The renowned conductor brings the topic of arts education to the national arena.

Respected conductor and musical educator Richard Gill brought the rarely tackled topic of arts education to a national audience on Monday night’s Q&A, broadcast on ABC television. He was joined on the popular panel discussion program by celebrity physicist Brian Cox (in Australia for the QSO’s Journey Through the Cosmos performances this week), rapper Matt Colwell aka 360, mathematician Nalini Joshi and actor Miranda Tapsell.

Gill, who is a well-known champion of Australian music as well as a respected educator asserted that Australia is guilty of not valuing teachers, and of letting the curriculum grow stagnant. “I’ve been teaching for 52 years and I’ve seen seven iterations of the curriculum, national and state curriculum, and basically nothing changes” Gill stated. “People just write more words that mean less, and teachers do not have the time to read ridiculous documents.”

Describing the unrealistic task ahead of today’s teachers, Gill cited the arts curriculum, a document that is currently 140 pages long. The Headmaster of Sydney Grammar School, Dr John Vallance caused controversy recently when he was reported as saying music and visual arts should have their content diminished. However Gill was keen to set the record straight. “John has been widely misinterpreted, ” Gill insists. “The very first statement in his review is, and I have written it out: ‘As currently constituted, the Australian curriculum documents for the arts are too long, diffuse and tendentious to be comprehensible to students or to parents who want to know what their children are learning.’ And he’s right. He’s absolutely right. He is not suggesting anything be cut in the arts at all. He is suggesting things be moved around,” says Gill.

The experienced ambassador for musical education went on to indicate that the real issue is with the adherence to “iniquitous” NAPLAN system. “NAPLAN is a gift to the lazy teacher and a deep frustration to the creative teacher.” Gill spoke passionately, suggesting that the curriculum in its current format should be radically reimagined to put a greater emphasis on the input from the teachers themselves. “My view is this: when I talk to teachers about curriculum I say to teachers ‘you are the best curriculum. You know what your children can do. You know how they are learning. You test them all the time.’ There is no substitute for a properly trained teacher, in front of a group of kids, teaching.”

Gill acquiesced that it can be hard for teachers to have their voices heard, but was keen to encourage that the only way to get the necessary change is to keep trying. “You have to keep at it. Today we heard some fantastic news from this Federal Government. Senator Brandis and Minister Pyne have given the music education sector almost $600,000 to start a mentorship program for the training of music teachers from kindergarten to Grade 6.” Gill’s enthusiasm for the new government initiative was evident, saying “all over the country there are fabulous music teachers who we can identify to look after other teachers.” Gill credits this to the perpetual efforts of those giving tireless support to arts education. “I have been banging on about this for years and years and years, that’s what teachers have to do. You’ve got to bang on. You’ve just got to keep lobbying.” 

The full episode of Q&A featuring Richard Gill can viewed online here.

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