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Jay Laga’aia & John Foreman on Music: Count Us In and its Impact on Music Education

Since its launch in 2006, Music: Count Us In has been a popular program for primary and high school students around Australia. Hosted by Music Australia, Count Us In values music education, aiming to instill meaningful learning experiences for students while also supporting music teachers by providing valuable resources for lesson planning. Each year, they ask students to collaborate with each other and take part in writing the program song. Afterwards, schools participating in the program all band together and sing the song at the same time.

We had the opportunity to speak with last year’s program ambassador John Foreman and Program Mentor Jay Laga’aia in their participation for Count Us In 2016.

For Laga’aia, his experience in Early Childhood and Children’s television (Play School, Jay’s Jungle) have both become a staple in his career, so being part of Count Us In helped him recognise his value as a music mentor.

“I was actually asked to be a mentor ’cause I knew that Marcia Hines was a mentor last year [2015],” he says. “I took my children who were singing in the choir to the actual event itself so it was a bit strange to be on the other side. I was very pleased because I was asked not as a children’s presenter but as a music mentor, which to me was a great next step up. Also as a father, it was a great opportunity to listen to these young people create a song and helping them”

Even then, Count Us In has shown impressive results, boosting the confidence for students to appreciate music and its ability to build a community and confidence in all individuals.

“The great thing about this is the community and singing and music and schools – especially primary schools and pre-schools,” Laga’aia states. “You don’t have to be a fantastic singer, you just need to participate and you gain experience singing in an audience, singing in a crowd, learning to blend and learning to make eye contact. Your reading improves, your ear improves and most importantly, your confidence improves.”

As for John Foreman, using his extensive knowledge and skills from his experience in music helped him flourish as 2016’s Count Us In ambassador. Growing up and participating in programs like Count Us In, he wanted to close the gap between students and music education.

“Back in 2006, the music council pointed out to me that while there are fantastic things happening in many schools in Australia, there are also some big gaps,” he explains. “Schools quite rightfully pay attention to reading, writing, and arithmetic but unfortunately not enough on music. Sometimes it only takes one or two music teachers at a school to make a big difference but also when there’s a school, particularly in infants or primary school where primary school teachers may not have the confidence or experience to teach music or to sing in front of a class, that can result in gaps in music education for young people as well.

“I thought it was important to help raise the status of music in schools so that teachers, parents and school principals could see this great thing happening in their schools and realise that music-making is something that’s really important, bringing a lot of benefits to the students and to the whole school community.”

As Foreman spoke, his passion for working in music was a strong motivator in instilling the same passion for the students of today. While the government lacks in funds for the creative arts and education, Count Us In breaks the barriers of this by bringing together a community of students showing appreciation for music. Joining forces with each other, both Foreman and Laga’aia prove to successfully live the values of the program, inspiring thousands of students in the year of 2016.

“There’s a lot of great stuff happening in music as well,” Foreman states. “I guess it’s just the disparity between those students who have great access to music education and those who don’t and you only need to look at events like the School Spectacular and the sort of school performances that happen in places like the Opera House [and] all sorts of venues around Australia. There are some fantastic things happening in the world of music at school but I think it’s important that everybody has access to good quality music education.”

For more info on Count Us In, check here: https://musicaustralia.org.au/program/countusin/

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