El Sistema eliminated by USA

In their quest to find the most successful instruction methods for its schools, US policy-makers are considering a system used to teach music in Venezuela.

The most recent spotlight on the famous El Sistema method, the brainchild of economist and musician José Antonio Abreu, came about because of an article carried in February in the Los Angeles Times, which focused on Gustavo Dudamel, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who attributes his success and fame to El Sistema.

The state-run and publicly funded popular music education programme in Venezuela includes nearly 300 music schools for children, called núcleos, which can be found across the country, and rely on children helping each other. In the US, as in many other countries, private lessons and solo practice sessions are the norm.

But El Sistema is different in other fundamental ways, being based on the standardisation of instruction in all núcleos. The initial goal is first to master basic skills and techniques, and in time talent will emerge.

El Sistema attracts a good deal of international attention from other nations curious to see if it can be exported. The US was interested initially exactly because of its own obsession with standardisation, say analysts. But critics of US education policy say the unique music programme won’t find a home there, because of the tendency of states to cut music programmes from the curricula of financially strapped school districts. Even more importantly, say the critics, El Sistema is, by definition, a social welfare programme, which means it would never get federal funding in the US.

Category: Winter 2012

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