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Music education funding needs to be diverted to digital lessons, says NYMAZ report

NYMAZ, the charity formerly known as North Yorkshire Youth Music Action Zone, has called for increased funding for digital systems to overcome inequality of access to music education.

NYMAZ, the charity formerly known as North Yorkshire Youth Music Action Zone, has called for increased funding for digital systems to overcome inequality of access to music education.

Summarising the successes and drawbacks of online music education, the report focusses on the Connect:Resound program that runs across several English music hubs and has been led by NYMAZ and UCanPlay for the last eight years.

With backing from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Education, Learning Through the Arts: More and Better Fund, Music for All, Youth Music and the Mayfield Valley Arts Trust, Connect:Resound was piloted in Yorkshire in 2014. The aim was to offer better access to instrumental learning and diverse live music performances for young people living in isolated, rural parts of North Yorkshire.

Even before the challenges of the pandemic lockdown, the project soon showed it offered other benefits. It was particularly applicable to students with special educational needs and others unable to access mainstream education. As the project has expanded, 15 music hubs have taken it up across England and several further groups have become extended partners to the NYMAZ Youth Music project.

Although all the partners had been exploring the concept of online/Zoom lessons well before Covid-19, lockdown forced all schools into embracing hybrid learning. The report states that schools discovered many previously undiscovered advantages, such as increased engagement by students, independent learning, lesson flipping where tech-savvy students teach the teachers and musical collaboration between students becomes a natural element of learning.

But the report also showed shortcomings, not least in that digital poverty and multiple siblings using one device meant the least advantaged students benefitted least, to some extent defeating the very aim of the project. The report recommended improving wi-fi networks in schools and the wider community, supporting teachers and managers to develop hybrid teaching plans and techniques and, of course, more money.

According to NYMAZ director Sarah McWatt, the report shows a clear need to redress the funding imbalance towards online learning. ‘We’ve proved that delivering music education opportunities online can be critical to removing barriers and supporting inclusive and diverse instrumental teaching and learning,’ she said. ‘Online needs to be part of a hybrid approach but the sector requires ongoing support to innovate. Of course, the overarching challenge is how best to address wider inequalities and societal digital poverty, especially in rural and displaced communities and with those who suffer economic hardship.’

Additionally, the success of online learning requires closer cooperation with the technology sector. The report points to 5G, latency-reducing technologies, virtual and augmented reality platforms and the increasing power of smartphones as counters to the current obstacles in online lessons. It sees the proliferation of different online music education content and digital audio workstation technologies as a positive.

For the future, the partners in the scheme will be building online learning into their funding applications and seeking to improve impact evaluation techniques to measure online and digital activity amongst young people.

NYMAZ is also one of the founding partners of a new national alliance for Digital Innovation in Music Education. It is set to work alongside Music Mark, Music for Youth and Wiltshire Music Connect to raise awareness of how innovative digital technologies can benefit children and young people’s music education and learning.

The report can be found here: https://issuu.com/nymaz/docs/s21431dm-nymaz-connect-resound-report-v6-digital.