A teacher driven to make music accessible to all, even for blind students

Secondary School music coordinator Ng Sheh Feng with Secondary 1 student Lawrence Gabriel V Angel, who has visual impairment, and Secondary 2 student Darleene Hiap. PHOTO: MOE

SINGAPORE - Music teacher Ng Sheh Feng is on a mission - to debunk the myth that music is only for "atas" (upper-class) people.

In the last three years, the Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School music coordinator has exposed students - many of whom come from less affluent families - to concerts, mentorship by Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music students, arts internships and lunchtime concerts.

She even went out of her way to arrange for two visually-impaired girls to take O-level music - a first for Singapore. They passed the exam and hope to continue pursuing music.

She was one of eight recipients of the President's Award for Teachers this year.

The 36-year-old, who played the piano since young and picked up singing in her 20s, recalled how she could not initially find an answer for the two girls who asked if they could learn music as an O-level subject.

"I had not taught visually-impaired students, and I didn't know if it was possible for music," she said.

But she spent the next year or so experimenting with different ways of teaching and assessing them, including replacing musical notation with an essay, using braille scores and reading out powerpoint slides and recording lessons.

She worked with the Ministry of Education and the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board in the process.

Still, she sensed a lack of interest in music among students when she was posted to her secondary school in 2015.

"There was a social stigma that music is only for the elite," she said, adding that she faced resistance from parents, some of whom felt music was not a practical subject.

"Our mission is to make music more accessible to all students, no matter their background. As long as they are willing to work hard, we will do what we can to get them there. We want to give them all sorts of experiences and exposure to raise their social-cultural capital."

She and a few other music teachers came up with a four-year programme laying the foundation for students in the first two years and preparing them in the later years for the O-level music. Her school now has 23 students taking music across all levels.

"We have managed to make music cool and more students see it as a possible pathway," said the head of department for partnerships.

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