Shake-up at Pan in Schools Unit
By Peter Balroop - May 18th 2012 12:05 PM
Dr. Tim Gopeesingh, Minister of Education
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PRIME MINISTER Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Education Minister Dr. Tim Gopeesingh are “taking basket” from advisers who seem intent on crippling the Pan in Schools programme. Members of the Pan in Schools Unit (PISU) who fall within Gopeesingh’s portfolio are expressing horror at the Cabinet decision two weeks ago to broaden read more…
PRIME MINISTER Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Education Minister Dr. Tim Gopeesingh are “taking basket” from advisers who seem intent on crippling the Pan in Schools programme.
Members of the Pan in Schools Unit (PISU) who fall within Gopeesingh’s portfolio are expressing horror at the Cabinet decision two weeks ago to broaden the scope of the programme, which started in full in 2003, to include instruments like the sitar, dholak, dhantal, tabla and tassa drums.
These are all instruments integral to the playing of East Indian music, but the programme will also include the addition of other instruments like the cuatro, guitar, zylophone and African drums.
But influential members of the PISU, who fall within the Curriculum Department of the Education Ministry, are aghast at the idea of cluttering up a pan programme that has been accepted by international musicians as the easiest way to teach a child music.
“In ten minutes you will be playing a song on the pan if you have a good instructor,” stressed a PISU source who demanded anonymity because he said being identified could lead to him losing his job.
In July, he said, the one-year contracts of the 35 instructors, one project coordinator and seven regional coordinators come up for renewal, and they are fearful that the People’s Partnership Government’s announced aim of making the PISU a multiculturalism unit is a dagger aimed at the unit’s heart.
In any event, he said, the aim seemed to be to disband the unit, despite the evidence being there that learning to play the pan had taken students in 97 primary and 85 secondary schools across the country by storm.
The Prime Minister announced last week that the Pan in Schools programme will continue and that the instructors need not fear for their jobs. Members of the PISU, however, do not have confidence in these assurances and believe the multi-cultural initiative is doomed to failure.
PISU sources say they know the topic is controversial but they have to talk out to save a project that pannists from several countries have been contacting them for information on how it could be implemented in their territories.
“It is accepted in countries like the USA, United Kingdom and Japan that the pan is the best music-teaching tool.
“All the instruments that Kamla (Persad-Bissessar) and Tim (Gopeesingh) now want to include in the Pan in Schools programme are non-melodic instruments. Pan is a melodic, percussive instrument.
“As a teaching tool, they are all big steps backward.
“We don’t mind the other instruments being introduced to the schoolchildren, but not in the space occupied by the pan today.
“Let them start a pilot programme for the other instruments,” said one source.
TnT Mirror was told that there seemed to be a deliberate attempt to squeeze the PISU from the funding standpoint.
From having an independent budget of $8 million annually, the PISU now has to rely on funding from the Ministry’s Curriculum Department.
The result, Mirror learnt, is since the PP Government came into power in May 2010 the PISU has not been able to purchase any more pans.
Further, debts to suppliers have now mounted to some $4 million, Mirror learnt, and creditors were pressing for their pound of flesh.
“The whole world is saying that the pan is the best instrument for teaching music, but we want to keep it down, crush it.
“We have something here we don’t understand,” one source bitterly observed.
The PISU has been promoting the biennial Junior Music Festival as well as the annual Schools Panorama, using standardised pans that have effectively dealt with the need for each school to pay for transport for pans to the competition venue, it was learnt.
Since the programme started nine years ago, the most famous graduate has been Liam Teague, who is now an Assistant Professor of Music at Northern Illinois University.
From the same NIU, Mia Gormandy, a former St Joseph’s Convent, Port-of-Spain student, and Sophie Subero, a former St Augustine Secondary student, graduated with master’s degrees in music, a source related.
With the PISU in place, exposing pupils from the primary school level to music, by the time they were in university they would be writing music, the source added.
The irony, he said, was the Pan in Schools programme was first launched in the late 1990s, when Persad-Bissessar served her short stint as Education Minister.
“It is not too late for the Prime Minister and Dr. Gopeesingh to realise they are taking basket from their advisers and reconsider their options.
“To add on all those instruments to the pan programme would be like imposing an overweight jockey on a top class racehorse, anchoring our young nationals at the back of the musical field,” declared another witty source.