In music all are equal

Through music, Leonard, Daim, Armenita and their friends are learning to show solidarity, to have self-confidence, to be able to fit into any society and school.

Ivana Miljkovic
Children enjoy their music classes
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Vas

11 March 2019

Zemun, Serbia - Leonard, Daim, Armenita and their friends are dancing to music, singing, clapping their hands. They can't stop laughing.

“I feel good, nice. It's easier for me when I’m singing, I can remember everything then“, says sixteen-year-old Leonard who is now only in the sixth grade, with a big smile on his face.

Ten-year-old Daim also likes to sing and play music, and Armenita, a bright and clear-eyed twelve-year-old girl, is singing the loudest.

“I feel good when I’m listening to music and singing. It’s nice for other children as well. We socialize, learn the notes“, Armenita.

Through music, Leonard, Daim, Armenita and their friends are learning to show solidarity, to have self-confidence, to be able to fit into any society and school.

And right now they are attending the same school for education of adults “Branko Pesic” in Zemun.

They are not in the class with their peers because they have interrupted their education or started attending it later. 

Children playing games at their music class
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Vas
Music and dancing return confidence to children and help them socialize.

From September they have been learning about music following the El Sistema method which was founded in Venezuela more than 4 decades ago, and so far it has included more than 4 million children in 60 countries.

“El Sistema is primarily a social inclusion model that uses music as a tool. It teaches children to be team players, better citizens, to be proactive, emphatic”, explains Dijana Opacic, programme coordinator of the Music Art Project, the organization that brought the El Sistema method to Serbia.

“In order for us to have a society that acknowledges diversity, it is necessary for all children to start attending mainstream education, together with their peers and to make up for what they have missed. Our mission is to try and integrate them in the other 5 schools on the territory of Zemun using the El Sistema programme in each school. In order for the inclusion to be successful, it is necessary to empower both the children from this school and also the children and teachers from the other schools”, explains Dijana.

“El Sistema is primarily a social inclusion model that uses music as a tool. It teaches children to be team players, better citizens, to be proactive, emphatic.”

It is precisely why Leonard, Daim, Armenita are attending the master class with their music teachers, but also the music teachers from other schools in Zemun.

Upon completing the programme, it will be easier for children to study and fit into other schools and prepare for different situations in life, while the teachers will improve their methodological knowledge and tailor it to the work with children from sensitive social groups.

Snezana Aleksic playing guitar during the music class
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Vas
Snezana Aleksic, geography teacher, also teaches music education as extracurricular activity

The master class was organized by the Music Art Project, within the project “Music for Social Changes”, which is being implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development and UNICEF in Serbia.

It is a part of the initiative to include all children who are outside the education system or are being educated in segregated environments into mainstream education.

Mechanisms that will help them with that will be developed during the three years of the project. 

“It is easier to draw children's attention with music than with images, says Suzana Aleksic, teacher in the school “Branko Pesic”.

“Music is what makes us complete, careful. Every art pushes us to progress, to learn more, to be better.”

She explains that children learning according to this inclusive method can show their musical knowledge and skills outside the school as well, and that motivates them to continue with their education.

Francis Gagliardi during the class
UNICEF Serbia/2019/Vas
Francis Gagliardi from Venezuela teaches using the El Sistema method and enjoys working with children

“It is wonderful to see how they are their own teachers, how they are creating the sense of belonging and cooperating, not just with other children, but with everyone in the school.”

Francis Gagliardi from Venezuela, a child from the El Sistema programme, teaches this method around the world today.

She says that this way of learning, in addition to educating children about music, also develops the attitudes and skills needed in every profession. 

“It is wonderful to see how they are their own teachers, how they are creating the sense of belonging and cooperating, not just with other children, but with everyone in the school. Those who do not decide to be musicians become the best in what they do because they are disciplined, passionate and focused on the job. That is precisely what we are teaching through the El Sistema programme and what we can apply in life”, explains Francis.

Dejan Milenkovic has been a professor of music education in the primary school “Bosko Palkovljevic Pinki” for 17 years now.

He is one of around ten teachers from 5 mainstream schools in Zemun who are learning about how to apply the El Sistema method.

“The emphasis is on teamwork and socialization of children, from different social categories, through play, songs, movements, socializing. As soon as you are participating together in a particular activity, you are a team, and in a team, there are no differences, there are no social and societal divisions”, explains Dejan.