Using Music to Foster Inclusivity

African-centred music education emphasises African music, culture, way of life, thought process, language and history, helping to foster inclusivity in a schooling system that generally focusses on English or Afrikaans.

The issue of diversity in schools is critical because it touches on fundamental questions about equity, justice and opportunity in society. Schools are important social institutions that are responsible for creating an inclusive and welcoming environment that positively shapes young people’s views of the world and their place in it.

At school level, diversity refers to the presence of people from various backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. This includes differences in race, ethnicity, language, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and more. When schools fail to create a diverse and inclusive environment, they risk perpetuating social and economic inequalities that limit their students’ potential.

This raises concern in South Africa where a total of 11 languages are recognised – including Sesotho, Setswana, Sepedi, Xivenda, XiTsonga, isiZulu, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiSwati – but only two, namely English and Afrikaans are significantly used as mediums of instruction at schools. As such, education is fashioned using those languages. However, music could provide a solution that fosters diversity.

Using music to foster inclusivity at Christian Brothers College Mount Edmund

Playing and exploring with music

As a child I grew up playing indigenous games such as mogusha, diketo, kgati (skipping rope), hopscotch, singing and playing rhythmic games with my peers. Realising that these games and songs provided a rich environment and social context that sustained children’s curiosity and the exploration of their immediate environment led me to divert from the “canon” of Euro-American music education to explore an African-centred approach.

African-centred music education provides a framework that places African Music, culture, way of life, thought process and history at the centre of Music education. It emphasises the study and performance of African Music and incorporates African cultural and historical perspectives.

The African-centred Music education approach incorporates:

  1. An emphasis on ‘African’ at the centre of the curriculum, focusing on traditional and contemporary music from different regions of the continent.
  2. The integration of African cultural and historical perspectives into music education to give learners a more comprehensive understanding of African music and its role in African societies.
  3. The use of an African music pedagogy that involves active participation.
  4. An emphasis on oral traditions valued in African music and on the importance of learning through listening and imitation.
  5. African languages into the Music curriculum, encouraging learners to learn and sing songs in African languages.

Overall, an African-centred Music education approach aims to provide a more inclusive and culturally- responsive Music education that reflects the diversity and richness of African music and culture.

The diversity debate

Debating the issue of diversity in schools can involve examining a range of questions, such as: What barriers prevent schools from achieving greater diversity? How can schools ensure that all students feel safe and supported? What policies and practices can be implemented to promote diversity and inclusion in the classroom and beyond? Finally, what are the benefits of a diverse school community for students and society?

By engaging in these debates, we can create schools that genuinely reflect the diversity of our society and provide every student with the opportunity to succeed. Ultimately, the issue of diversity in schools is not just a matter of social justice and fairness but of ensuring that our schools are preparing young people to thrive in an increasingly interconnected and diverse world.

Diversifying the music class

My approach in the Music class at Christian Brothers College (CBC) Mount Edmund was to add African songs to the existing Western songs the children already knew. These songs are sourced from:

  1. Children’s games and play songs
  2. Community songs

The Foundation (FP) and Intermediate (IP) phases introduce African repertoires of children’s songs and games. In FP, we started with rhythmic games, which selected children had to source from their communities. The children became masters of knowledge in the classroom and taught the games to their peers.

Pupils at CBC Mount Edmund in Pretoria

The rhythmic complexities of these games tended to be more challenging for the boys as they are traditionally played by girls. For children who were rhythmically challenged, a more accessible method was developed to help them cope with tempo, beat and rhythm.

Interestingly, mother tongue English speakers learned the game in the vernacular and the children fused different languages in the process. They learned to accommodate and respect each other using different languages. Encouragingly, diversity in the classroom is happening in more than just the music class.

In the Intermediate Phase, the children learn songs using their recorders. A selection of African community songs was brought into the classroom. Such a repertoire adds value and appreciation not only to the child but also to their parents. This encourages an inclusive method of music education as some parents recognise the songs and can help their child to play the correct notes.

The African-centered music approach has spread around the college. The Sepedi teacher also uses games and songs to teach concepts and hymn practice, mass and liturgies have begun to include African songs.

In my almost two decades of experience teaching music, I have never had children loving and practising music like they are doing at CBC Mount Edmund. Music is inclusive!