“Singing makes me feel joyful, it makes me feel free” said Pacha. I was leading the school choir and had asked all the children (around 80 people) to describe to the person standing beside them how singing made them feel and why they liked coming to choir. Her words reminded me about how I feel about singing, and how much the joy of music has given me. Anywhere, anytime, with anyone, song builds bridges, connects hearts and expresses our deepest emotions. It is life-long, it sustains the heart, the spirit, the soul…

But in our public school, if my friend Tina and I hadn’t volunteered to lead the choir group, the children would have gone without this year. In the public education system the emphasis is on ‘numeracy and literacy’. Teachers value their worth by exam results in spelling, punctuation and maths tables – not so much by the sense of children’s wellbeing and self-esteem.

As an adult, I greatly appreciate my education – it is good to be able to add up and to read and write well – but understanding my identity, and the context and the purpose of these tools has been so much more important. And this was never assisted much by the conventional school system. All my best memories of school were activities outside of the ‘classroom’ – the musicals, drama competitions, debating team, forming friendships, engaging in issues around me. I did my duty to pass my exams well, because that was what was expected of us, but enjoying life taught me much more.

I believe that encouraging children to find ways to feel unconditional joy and happiness, without necessarily spending money, or winning competitions – and being able to share this joy freely – should be given more emphasis in the education system. Imagine every child feeling empowered, not only by their exam results, but by their own unique talents that can bring joy to themselves and others. I find myself doing more and more at school to try to help make this possible; the school food gardens, the choir, raising funds to build a playground and organising the sustainability fete this year.

Pacha’s words at choir last week make me feel like it’s worth the effort.

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