Inspiration

Faith Gonsalves: started a community-led approach to music education for social-upliftment of ‘at-risk’ children

Parvathy Jayakrishnan
Faith Gonsalves: started a community-led approach to music education for social-upliftment of ‘at-risk’ children

Our series "Teacher Warriors" honours some of the country’s best and bravest teacher warriors, striving to give kids a fighting chance at a better present and a future floating with possibilities. In the fourth episode, Parvathy Jayakrishnan speaks to Faith Gonsalves, Program Director, Music Basti:

When Faith Gonsalves decided to include music as an element to contribute to social upliftment of children from backward societies in India, she was sure to break the barriers of traditional learning methods to reach out to many. Demolishing the tradition of acquiring knowledge merely from books, Faith started her programme called Music Basti which uses music as a tool and vehicle of learning. The programme is intended to help develop life-skills and confidence for children from vulnerable backgrounds as they have poor access to quality education. Music Basti, in its initial years, was focused on leading enjoyable and creative community music projects in different parts of Delhi, primarily with rehabilitation and shelter homes. There is considerable evidence from around the world, on the impact and power of community music projects in bringing people together and promoting peace.

How was the initial response to Music Basti?

The response was extremely positive. In its initial years, Music Basti’s programme was largely volunteer-driven through a series of shorter-term projects. We focused on creating learning and exposure opportunities for hundreds of at-risk children in institutionalized child care organizations. Through these projects, we gained insight into the aspirations and needs of the children we were working with, and we were made more aware of the need to become as child-focused in our programmes as possible.

How did you come up with the idea of spreading music education to help children build skills and confidence?

It stemmed from a desire to see transformation in education for children in India. There is no simple one-stop solution to the complex challenges we face in educational policy, school systems, content, pedagogy, curriculums or teachers.

Today’s children need much more than to just be taught how to learn and remember facts. Students need content knowledge about language, math, science or civics, but equally they need learning and innovation skills or “life-skills”, such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity for success.

Research evidence has come a long way in showing that people who have more life skills enjoy a range of benefits including greater financial stability, less depression, low social isolation, better health and fewer chronic diseases. Evidence from across the world also strongly supports the role of music and arts learning to be a powerful and unique vehicle to foster these life-skills. Music is more than just about performing or entertaining. It builds practical, transferable and applicable skills in areas of school, work or social development. Every child has the ability and right to excel, if given the opportunities and encouragement.

What kind of children come under the category of “at-risk”?

We work primarily with a student demographic who are first generation learners, attending government schools or low-income private schools. Most of the students live in slum communities. They are at-risk to a range of issues affecting their physical, mental or emotional well-being; these may include abandonment by families or education. We already know the extremely poor statistics on students staying in school in India, as well as primary learning outcomes, and this demographic is particularly at risk to being failed by the system. Early interventions have the potential to dramatically and positively change the life trajectory of a child. Students’ interactions with their teachers have a profound impact on their long-term academic outcomes; in other words, great teachers cannot be underestimated. Children from lower socio-economic groups are extremely disadvantaged in their access to quality learning and opportunities in and out of school, to learn, be encouraged and excel. The only thing separating them from their more affluent peers is opportunity.

Why did you choose music over any other form of art?

Responsible educators today cannot and should not be ignoring the evidence that music has shown across the world in supporting cognitive development, social and emotional skills learning and academic excellence for children. There are clear connections we can see between long term music learning and group music learning programmes with developing motor skills, memory and recall, math and reading skills, as well as enhanced self-confidence and esteem, communication abilities, concentration and overall academic excellence.

Is it your love for music as a child that inspired you to start Music Basti?

I was very fortunate to grow up in a school and college environment that not just allowed arts learning, but actively promoted it and promoted learning through it. Singing in choirs, for example, allowed me to grow profoundly as an individual and a team player, about the importance of hard work and persistence, and also about creativity and leadership.

What aspects does Music Basti focus on?

The original song writing aspect of the programme and the general song-based pedagogical teaching serves many learning outcomes. These range from learning about different musical elements, cultures, genres. The programme content focuses on introducing the fundamentals of music including rhythm, pitch and singing, music appreciation and listening, and song-writing and performance. Inter-woven into the programme are opportunities for students to perform outside their schools at events, festivals or concerts, and also Music Basti’s own public ReSound concert at the end of the year.

We are developing teaching resources including curriculum frameworks, handbooks and instructional classroom videos to help teachers or musicians implement these practices into their own classrooms, wherever they may be.

This article was originally published in the June 2017 issue as a part of our cover story on Teacher Warriors. Subscribe to ScooNews Magazine today to have more such stories delivered to your desk every month.

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