Music education in Spain: what if there was no music education at all?

In 2013, music education was removed from the compulsory curriculum in Spain. This situation must not be neglected, since this is a threat to the place of music education in all Europe.

Music education in Spain: what if there was no music education at all?
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“From now on, a new generation of Spanish students is emerging, many of whom will finish their ten years of compulsory education (6 to 16 years) without attending a single music class in their life. In the current context, we “consume” music more than ever in human history, and the fact that they do not acquire any skills in music culture during their schooling will expose them to the dictates of the music industry, without even knowing it. And they won’t even have access to the benefits that come from group musical activity, which contributes to civic education in a democratic society”.

A fatalistic vision, a worst-case scenario? It’s a reality, according to José A. Rodríguez-Quiles y García, a Spanish teacher, musician and musicologist. In the native land of Cervantes, Goya, García Lorca and de Falla, neoliberal policies removed arts education, including music, from the compulsory curriculum. This is a dramatic step backwards completely neglected in Spain, a first step who could, eventually, be followed by all the other countries in Europe, states Rodríguez-Quiles y García. As national coordinator for Spain at the EMU - European Music School Union, he noted that, despite the fact that music education is considered by national laws across the continent as an important part of the education of younger generations, it is just a declaration of intent.

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“The recommendations of the EMU to dedicate at least two compulsory hours per week to music education are thus not only ignored by a part of the European education authorities, and -in addition- the governments of certain countries do exactly the opposite to what the experts' recommendations say, which is the case of Spain”, he states.

A matter of minor importance

How did we get there? In 2013, the Conservative government in power in Spain approved the new Organic Law on Education  - LOMCE - for which arts education was not compulsory anymore. “The decision to remove music education from school curricula was made unilaterally by the ministerial team of the People's Party (Partido Popular), which was a majority at the time, and against the opinion of the other political parties. It considers music education not as an integral part of education, but rather as a matter of minor importance, a matter for the private sphere; this pushed Spain backwards and the country returned to the situation before the 1990s, in terms of music education”.

In other words, the LOMCE leaves free choice, and every educational administration can propose - or not - to teach music as part of the school curriculum. It also removed music, dance and arts from the Spanish Baccalaureate. Soon after the entry into force of the LOMCE, professionals across the country started mobilizing to defend music and arts education, which they consider necessary. Among their arguments, they highlight the PISA results in the other countries of Europe in which music education in schools is essential. “We are tired of having to continuously justify our profession as music teachers, of having to explain why music education is so important” states Blanca Domínguez, the representative of the Confederation of Music education Associations (COAEM) for El País. And with good reason: the LOMCE put an end to two decades of unprecedented momentum, during which the country had developed the capacity to place arts education and youth development at the heart of its educational project.

In fact, in 1990, the socialist party introduced the LOGSE, an educational law that marked - for the first time -the effective incorporation of music into education. According to the LOGSE, music in elementary and secondary education had to be compulsory, whereas optional during the last four years of high school, but with the possibility to choose music, dance and performing arts as a subject. “In general education” - explains Nicolás Oriol de Alarcón, the author of the study 'Music in the general education system in Spain and its evolution from the 20th to the early 21st century' - “music should reach all pupils, including those who don't show any particular skills or interest in this subject. There are different methods that are designed to make music education less abstract and less difficult, so that there is a progression and continuity throughout the educational path, based not only on the acquisition of musical language and its different technical applications, but also aimed at familiarising the pupils with the experience of music through experimentation and participation, from a broad and global perspective”.

At the same time, in addition to the support shown by the education policy of Spain for music, a network of music schools subsidised by the municipalities started expanding throughout the territory, with the aim of _“digging up new talents, strengthening social cohesion, enriching the cultural landscape of neighbourhoods and helping youth development through music”._

But the flagship measure of these defenders in Spain was the creation - by the universities of all the country - of a specific and complete Master’s Degree with the aim of training future music teachers: “The direct consequence of this law was the creation, for the first time, of the Diploma in Music Teaching by Spanish universities, which lasted a total of 3 years (6 semesters) and trained music teachers for primary education. And even if there has never been an equivalent for music professors in secondary schools, that was surely a historic step, since it allowed Spain to get up to speed and reach other European countries through a postgraduate diploma for music teachers. Unfortunately, after the LOMCE in 2013, Spanish universities started taking steps backwards in this regard, concluding that training specialised music teachers was no longer necessary, therefore the diploma was removed from all the universities of the country. A real disaster in the field - from both an educational and scientific point of view”.

Back to square one

As explained by the specialist, Spanish universities are no longer offering any kind of specialist training to music teachers, and music research is at a standstill. It is still part of the training curriculum for generalist teachers, but as an optional subject, with no framework in terms of content, the volume of hours and objectives. This results in heterogeneity in skills and levels, which does not worry either politicians nor universities, according to Rodríguez-Quiles y García. In schools, the place of music is not guaranteed anymore and music education depends on the goodwill of management teams: with the LOMCE, schools can only either propose an optional hour of music per week or replace it completely with another option: foreign languages, computer skills… whether students want or not.

This is a totally unattractive prospect, considering the inadequately trained school personnel. This leads to the problem described by José A. Rodríguez-Quiles y García: ““From now on, a new generation of Spanish students is emerging, many of whom will finish their ten years of compulsory education (6 to 16 years) without attending a single music class in their life. If, despite the current situation, Spanish students were still interested in music... that would be the real miracle. You need to know music from the inside in order to enjoy it. Music education must be brought back to classrooms, taught by adequately trained teachers, with a specialised diploma for that”.

It remains to be seen whether Spain will consider teaching music education again, going back to those two decades it was able to defend a long time ago.