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Music Education in Singapore: Identifying perspectives of Singapore's main stakeholders



ABSTRACT for PAPER SESSION (Hawaii International Conference on Education 2007) Music Education in Singapore: Identifying Perspectives of Singapore’s Main Stakeholders General music is compulsory in Singapore for all students from primary to lower secondary (Age 7 to 14) and non-compulsory for upper secondary (Age 15 to 16). The music syllabus used both by primary and secondary schools is developed by the Ministry of Education (MOE) Curriculum Planning and Development, Singapore. Education in Singapore is seen as a “key instrument” (Bastion, 2003, p.10) to equip the new generation with resources that will fulfill and meet desirable qualities of Knowledge-Based Economy (KBE) in order to maintain its competitiveness internationally. This paper is part of my PhD research entitled “Music Education in the Knowledge-Based Economy (KBE): Design a Music Curriculum Framework for Singapore Neighborhood Schools.” The aim is to find out to what extent and in what ways do students in Singapore secondary schools like or dislike their schools music lessons and whether their perspectives are inline with other stakeholders’ perspectives. The results include what actions have been taken by schools and MOE to improve and prevent the gaps between the stakeholders’ perspectives as well as meeting the Government’s agenda for KBE. It will also discuss what changes have taken place in terms of teaching, support, syllabus, training and pedagogy for the KBE agenda. Methods used include focus group interviews and online surveys. The results will be discussed and suggestions for recommendations for improvements from the data collected. Bibliography Bastion, A. (2003). Singapore in a Nutshell. Singapore: Prentice Hall
by Penny Tan
Singapore is an island-state, located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It is a
cosmopolitan country with an estimated population of slightly above 4 million, made up of
three main groups: mainly Chinese (76.8%), followed by Malays (13.9%), and Indian (7.9%),
with another 1.4% of Eurasians and others.
Singapore is a fast developing country with no natural resources, so its government has placed
great emphasis on developing a nation with strong human capital. Hence there have been
great demands for skilled and intellectual workforce to keep up with the fast growing
economy. Education in Singapore is seen as akey instrument (Bastion, 2003) to equip the
new generation with resources that will fulfil and meet desirable qualities of Knowledge-
Based Economy (KBE). In order to achieve this, the education policies have been reviewed
regularly to ensure that the main aim of the system continues to keep up with the global
changes. As a result, Singapore has invested time and money in shifting its education system
from efficiency driven to ability driven education to meet the social, economic and global
demands. This is to groom young Singaporeans with knowledge and skills to sustain the
current strong economy and be ready to face Singapores new economy. This has led to a high
competitive environment in schools, especially in terms of achievement; competency and
excellence are being emphasised as of great importance in schools.
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General music is compulsory in Singapore for all students from primary to lower secondary
(age 7 – 14 years old) and non-compulsory for upper secondary (age 15 to 16 years old). The
music syllabuses for primary and secondary schools are developed by the Ministry of
Education (MOE) Curriculum Planning and Development, Singapore. The proposed study
aims to analyse the perspectives of Singapore key cross-section education stakeholders from
non-elective music programmes in Singapore’s neighbourhood secondary schools. These
stakeholders will include secondary schools’ principals, music teachers, and students (age 13
-16 years old). This study will build on a common understanding between the stakeholders of
how music education practices could contribute to the development of the KBE workforce as
described by the Singapore government.
This paper is part of my PhD research entitled “Music Education in the Knowledge-Based
Economy (KBE): Design a Music Curriculum Framework for Singapore Neighbourhood
Secondary Schools”. The aim is to find out to what extent and in what ways students in
Singapore secondary schools like or dislike music lessons, and whether their perspectives are
inline with other education stakeholders perspectives.
The objectives of Music Education in Singapore Secondary Schools
The latest version of the music syllabus for Singapore secondary schools is implemented by
MOE from 2002. The objectives of the syllabus focus oncultivating and developing pupils’
skills and knowledge through providing them direct experiences in the components of
Listening and Music Making…The learning outcomes at each level delineate the progressive
development in each component that would contribute to a holistic music experience. (MOE,
The aims of music education as stated by MOE (2002) are to:
1. develop an understanding of and an open mind for music of local and global cultures,
with an awareness and appreciation of the links between music and daily living.
Develop creativity and critical thinking skills.”
2. develop a desire for personal and group expression through music and a life-long love
for music.
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Contents Skills Values
1. perform and appreciate a
varied repertoire of music
from different cultures
and genres”
2. acquire the knowledge of
“a working vocabulary of
the elements of music
anda variety of musical
3. identify musical
instruments aurally and
4. appreciate the social,
cultural and historical
contexts of music and its
relationship to other art
1. perform solo and in
ensemble with confidence,
appropriate expression and
proficiency through singing
and instrumental playing
2. interpret and notate music
3. compose and improvise
music with guidance
4. listen to music and
communicate the analysis of
its characteristics”
5. evaluate musical works and
performances critically
1. appreciate the role
that music plays in
their daily lives
2. develop a
willingness to
cooperate with and
value others in
3. develop an
openness to music
from different
4. develop a desire to
listen to music and
participate in musical
In order to find out what were the perspectives of the stakeholders, the first phase of surveys
were sent to secondary school students, classroom music teachers and principals. The total
responses received from surveys were: 597 students, 34 music teachers, and 8 principals. With
the survey results gathered from the first phase, new sets of surveys were designed to gather
information from MOE and National Institute of Education (NIE) at second phase. However,
MOE Curriculum Development and Planning Division has declined to collect data from their
music curriculum officers. As for NIE, only half of the staff has responded. In order to obtain
more responses, I will arrange to interview the remaining staff personnel at a later stage.
The students survey has been classified under 3 domains:
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1. Cognitive Involvement (Assessment and Evaluation; Intellectual Knowledge; Logical
Mind; Musical Language and Disciplines)
2. Personal Interest (Excitement; Interest; Enjoyment; Relaxation; Empathy -
perceptions and appreciation)
3. Future Career (Technical Skills; Career Path and Prospective; Financial Benefits)
In term of cognitive involvement, students do not take music education seriously as it is a non-
examination and non-core subject. According to the survey results, most students have taken
music lessons only as a form of relaxation, to unwind from studies, stress release and for
enjoyment. Almost 70% of students find music lessons useful and beneficial but only 35.7%
hope to make music as their future career. However, only 39.2% hope to have music as a core
Music as a Career
YES (35.7%) NO (61%)
Cognition not good in academic subjects, easy to
play music
is difficult and hard work
not a good instrumentalist,
not talented
Personal enjoy being around music, no stress,
fun, interesting, passion
music is part of my life
not interested, only as a
hobby and leisure
not fun and boring
Future form music groups
can earn extra money through teaching
become rich, famous and popular
does not earn high income
not a money making job
do not have bright future
have higher ambition
difficult to find a career in
not practical
Music as Core Subject
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This could be due to a limited understanding of music’s contribution as career. They could be
influenced by the cultural mindset that music career is non profitable and does not hold a high
status in the community. When asked whether they consider their schools’ classroom music
lesson practical over a Likert Scale of 1 to 5 (1 for NOT AT ALL and 5 for HIGHLY), it
results to a mean of 2.95 and a standard deviation of 1.038.
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YES (39.2%) NO (58.1%)
Cognition form of expression, gain self-
confidence, strength discipline
easier to pass as compared to
other subjects, can improve my
too many core subjects already, can
not cope, do not have time to
more to study for examinations
very difficult to understand and
learn, will not do well
I am weak in music, not musically
do not help us academically
limited contact with musical
not comprehensive enough
do not understand what the teacher
is teaching
Personal fun, enjoyment, interesting,
release stress, smooth nerves,
relaxing, feels good,
for experience
love music making
additional stress
if have to study for it will no longer
be fun
waste of time,
not my interest, need passion
not enjoyable, boring
Future handy tools for future, able to
further studies in music,
additional skills, can be a
unnecessary, no advantages, not
not needed in real life,
no future prospects,
lacking in application, not useful
not applicable in social life
The survey results show that most students prefer to have practical / instrumental lessons
during lessons rather then theory. Those without musical background or training find it
challenging to memorise music notations. What they like most about music lessons are it helps
them to relax, enables them to release stress from their core subjects, and is not a non-
examination subject.
One of the reasons students stated what they like most about music classes is the carpeted and
air conditioned room, unlike their normal classrooms. In contrast, educators see music lessons
as a form of aesthetic appreciation. However I feel that there is much more which music
education can contribute to the society.
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Results abstracted from principals and teachers surveys
Teachers (Required) Principals (Given)
Request for more support from principals, head of departments, service provider and
schools, in budget, funding and technical support.
Limited teaching aids such as music scores, music education packages, popular CDs /
VCD / DVD, music library, resource bank, compulsory instruments
Better facilities, solely used for and adapted to music that includes well equipped sound
proof room with proper pianos, good audio equipments, portable instruments, internet access
More curriculum time, making music education a four year course
Clearer / specific guidelines from MOE, more structured / or flexible curriculum, modular
system, customised learning, effective idiot proof guide
Increased music education status by making it a core examinable subject.
Fewer students per class, re-grouping of students, mass participation, specialised scheme for
lower secondary pupils with musical abilities
Music computer lab, more IT based, software for music technology
Musical instruments
Staff, external service provider
Financial funding for the
Funding necessary to engage a
variety of instructors
Knowledge support
Infrastructure, special air-
conditioned room
Resources (print & non-print)
Maintenance of equipments
Excursions to watch
Structure time for music lessons
Opportunity to perform
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Teachers Principals (Required)
from those students not interested in music lessons.
mixed abilities
‘unimportant’ subject and not much emphasis placed
on music, because it is not a core subject, therefore
hard to get students to do their work
therefore ought to raise general music to ‘O’ level so
that kids do not take music lessons only as a ‘passing’
time period and walk out thinking it is a waste of time
MOE syllabus are little relevance to daily lives, little out-
of-class music, little effective, hard to teach less, learn
there is lack of recognition from students and parents.
‘Adults’ need to be educated on the advantages because
music is actually the avenue to teach lots of skills and
developmental aspect, especially for less able students
broad skills needed to conduct the music syllabus to a high
degree of expertise. Currently, in service training provided
to music teachers are very basic.
lacks of arts professional group support in enhancing
music programme-in-school and providing breath of
music curriculum
Music teachers:
are the key to the success of any programme in school
are sent by MOE HQ tend to have knowledge of specific
who is passionate, well versed with musical activities, have
creative flair,
must able to handle all aspects of music training;
must able to reach out to unmotivated students by catering to
their learning needs
must able to design appropriate syllabus for students of
different talents; interests, and aptitudes ;
must be able to design and implement programmes that can
enthuse students n order to generate interest.
must act like a coordinator who can touch base with several
people who are experts in their field
must appreciate the resources and opportunities given to music
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music scores are not easily obtainable due to copyrights,
budget and accessibility
Teachers Principals
composing (basic)
performing, music making,
playing instrument, singing
Independent learning
appreciation, awareness, aesthetic
development, exposure to
different types of performing arts
listening skills
music reading and literacy
identifying instruments, different
genre, moods and rhythm of
music history
to breed a generation of music
ability to articulate and critically
appreciate a wide range of genres
in western and world music
for the total development, increase awareness and interest, appreciate the
usefulness of music study
nurture their music talent through a systematic and comprehensive curriculum that
infuse IT to complement the lessons
all Grade 7 students will be equipped basic keyboard skills
students with prior keyboard skills will collaborate with the peers to perform in
ensemble, thereby enhancing their musicality and stretching their abilities
all Grade 8 students learn music via IT, picking up composing and useful
sequencing techniques. They are taught also how to sequence music for animation
and explore different sound effects, to encourage musical curiosity and creativity
study music in more depth and become empowered by a holistic approach to their
and develop the whole person through arts appreciation
tool of expression, relate to the emotive nature of music
make them more in touch with the emotional self and sensitive to the emotions of
Social and future
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see the relevance / meaning of music to the needs of current society
enrich their experience and foster skills and understanding that are transferable and
beneficial to other areas of learning
stimulate their senses and communicate thoughts and feelings more easily in a
holistic education.
be exposed to a range of music and instrumentation enough to inspire them to take
up an instrument of choice for life-long enjoyment
can further improve and interest in this area
common repository for creative music ideas
music to be combined with dance and musical
as music has many broad categories, there should be a workshop to continuously
expose teachers to different aspects of music e.g. how to start musicals in school,
different dance movements, various world music…
although a study of classical music is important, the music curriculum also needs to
be able to connect with and engage the young people of today.
music curriculum is important to engage the pupils to help them enjoy as they
learn. An engaging lesson also helps to improve the pupil’s attitudes
academically weaker pupils are usually more kinetically inclined. Music may be
one way for them to express themselves better
student performance should be encouraged
music should be celebrated in school – be frequently featured in the school
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environment not just during lessons
music gives life and soul to the school
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The survey results show several differences among the stakeholders perspectives. The key
differences in values among stakeholders are: principals on teachers capabilities and musical
abilities; teachers on resources and supports provided by the school; and students’ concern
regarding future careers.
The main concerns raised by teachers and principals are how to cultivate interest in music
among students, as KBE desirable qualities can be built and developed through musical
activities and skills. In order to enhance and cultivate students’ interest for music, the students’
perspectives should be taken into serious consideration. Therefore it is important not to discard
studentsperspectives, and yet not to turn it into merely student-centred learning and
instruction. This is because there are many areas and knowledge where teachers know what’s
best for them. With the purpose of connecting the valuable perspectives gathered from the
stakeholders, this research will draw on Senge’s (1994) ‘System Learning theory to connect
their perspectives together in hope of building a shared vision among stakeholders.
Under the Senge (1994) organisation structure,When there is a genuine, vision, people excel
and learn, not because they are told to, but because they want to.” He considers ‘Team
Learning’ as “the fundamental learning unit in modern organization” (Senge, 1994). To
achieve this, a KBE Music Curriculum Framework (KMCF) has been designed not only to
meet the government’s KBE agenda, connect the stakeholders’ perspectives, but most
importantly to cultivate interest in music among students.
The KMCF works as a template or model, focusing on relevant tools, resources as well as
suggestions gathered from the survey data. This aims to assist secondary general music
teachers in Singapore in their planning to prepare their students with KBE desired qualities
through music education.
The KBE desired qualities for this framework will emphasise creativity, innovation, risk-
taking, entrepreneurship, life-long learning and the professional standards of music. However,
what is most important is to be able to generate awareness, increase the status of music
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education in schools and cultivate students’ interest to create life-long interest in the subject
and appreciating its value. It also hopes to adjust the society’s mindset and perspectives on
music education from simply appreciating music aesthetically; to realising that it also
enhances the KBE desired qualities and a foundation for a great variety of career aspects.
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