Efforts to improve the accessibility of music education in Finnish music schools, panel convened by Marja-Leena Juntunen

Through presentation of four studies belonging to the ArtsEqual research initiative, this symposium discusses the recent efforts to improve accessibility of music education in Finnish music schools as part of the publicly funded Basic Education in the Arts (BEA) system. The system was created to provide equal access to extracurricular arts education for all students. The need for paying attention to accessibility issues is motivated by the recent studies that address deficiencies in the accessibility of its services. Participation is restricted, for example, by physical, social, geographical or financial barriers. This contrasts constitutional rights regarding everyone’s right to receive educational services in accordance with one’s abilities and special needs, and opportunity to develop oneself without economic restrictions. Furthermore, the need for improvement of accessibility grows out of a pressure in music education institutions to expand their accessibility in ways that narrow the ‘opportunity gap’ as identified with increasing inequality.

Juntunen, Marja-Leena: ArtsEqual: Institutional efforts to improve accessibility in Basic Education in the Arts (BEA) services during 2013–2018

The paper will discuss a recent survey, conducted by Juntunen and Kivijärvi, that was directed to rectors of the Basic Education in the Arts institutions, and examined the recent institutional efforts to improve accessibility of BEA services during 2013–2018. Within BEA, accessibility is a complex issue, and is here understood as taking into account people’s different needs and promoting equality: good accessibility increases equality of access. In the study, accessibility was structured in terms of regional, economic, physical and pedagogical accessibility.

In the presentation, the main findings regarding  BEA music schools will be presented and discussed. According to the survey, which 33 % (N=129) of the institutions responded to, the needs, barriers, and challenges regarding accessibility vary widely, both across art forms and institutions as well as regionally and in terms of resources. Lack of financial resources was considered a major challenge to improving accessibility, not only in terms of the number of places available, but also in the provision of special needs education and teacher competence in this area. Institutions have fulfilled their obligations with regard to equality and equality plans well, although so far only a small number of schools have carried out accessibility surveys, and/or evaluated the realization of accessibility. The BEA institutions have more and more collaborative partners, primarily schools, libraries, and other BEA institutions. The increasing cooperation can be considered positive development since its importance is highlighted, for instance, in the report Improving Access to Art and Culture that evaluated the implementation of the Government Programme (for 2016–2018). The report emphasizes that partnerships and taking extracurricular activities where children are already present (e.g. kindergartens and schools) support access to BEA as well as other arts and culture activities.

In the future, as society becomes ever more diverse, there will be a growing need for resilience at the institutional level of BEA, which refers to the capacity for renewal, reorganization, and development. Accessibility as a concept and practice offers one way forward to increase resilience and equity in a changing society.

Kivijärvi, Sanna: Reasonable accommodation as a policy instrument 3. Backer Johnsen, Hanna: The Floora project

In her presentation, Sanna Kivijärvi will address the matters of justified differential treatment in BEA music education in relation to disability and the concept of reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodation is a concept formulated in the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). CRPD approaches the social construction of disability from a politicised perspective and declares that refusing to make accommodations results in discrimination (UN, 2006). Also Finland’s Non-Discrimination Act states that denial of reasonable accommodation constitutes discrimination.

Reasonable accommodations refer to necessary and appropriate modifications that make existing facilities and information accessible to the individual with a disability, such as modifying equipment; reorganizing activities; adjusting curricula, learning materials and teaching strategies without an undue burden. The emphasis of reasonable accommodation is on the requirement to change the specific circumstances with solutions appropriate in the particular situation (Lawson, 2008).

In the presentation, an example of reasonable accommodation is discussed through the case of Figurenotes, a simplified notation system developed for the purpose of music therapy and music education at an Helsinki-based BEA music school called the Resonaari Music Centre. The Centre has broadened perspectives within BEA by providing music education especially for students with cognitive disabilities. Figurenotes is a key application in most of Resonaari’s pedagogical approaches. From the standpoint of the BEA’s administrative level, reasonable accommodation using Figurenotes is feasible as there are no legal or curricular barriers for its use (Kivijärvi & Rautiainen, in press). The application of Figurenotes sheds light on the hegemony of Western standard music notation in music education that is reinforced by the notation argument which holds that decoding this system is a requirement for further musical learning (Kivijärvi & Väkevä, 2020). In the BEA context, this hegemony seems to stem from musical and pedagogical conventions rather than from direct regulation of curriculum. BEA music schools have no curricular restrictions on the application of notational systems other than Western standard music notation. The use of Figurenotes serves reasonable accommodation concerning notation conceptions in relation to teacher autonomy: In practice, this means that every teacher in the context of BEA has autonomy to make reasonable accommodation in music education using Figurenotes.

Backer Johnsen, Hanna: The Floora project

In the presentation, two papers will discuss the Floora project that was initiated by a voluntary group of instrumental music teachers. Through cross-sectoral collaboration, it has offered instrumental music lessons for children who have limited access to the music school system due to social, economic, or other reasons. The still ongoing project was initiated in 2013 and later grew to be a nationwide association that coordinates the collaboration between the music schools and other professional institutions.

The paper by Hanna Kamensky will discuss her study that examines how the Floora teachers narrate their profession in relation to social responsibility. Teachers, in general, are seen as ‘gatekeepers of the welfare state’ (Englund & Solbrekke, 2011) and thereby listening to their voices might be crucial for the future of music schools in the time of increasing inequality and polarization, rather than creating top-down, institutional incentives. In the presentation, Kamensky will present the preliminary findings of the teachers’ narrative interviews that were conducted in 2018–2019 among the teachers (N=10) who participate in the Floora project. The expected findings of this study are regarded to help in constructing larger visions for a more socially responsible music school system, and serve the needs of the rapidly changing and diversifying Finnish society in the 21st century.

The paper by Hanna Backer Johnsen will present her research on children’s political agency (Biesta, 2011; Westerlund et al, in press) in music education through the Floora project. By examining children’s experiences, to be collected by inclusive research methods and interviews, her study aims to rethink and envision new paths for music education within music schools in Finland. In the presentation, Backer Johnsen will discuss the possibilities that arise when focusing on the perspectives ofnewcomers in the music school system. By adding the perspectives of children and their parents/guardians as significant agents and contributors to the wider policy level processes, this study further expands the current music school research with connection to social justice and democracy.

Juntunen, Marja-Leena: Suggestions of improving accees to BEA –  summary of ArtsEqual-studies