by Emma Margutsch
Why does it seem like so many people are reluctant to change? Do these people not want to change, because they like what is? Or do they not know how to deal with it? When investigating music education in different cultures in hopes of changing and developing one’s own music education system and practices, many people are often hostile and uncertain of what this could mean in the long-run.
Music education traditions have remained relatively unchanged for years. Take for example the Ontario Music Curriculum; while yes, there have been small changes in regards to content, the overarching policy has remained relatively unchanged. Rice (2014) in his study of ethnomusicology, argues musical practices are culturally embedded. Apple (2000) similarly argues curricula are deeply imbedded in cultural politics, and curricular development represents certain political agendas and educational values. While Rice’s and Apple’s arguments can spark an entirely different discussion related Christopher Small (1997) about how knowledge is power (see blog: Is the Search for Musical Knowledge a Means of Establishing Power), my focus in referencing these authors is to bring up a greater theme. Music education has remained the same for years – it is important that educators look for new ways to innovate music education to change its direction or renew its meaning and approach. Comparative education might just be the answer – or part of it!
Researchers like Grant, Horsley, and Kertz-Welzel have spent significant research time considering the benefits of comparative education and educational transfer. Kertz-Welzel (2008) argues that “in the twenty-first century, an exchange of ideas means a dialogue between teachers, scholars and students of various traditions of music education in order to find a better way of teaching music” (p. 439). Comparative education could provide educators with the means to innovate music education, to see if other countries are having similar struggles, and to even break down these policy struggles and political agendas.
My interest in comparative education started with my Slovenian heritage and the interest in music most children in Slovenia seem to have. How are they so interested? Why do they love it? What is fostering this interest?
Video of a young Slovenian boy Singing.
I wanted to see (and am still trying to explore) if there was something in the music curriculum that was sparking and fostering the interest and investment in music. And if it was something in the curriculum (or even if it wasn’t), I wanted to know what it was, to see if there was a way to transfer this over into the Ontario music curriculum – or even in my own private studio teaching. This idea of ‘borrowing’ – or educational transfer – as discussed by Grant (2000) is said to be one of the most valuable contributions; “not only can they set forth a range of alternative ideas and practices but, intelligently applied, they can help distinguish what can reasonably be imported from what cannot. By examining educational practices in context they can help indicate the kind of adaptation needed to fit them into another system” (p. 315).
But like Kertz-Welzel states, “comparative music education is often considered to be an unnecessary subject because there seem to be more important issues for research than studying music education in various countries” (2008, p. 439). I can personally attest to the opposition. On my recent trip back to Slovenia, I had a few meetings with educators to discuss the music curriculum. One teacher I met with was very blunt in expressing his hostility towards the idea, asking me ‘why’ I was interested in this – I said, why not?
If researched correctly, and properly implemented comparative education and educational transfer can prove very effective, the process does not come without it challenges. Comparative education is not simply taking a theme from a curriculum and applying it, but rather, entire educational systems, policies, histories, and relations need to be examined because any and all parts of an educational system are inter-reliant (Grant, 2000, p. 312). Terminology, structures, policies, and cultures are not the same between counties, as similar as they might seem.
Regardless of how daunting a process comparative education and educational transfer might be, shouldn’t we as researchers and educators, ‘take the plunge’? There is always the possibility that a look into another country’s music education curriculum and policy might provide us with no insight or inspirations to change our own policies, or it might just simply disappoint us. However, comparative education and educational transfer could inspire us to change our own policies and methods of teaching; “At its best, educational transfer can help to improve educational systems, policies, and practices worldwide” (Kertz-Welzel, 2014, p. 97). With the endless problems we have with stakeholder education and policy makers controlling our curricula’s, and with how students are either not enjoying, connecting, or learning much from current music education practices, a look into outside practices could contest our own practise. Heck – our entire education and all of our training, too! But dialogue is the outcome – a dialogue that could change the way we think about music education. And a dialogue that could very well, change the way we think about music education, our policies, and the way students learn! And isn’t that our purpose as educators? To help our students, and to do what we can to inspire a love of music? So… let’s change, and ‘take the plunge’!
Apple, M. W. (2000). Official knowledge: Democratic education in a conservative age. New York: Routledge.
Grant, N. (2000). Tasks for comparative education in the new Millennium. Comparative Education, 36(3), 309-317. (3), 309-317.
Kertz-Welzel, A. (2008). Music education in the twenty-first century: A cross-cultural comparison of German and American music education towards a new concept of international dialogue. Music Education Research, 10(4), 439-449.
Kertz-Welzel, A. (2014). The policy of educational transfer and international music education. In Gouzouasis (Ed.) Policy and media in and for a diverse global community (p. 93-98). The Commission on Music Policy: Culture, Education, and Media for the International Society for Music Education in conjunction with the University of British Columbia. Retrieved from https://issuu.com/official_isme/docs/2014_isme_policy_procedingsviewMode=magazine&mode=embed.
Rice, T. (2014). Ethnomusicology: A very short introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.