The Importance of Integrating Music and Arts Education in K-12 Liberian Schools
A Global Perspective on Music Education
By NAfME Member Samson Tarpeh
An arts education nurtures creativity, curiosity, and motivation. It allows for deep engagement with learning and shapes the way students understand themselves and the world around them (National Association for Music Education, 2016). As a music educator, I am advocating for the inclusion of the arts—specifically music—in K-12 Liberian schools to help improve students’ academic performance. In a wake of such a widespread tragedy and cultural rift in Liberia, an innovative approach to education can enhance the rebuilding process.
Through music education, we can equip Liberian youth with the skills and knowledge needed to rebuild the country and improve the quality of life. As Liberian government, educators, and local school principals, and others read this blog, it is my hope they will begin looking into the necessary factors for re-incorporating music in K-12 Liberian schools. Although some might view this idea as expensive, the benefits of music education outweigh the costs of the program. Music education can further discipline and achievement in Liberian students, and can teach them peaceful alternatives to the rage they feel from the trauma of the civil-war.
Challenges Faced by Liberian Students
As Liberia is gradually recovering from effects of the two decades of civil crisis that took place from 1989 to 2003, the need to approach education with a holistic approach is imperative toward improving all aspects of learning in the country. The civil crisis created a large gap in the education of the youth, as thousands did not enter the classroom for a number of years. Many experienced trauma, depression, loss of hope, and fear.
Although efforts to improve education have been made by the government, the academic performances of many young Liberians are very low as compared to their peers in other African countries. According to the FrontPageAfrica’s (2016) report, out of the 42,927 Liberian students that took the annual regional high school exams, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) reported that “16,072 passed resulting into 34.48 percent while 22,671 failed resulting into 48.64 percent and 16.88 results were withheld for what was called collusion practiced by some of the schools during the test” (para 12-13). This is a critical concern for the nation as the future of it lies in the hands of the youth and if measures are not put into place to enhance their human capital, Liberia faces a serious challenge for sustainable development.
I propose the Liberian government take a holistic approach to education that would include the integration of music and other arts-related programs in K-12 Liberian schools. Research is clear about the long term benefit of arts education for comprehensive academic success and excelling in learning. Reducing education to “Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics” (STEM) limits the capacity to develop students equipped to think critically and constructively and leaves them to think functionally. Music is important in building—through group performance —both community- and a team-based work-ethic, and shared responsibility.
The arts provide cognitive, social, and behavioral benefits to students, which contribute to the development of young people academically, socially, and environmentally (Arts Build Communities). Music instruction enhances student fine motor skills—the ability to use small acute muscle movement to write, use a computer, or perform other physical activities essential for classroom learning. It fosters superior working memory—the ability to mentally hold, control, and manipulate information in order to complete higher order tasks such as reasoning and problems solving. It improves students’ abilities to recall and retain verbal information—the recall and retention of spoken words, which serves as a foundation for retaining information in all academic subjects (Arts Education Partnership, 2011). Students who study music outperform their non-music peers in assessment of standardized reading and math, and the advantages that music provides increase over time (Arts Education Partnership, 2011).
Making music education assessable to Liberian students—and central to their curriculum—will prepare them to learn, will help facilitate their academic achievement, and develop their creative capacities for lifelong learning and success. For this to happen, it is imperative that the Liberian government provide an opportunity for Liberian students to participate in musical activities such as taking music lessons, singing in choirs, performing on a variety of instruments, and composing and improvising music. By engaging in these activities, Liberian students can improve on their analytical thinking, and concentration as well as their work in mathematics, sciences, communication and other disciplines.
Art Works. (March, 2011). The arts and human development: Framing a national research agenda for the arts, lifelong learning, and individual well-being. Paper based on a convening by the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C.
National Association for Music Education (NAfME) (2016). Advocacy Resources.
Arts education partnership (2011). How music education help students learn, achieve, and succeed.
J.H. Webser Clayeh, “Liberian students perform miserably in West African certification exams,” FrontPageAfrica, 2016.
About the author:
NAfME member Samson Tarpeh was born and raised in Liberia. He is an accomplished pianist, educator, and community developer. He has dedicated his career toward rebuilding his native land through arts education, and community development. He believes the arts, specifically music—through group and individual performances—can enhance the rebuilding of Liberian communities, team-based work-ethic, and shared responsibility. Through community development, he wants to build the capacities of Liberian youth and communities, to be able to work toward problem-solving and to develop shared visions that will be sustainable.
H e is the Executive Director of the Agape National Academy of Music (ANAM) in Liberia, since 2008. ANAM is a non-profit organization committed to making music and other arts-related programs accessible to children and youth through quality instruction, for the purpose of education, religion and social change. Before pursuing studies in the United States, he worked in close partnership with the United States Embassy Public Affairs Office, coordinating community-based music programs in and around Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. These programs were intended to foster education, social growth, creativity, and peacebuilding. ANAM is affiliated with the Artist in Christian Testimonies International in Brentwood, Tennessee, United States.
He will graduate in May 2017, from the University of Kentucky, with a Master’s degree in Community and Leadership Development, and a Graduate Certificate in College Teaching and Learning. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music, Piano Performance, from Campbellsville University in Kentucky in 2014, a Bachelor of Public Administration degree from the African Methodist Episcopal University in Liberia in 2009, and a Certificate in Music Education from the Centre for Piano and Voice Perfection of Music in Accra, Ghana.
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