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Smog of competition smothers creativity

For the first time in about 20 years of teaching piano, more of my students are leaving for reasons other than finance, lack of interest or changing circumstances such as moving house. They are leaving because they do not have time to practise.

Over the past few years, I and colleagues have worked around the growing number of after-school activities that have put a strain on practice time. But the exodus from music lessons now has a different timbre; children have increasing amounts of homework so that their study time takes up most of their evenings. Several of my students also study before breakfast.

What disheartens me most is the fear that is so evident in the children and parents who are leaving. And that seems the greatest irony and tragedy for us all. Education has become a very serious business. Something terrible will happen if little Mary doesn't get her grades. It feels like an invisible smog that is smothering the best aspects of learning - curiosity, creativity, adventure, dreaming, inspiration, imagination.

In this oppressive atmosphere, the need for creativity seems ever-more important. The narrowing of education to the "hard" subjects and squeezing the creative subjects into near irrelevance seems to be saying that meat and potatoes are better than carrots and broccoli. Except that they're not.

The only rhetoric that now drives us is that of competition. We seem to be reducing education to how best we can climb the international league tables. What about collaboration? Must we think in terms of them and us, winners and losers?

Without other dimensions of intelligence being given space, classes across the globe will be sitting in rows chanting answers and never gazing out of the window at a passing cloud. Yet some of the greatest innovations have come from doing just that.

Rosemary Jefford, Piano teacher.

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