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Towards equity in music education through reviewing policy and teacher autonomy

Sanna Kivijärvi

Music education policies worldwide are required to abide by the obligation to operate on the basis of equity, which is also an issue of social justice, and legal and political human rights. Yet, the complexity of issues of equity and justice remains largely unrecognised in music education, particularly in relation to the specific, more vulnerable groups of students, such as those with dis/abilities. This doctoral dissertation examines educational equity and discrimination in Finnish music education system, both as part of basic education and basic education in the arts, while expanding the discussion to international music education contexts.

The Finnish education system as a whole is grounded in the ideal of educational equity, indicating that everyone should have access to high-quality education and educational outcomes regardless of factors specific to individual circumstances and background. However, this education system has also imposed discriminatory practices regarding who gets to study music, in what ways, and to what extent, overlooking certain groups of students, such as people with dis/abilities. To advance equity in music education, the research examines how practice-led policy changes can be achieved through an innovative music notation system called Figurenotes and the accommodation of teaching as context-sensitive. Through these interlinked cases, the dissertation analyses discrimination and equity policy efforts in relation to normative assumptions about ability in music education. Theoretically, the project centres on educational equity, teacher autonomy and the broad concept of policy through the lens of ableism and disablism.

The doctoral dissertation consists of four studies published in international peer-reviewed journals and a published policy recommendation based on their findings. Two of these studies are empirical, based on the data collected through semi-structured expert interviews and analysed using qualitative data analysis methods. The first empirical study introduced the Figurenotes system as a pedagogical approach and an education policy vehicle. The second study examined a policy change in the Finnish music education system initiated by the development and application of Figurenotes. The other two studies are theoretical and draw on concepts and theories from the fields of music education, sociology, and legal studies, as well as sociocultural disability studies. The first theoretical study examined the wide use of Western standard music notation from the standpoint of educational equity and teachers’ autonomous decision-making. The second theoretical study considered the potential of reasonable accommodation (Non-Discrimination Act 1325/2014 of Finland; United Nations, 2006) to prevent discriminatory practices through the local curriculum and teachers’ actions in relation to music notation.

The findings of the empirical studies indicate that the use of Figurenotes has raised awareness of inequity at the institutional level and encouraged efforts to address this problem through a public policy process. The findings also suggest that the extensive use of Western standard music notation is a mechanism that creates inequities in music education, particularly by limiting the musical learning of students who have difficulties in musical perception when working with written graphic symbolic representations. From a theoretical point of view, a key contribution is the examination of the concept of reasonable accommodation and its applications to the field of music education to promote educational equity. Based on studies, it is argued that teachers must be guided to achieve policy analysis skills and understanding to recognise, analyse, and accommodate cultural frameworks­–such as pedagogical and musical conventions–that impact music educational equity in practice in support of the national framework curriculum and local curriculum.

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