arts help students improve their overall academic results.
“Music integrates many different subjects areas all at once, this is another reason music education is so important,” he says.
Habimana adds that not only will music education allow children to develop their musical skills; but also give them the opportunity to work on their math skills, reading and writing skills, science skills, and history knowledge.
Wandira complements this noting that time signatures in music are an excellent way to incorporate fractions, and lyric analysis and song writing will allow students to work on their reading abilities.
Additionally, he says having discussions about how instruments work involves information on the physics of sound and learning about music’s place in society will shine a light on important historical events.
Learning discipline and time management from a young age will have countless benefits on a child’s future. For example, if a child develops discipline in elementary school, they will be much more able to balance the workload they’ll receive in high school and excel in their classes.
“If teachers are concerned about their students’ skills in other areas of learning, they will be able to incorporate them into a music class with ease. Music teaches discipline and also teaches children to develop time management skills,” he notes.
Mahoro says young students can experience stress with the increasing amounts of homework school curriculums require. Some students may also have stressful lives at home, and music will offer a way to escape from such situations.