Around the globe, music education represents an influential force in the fight against poverty. Studies show that learning a musical instrument entails numerous cognitive advantages for children and young adults, improving memory, attention and communication skills. Music also builds confidence and allows students to express their creativity. In addition, the music industry creates space for new economic developments and possibilities. Here are four examples of music education in developing countries and the ways in which it makes a difference in the lives of the world’s poor.
Amid political upheaval and the domestic challenges of daily life, music offers impoverished Haitians a source of comfort and strength. Organizations such as BLUME Haiti aim to utilize music as an avenue for education and community building.
After a deadly earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, BLUME Haiti began delivering musical instruments and supplies to help the nation rebuild. Through summer music camps, professional development workshops for Haitian music teachers, music classes in schools and other programs, BLUME Haiti continues to reach talented youth as they learn new skills and imagine broader possibilities for their futures.
In partnership with the Utah Symphony Orchestra, BLUME Haiti unveiled the innovative Haitian Orchestra Institute (HOI) in 2017. The program invites top music students from around the country to develop their craft alongside professional musicians. Chosen through a selective audition process, participants join Utah Symphony’s Music Director Thierry Fischer for a full week of rehearsals, sectionals, lessons and a final concert. Each year, HOI affords hundreds of young artists a life-changing experience.
The Dominican Republic
In the Dominican Republic, public schools are often unable to fund enrichment programs that allow students to express their creativity outside the classroom. Without a creative outlet, many students find themselves disengaged from the curriculum and choose to drop out of school.
The DREAM Music Education Program is taking steps to combat this issue. DREAM introduces music programs in public schools to improve students’ educational experience and strengthen their cognitive abilities. Since undertaking these efforts, the organization has found that students who participate in a band or other musical ensemble are seven times more likely to graduate from high school.
In all DREAM programs, students receive training in basic musical skills, work together in a group setting and develop an appreciation for Dominican musical traditions. Performance opportunities and interactive classes throughout the year celebrate all students’ achievements. Meanwhile, hoping to instill in them a sense of identity and belonging, DREAM works particularly hard to reach at-risk youth.
Music education also plays a critical role in Rwanda, where people are still reeling from the trauma of genocide. Two programs have initiated a joint effort to use music as a means of therapy, aid and economic development for the Rwandan people.
Music Road Rwanda sponsors live music events throughout the country that feature both classical and traditional Rwandan music. The organization also raises money for students to train at the Kigali Music School. Generous scholarships, funded by Music Road Rwanda’s “adopt-a-student” model, allow under-resourced youth to prepare for careers as musicians and music therapists.
Musicians Without Borders Rwanda expresses a similar mission of hope and healing through music. Working in concert with its medical partner We-ACTx for Hope, the organization hires local artists to teach singing and songwriting in traumatized communities. In 2012, Musicians Without Borders introduced its Music Leadership Training campaign, encouraging students to embrace music as a vehicle for empathy and social change.
The Mirpur district of Dhaka, Bangladesh is one of the poorest areas in the world: 32% of residents live on less than $2 a day, and 48% of children suffer from malnutrition. Illiteracy rates are also among the world’s highest. Two music teachers from the Playing for Change Foundation are working to make a difference here through music education.
Their free music classes take a unique, interdisciplinary approach to help students develop vocabulary, reading and pronunciation skills as they learn their instruments. The two teachers spend nearly 100 hours each month with their students, who range in age from 5 to 12 years old. All students come from the approximately 950 children receiving education from the poverty-relief organization SpaandanB.
Donors from around the world have contributed funds to purchase keyboards, acoustic guitars and ukuleles for Mirpur music students. Each instrument costs between $80 and $100 and affords students the invaluable gift of cherishing music for a lifetime.
Young musicians worldwide, especially those living in poverty, benefit from the rigor of music education. Music connects people through a language that transcends the bounds of time, space and nation. At the same time, it supports the development of critical life skills. It is imperative that we continue to provide music education in developing countries and foster the innumerable advantages it promises to bring in its train.
– Katie Painter
Photo: U.S. Air Force