Yadavi Jeyakumar said that art and music were a big part of his life from a young age.
The 19-year-old family migrated from the coastal town of Valvettithurai in Sri Lanka in the late 1990s and although he was born in Australia, he said the dance helped him “find his tribe”.
This was especially true during his school years on the outskirts of Seven Hills in western Sydney when he navigated the identities of Australia and Sri Lanka.
Whether it’s learning the complicated steps of classical dance from its Tamil Nadu background or popping up and locking up hip hop classes, dances are woven into Yadavi dances every day.
“It was a very pleasant memory because I met many of my school friends there. It is like our mutual interest, “he told SBS News.
“We bound very easily and then at lunch time we would just have fun and make our own dance.”
Research released by Monash University this week shows teens are not alone in experiencing the positive effects of art and music in helping integration in schools.
Learning, Go beyond the points on the page, published in the International Journal of Music Education, finding art and music gives students the opportunity to succeed in the Australian school system.
It also shows students from non-English speaking backgrounds and refugees are greatly benefited, with art and music providing a way to develop important personal and social skills.
Art remains one of the most powerful ways to connect with each other, said Dr. Renee Crawford, a senior lecturer at the Monash University School of Education, who led the research.
“They draw from various learning styles such as fostering creativity, imagination, and emotional responsiveness.”
The study, published in the International Journal of Music Education, explores the perceptions, experiences and practices of teachers who are directly or indirectly involved in music education programs in three Australian schools.
These schools have more than 1,500 students combined from a number of countries, including Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan, Thailand and Burma, and are assessed for 30 weeks.
All schools provide an Australian standard curriculum, as well as intensive English courses and cultural immersion opportunities for refugee students.
Key findings show that intercultural competencies and socially inclusive behaviors are embedded in student learning activities that are student-centered, active, practical, experiential and authentic.
A participating music teacher said: “Beyond the points on the page, there is an expressive quality to music that transcends cultural and academic boundaries … engagement with lyrics builds vocabulary, understanding, and pronunciation.”
The study follows an announcement by the federal government at the beginning of the year that future university fees for arts and humanities courses would be raised by 113 percent.
The changes are designed to help fund an increase in 39,000 cheaper places and degrees for those who study so-called on-demand courses including teaching, mathematics, science, nursing and engineering.
But Dr Crawford said all students needed a balanced path.
“We have an emphasis on ‘we have to get back to basics; “English, mathematics, science,” without realizing that some of the extraordinary benefits generated from art can actually link English, mathematics, and science, “he said.
Morgan Graham is a producer of youth involvement at the Information and Cultural Exchange on the outskirts of Sydney’s West Parramatta.
Its music and arts programs provide students with diverse cultural backgrounds a safe outlet to explore their identities.
He believes that the funds held can strengthen the idea that art is only for some people.
“Art must be accessible to people from all walks of life and from all socio-economic backgrounds,” he said.
Keira Bury, owner and director of the Powerhouse Elite Australia cheer and dance studio also has similar concerns.
He said he feared the diversity of students who pursue more unique forms of artistic expression such as cheerleading would decrease if the program was not widely accessed.
“It does bring different people from different suburbs and different backgrounds, and different diversity, and that is very good for them,” he said.
Ms Bury, who studied Bachelor of Dance Education, said she was worried that rising costs for public art and music degrees would make others reluctant to follow the creative path.
“I feel we will lose a lot of quality, potential artists who qualify because they might feel the need to study an area that is considered more serious and they are offered a little more funding and opportunities in.”
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