This month I had the incredible opportunity to visit my old secondary school, St. Francis Secondary School, in Malole, Mungwi, Northern Province.
This was something I was really looking forward to for sometime. I wanted to remember what it was like to be me 44 years ago. It still blows my mind that I’ve been out of secondary school for that long.
Okay, fine. The voice of accuracy in my head desperately wants me to clarify how long it’s really been. Oh. Hello, memories. Thought you’d left me on this trip. I stared blankly at the buildings for a few moments. Overall, I was quite pleased with my visit.
The main reason for this visit was music – to share a few musical instruments with my former school band. I had a nice chat with the headmaster, the band master and other teachers. I also had some very useful conversations with the learners – players of musical instruments. We talked about music and its importance in our lives.
A lot of thoughts went through head, accompanied some very strong emotions which such comebacks usually generate. Looking at the poor state and small numbers of musical instruments the band had, I realised that those who administer our schools are not paying sufficient attention to music courses. There seem to be a general belief that students who devote time to music rather than mathematics, science and English, will underperform in those disciplines.
But research has proved this belief wrong and found the more the students engage with music, the better they do in those subjects. The students who learned to play a musical instrument in school not only score significantly higher, but were about one academic year ahead of their non-music peers with regard to their English, mathematics and science skills, as measured by their exam grades, regardless of their socioeconomic background, prior learning in mathematics and English.
Skills learned in instrumental music transfer very broadly to the students’ learning in school. In our days at both St. John’s Secondary School Band and St. Francis Secondary School Band students of music generally performed better than those who were not in the band. The best student at Cambridge ‘O’ Level exams the whole country in 1976 when I finished Form V was my classmate – Charles Malata, Prof Mister Charles Malata and one of the top best plastic surgeons in the UK. Charles played the flute in the band. We also had Kenneth Konga, a trombone player, who went on to become an electrical engineer and a minister in the Rupiah Banda Cabinet.
I played the trumpet, mellow phone, French Horn and the Baritone Horn. All our music students did very well in their exams. Learning to play a musical instrument and playing in a band is very demanding. It’s not for dull people. A student has to learn to read music notation, develop eye-hand-mind coordination, develop keen listening skills, develop team skills for playing in a band and develop discipline to practice. All those learning experiences, and more, play a role in enhancing the learner’s cognitive capacities, executive functions, motivation to learn in school, and self-efficacy.
Music education – multiple years of high-quality instrumental learning and playing in a band at an advanced level – can be the very thing that improves all-around academic achievement and an ideal way to have students learn more holistically in schools. Playing musical instruments is not for fools. Look at how smart, intelligent our musicians are – the players of musical instruments!