Composing school harmony: Music, arts essential for social inclusion

Governments can no longer discount the critical role music and arts play in achieving social harmony in the classroom, Monash University research shows.

  • Music and arts-based education is essential to build cultural capacity in Australian schools, and provide opportunities for personal and academic achievement.
  • Intercultural competence and socially inclusive behaviours are embedded in musical activities that are student-centred, practical and authentic.
  • Governments can no longer discount the critical role music and arts play in achieving social harmony in the classroom.

Governments can no longer discount the critical role a music and arts-based education has on promoting social inclusion and intercultural competence in the classroom, new research by Monash University shows.

The study by Dr Renee Crawford, Senior Lecturer in Monash University’s Faculty of Education, shows music and the arts provide ways for non-English-speaking and refugee students to succeed in the Australian school system and unite with fellow classmates.

Published in the International Journal for Music Education, the study explores the perceptions, experiences and practices of teachers directly or indirectly involved with the music education program in three Australian schools that have a high percentage of young people with a refugee background.

Key findings from this research indicate that intercultural competence and socially inclusive behaviours are embedded in the music learning activities that are student-centred, active, practical, experiential and authentic.

On the back of recent changes to public university fee structures announced by the Federal Government, which will see a 113 per cent increase in the cost of humanities degrees from 2021, Dr Crawford said arts and music must remain a critical component of curriculum and school programs.

“Music and the arts are essential to the very fabric of humanity, contributing not only to society as an expression of personal and collective identity and social relatedness, but as it remains one of the most powerful ways to connect with each other,” Dr Crawford said.

“Creativity and critical thinking, innovation, communication, collaborative learning, intercultural competence and socially inclusive behaviours are non-negotiable 21st century skills and attributes that are embedded within the disciplines of music and arts.

“Government and education authorities can no longer discount the critical role that music and arts education can play in the personal, social and academic development of young people and the intrinsic and extrinsic value that it can bring to each person.”

The three Australian schools involved in this 30-week case study have more than 1500 students combined from a number of countries, including Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan, Thailand and Burma.

All schools delivered the standard Australian curriculum, as well as intensive English language courses and cultural-immersion opportunities for refugee students.

The music teachers interviewed indicated the experiences and opportunities provided by the practices involved in music making contributed to their overall academic achievement and the development of positive personal and social outcomes for all students.

One music teacher said: “Beyond the dots on the page, there is an expressive quality to music that transcends cultural boundaries and academic limitations…engagement with lyrics builds vocabulary, comprehension and pronunciation.”

Another remarked that some students who found literacy or numeracy difficult, and somewhat confronting, have a chance to excel in music. They said music gave students the chance to develop important personal and social skills, such as self-esteem and teamwork.

A number of non-arts teachers interviewed for the study said the skills acquired in music were easily transferable to other subjects, such as English and mathematics.

“It was encouraging to observe that in each of these schools, the music programs are designed on the premise that musical participation affords opportunities to enrich human experience in holistic and integrated ways, valuing a balance of intrinsic and extrinsic benefits,” Dr Crawford said.

“Australia is regarded as one of the most multicultural countries in the world, but as globalisation becomes the norm, we begin to welcome people from countries with vastly different backgrounds, experiences, ideologies, values and belief systems

“A reconsideration of what we teach and how is required in order to account for the social, cultural and economic differences and similarities embodied within the changing society and contemporary student cohort. Music and the arts can play a huge role in the future of inclusive, practical and life-changing education.”

To download a copy of the study titled: ‘Beyond the dots on the page: Harnessing transculturation and music education to address intercultural competence and social inclusion’, please visit