The Junior Department has been running with huge success for past two years, and is the first specialist music school in the Gambia to offer the integrated study of Music and academic studies. Founded and run by the renowned musician, educator and social activist Sona Jobarteh this is the first school of its kind in the country.
Specialising in the area of Manding Music (one of West Africa’s oldest surviving musical traditions) this school promotes and cultivates knowledge, expertise and an innate pride in culture and tradition amongst the young people of The Gambia. Traditionally music is taught within families, however nowadays many musicians have moved to work, teach and perform internationally thus leaving the next generation at home without people to offer them structured tutorship. This broken structure within musical families has led to young picking up instruments without a grounded knowledge of the repertoire or history, as well as an increasing number turning towards other genres of music such as R&B and Hip Hop as a result of the lack of inspiration to pursue traditional music.
Many schools across Africa offer children the chance to study music, yet consistently orient themselves in western musical forms. Music Departments in schools within The Gambia offer studies in violin, piano, trumpet etc, and the study of traditional music is at best marginalised to occasional workshops outside of school hours. This systematic marginalisation of children’s cultural and musical heritage during the formative years of their lives only reinforces the lack of pride in the culture that we see in later life. This school overhauls this system and brings traditional culture and history to the forefront of children’s education in Africa.
Sona Jobarteh has been working hard on developing a pioneering new curriculum for the study of traditional music at the school which guides students through all the essential aspects of the tradition. She is also developing Music theory classes that will be taught through the use of traditional musical values, thus shifting the innate orientation that written music can only be applied to western forms of music. Sona hopes that this will open up a whole new world of written composition which will be rooted in African music and instrumentation.
Alongside a high level of musical training is the full-time academic curriculum. Students study Maths, English, Science, Art, Crafts, Geography, History as well as PE, Thai Chi and Capoeira. Whilst a lot of focus is placed on the quality of the academic education, at the heart of the school lies emphasis on the teaching methodology which centres on making the subjects exciting to learn. Teachers are carefully selected who have the ability to bring subject to life in exciting new ways. The emphasis on highly engaging teaching methodologies not only helps children learn at a deeper level, but also encourages children to think critically as individuals, take initiative, be pro-active and instill empowerment through the knowledge that they have to ability to effect positive change in society by their own actions.
The school takes very seriously the issues surrounding harmful practices that continue to survive in society today affecting girls such as Female Genital Mutilation, early marriage and discrimination. Both boys and girls at the school are educated and sensitized about these issues not only through open discussion, debate and workshops, but even more effectively through their everyday routines and practices in school. Roles and duties are assigned amongst students across gender lines and girls are supported to take on positions that require command and respect. Girls are also importantly for the first time being educated how to play traditional instruments, and they enjoy the space to learn in a gender-equal environment.
Food is an essential part of growth and development in children. Many of our students have not benefited from a healthy, balanced diet and as such have been undernourished. Dietary health is a major issue in The Gambia, with many people suffering from Diabetes and heart attacks due to the lack of knowledge about the harmful effects of excessive salt, sugar and processed foods in the diet. To tackle this problem, we ran a dedicated nutrition programme for 3 months, run by a specialist nutritionist who came to volunteer from Brazil. During this time we held regular classes with the children, and reformed the school menu to include a range essential healthy ingredients. The traditional Gambian dishes that the children love were modified to eradicate unhealthy quantities of salt and additives whilst introducing healthy vegetables. Students now benefit from eating a healthy, balanced menu daily whilst also understanding the reasons why the ingredients used are necessary for their growth and development.
We take the health and well-being of our students very seriously. We offer free healthcare to all our students as well as holding classes to educate them in the importance of good hygiene. Many diseases and sicknesses in The Gambia can be prevented from improved basic hygiene practices. We begin each school day with brushing teeth and washing hands, and every meal-time is preceded by an organised hand-washing routine. This has encouraged children to talk to their families about the importance of hand-washing with soap and to encourage other members of the family to do the same.