Policy Brief – Music in early childhood teacher education

Policy Brief – Music in early childhood teacher education
Early Childhood Ireland Policy Brief

In a recent article, published by the journal Arts Education Policy Review,  Alfredo Bautista, Jerry Yeung, Morgan Lisa Mclaren, and Beatriz Ilari aim to raise awareness among educational policymakers, educators, and school leaders about the need to better prepare early childhood educators in music education.

Music in early childhood teacher education: raising awareness of a worrisome reality and proposing strategies to move forward notes that a number of studies have come to the same conclusion that early childhood educators are not well prepared in the area of music education. One of the main causes of this is a weak foundation in general music education developed before enrolling in early childhood education degree programmes. A study on Australian kindergarten teachers found that 46% of them never learned how to sing or play an instrument,which led to difficulties in preparing music activities with children.

Another cause is the limited amount of music education courses within early childhood education programmes. Many universities and colleges offer no music training to educators. Some offer courses that integrate music with other art forms, but the exposure is not enough to develop musical knowledge and skills, never mind the confidence, to supervise creativity-fostering music activities with children.

Another issue is the low quality and limited applicability of certain early childhood education music courses. Studies from the USA, Greece and England include criticism from Early childhood educators that these courses are too short, theoretical, or abstract, and lack practical opportunities.

The provision of music-specific professional development is also limited around the world. This is due to the lack of importance given to music education, the presence of other training priorities, and the lack of locally relevant teaching materials and resources. The absence of specialized professional development providers also impacts this, as well as the difficulty in hiring substitutes or replacements for those who participate in professional development courses. To take part in development courses, early childhood educators usually need to do so in their own time and pay from their own funds.

The lack of preparation in music education leads to a number of negative consequences for both students and teachers. A lack of education in music leads to early childhood educators underestimating the importance of music in the child development. Lack of education also means that educators lack confidence and may feel insecure in conducting music-related activities with children.

There is evidence that early childhood educators mainly focus on singing songs but not for the music’s sake but as a way of teaching about other areas or introducing new vocabulary. However, they rarely prepare musical activities that involve exploration, improvisation, or creation with sound. The pedagogical approach to music used in most early years settings has been characterised as reproductive and teacher-centred. This approach is therefore not conducive to fostering children’s creativity and self-expression.

A large study on early years educators in the USA, Ireland, Namibia, Australia, and South Africa showed that they need to improve their knowledge about music curriculum design, instrumental and singing skills, and pedagogical competencies to integrate music with other learning areas.

The article suggests several strategies to improve educators’ preparation and boost music teaching and learning in early years settings. One suggestion is that universities and colleges could, instead of offering music education in the format of standard, divide the provision into short modules that are spread throughout the teacher education.

Another suggestion is to identify the students with formal music training at the beginning of the teacher education course, and then partner them with untrained students. A similar strategy is to partner early childhood education students with those studying for a music degree. The authors acknowledge that this approach could be significantly difficult to plan and would create practical issues for stakeholders, but also emphasise that the long-term benefits would be significant.

The article also highlights that governments and education ministries are in the best position to provide high-quality, formal professional development in music education through official providers. Policymakers could consider organizing early childhood music education conferences, professional workshops, or seminars. However, these are somewhat impractical to benefit early years educators at scale. Therefore, policymakers could take advantage of online technologies to provide a blended experience.

The author also recommends that countries design virtual platforms to encourage the emergence of online professional learning communities. Early years educators would be able to utilise these to improve themselves in a number of areas, including music education.

Nurturing Skills outlines the road map of a new workforce development plan. As part of this plan, a national Continuous Professional Development (CPD) system will be developed for the sector. This should allow for broader access to quality-assured CPD resources and supports for early years and school-age providers, as well as childminders. The increase in funding from Budget 2023 should help towards the development of this.

If you have any questions on this article, where to find other academic articles like this, or would like to engage with us, please contact our policy team.

Attending Early Years Settings is a Benefit

The report stresses that attending an Early Years setting can only benefit children if the approach taken is responsive to and effective for the variety of needs of children and their families. Data suggests that elements such as fostering a positive attitude towards learning, providing children with a level of choice and autonomy over their activities, and enabling children to play, should be central to a child-centred, empowering, and effective pedagogy.

This report highlights the importance of high-quality early learning and care to improve equity. Early Childhood Ireland has continually advocated for improvements in quality in early years and school-age care. This increase in funding from Budget 2023 must focus on the goal of achieving high-quality early childhood care and education.

If you have any questions on this latest report from the OECD or would like to engage with us, please contact our policy team.

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