The New Zealand Herald Premier Series
Sistema Aotearoa uses orchestral music-making as a model for social development. It is based on El Sistema, one of the world’s most successful music and social development programmes.
In 1975, Dr Jose Antonio Abreu gathered 11 children together in a Venezuelan garage to play music. Dr Abreu believed that communal music making could change the path of children’s lives. El Sistema was born.
El Sistema today is a visionary movement that impacts on young people throughout the world. It is credited with improving the lives and lifting the aspirations of participants and their families, reducing crime, increasing school attendance rates and preventing anti-social behaviour. Sistema Aotearoa, a partnership between the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and the Auckland Philharmonia orchestra has been operating in Otara since April 2011 and is seeing similar early results as in Venezuela.
The recent AUT independent evaluation report on the social outcomes of Sistema Aotearoa concluded there was promising early evidence that the programme was positively contributing to a range of social, developmental, musical and educational outcomes.
Sistema Aotearoa’s approach considers all aspects of a child’s development and works to integrate these creating benefits that go beyond the development of musical ability. This wider, pastoral care is a critical success factor in engaging the children and impacting on their well-being. The benefits of the programme include the development of intangible skills and qualities that are vital for positive personal development.
Led by Dr Joe Harrop and based at Otara Music Arts Centre (OMAC), Sistema Aotearoa provides group tuition in a community setting in school, after school and in holidays. Musicianship and the skills of playing an orchestral instrument are taught in a way that is suitable to the age group and community involved. Students receive high quality tuition through a carefully structured curriculum and excel musically. Children from the programme have been featured on National television, performed with International music stars, regularly feature at community events and played for HRH Duchess of Cornwall.
Sistema Aotearoa starts with children in Year 2 of primary school and carries on until full proficiency of the instrument is attained, by which time students may be well into their teens. There are currently around 240 children, aged 6 to 11 years drawn from seven primary schools serving decile 1 communities in Otara, attending three times a week after school and in the school holidays.
2014 sees the start of the Sistema Aotearoa Puoru Pepi initiative working with toddlers and their caregivers in the community to further extend the positive results being achieved by the programme.
The basic premise of Sistema Aotearoa – social development, community and a holistic approach- is the foundation of the programme. The children are immersed in a collective teaching process from the beginning, exposing them immediately to group dynamics, cooperative behaviour and peer learning. Children from different backgrounds and abilities are encouraged to work together, which increases children’s respect, understanding, and empathy for each other. Participation is open access, free for all students and instruments are supplied.
Emphasis is placed on developing a supportive community. Teachers and students alike are invested in both personal and community success, creating a place where children feel safe and challenged. Parents/carers working together with Sistema Aotearoa achieve a common goal, that is a more positive, aspirational future for their children.
Sistema graduates leave with a sense of capability, endurance and resilience, confident about taking on challenges. A deep sense of value, of being loved and appreciated, and a trust for group process and cooperation, enables them to feel that excellence is within their grasp. In the supportive context of the Sistema Aotearoa approach children have the freedom to develop the life skills of responsibility, respect and co-operation.
We anticipate that Sistema programmes will be established elsewhere in New Zealand over the next few years. Sistema Aotearoa is sharing its knowledge and experience and remains as a centre for excellence and training to assist the development of these initiatives.