Music Education: the Pulse of Primary Schools for the Future


Chris Rooney, a music educator for Dabbledoo Music, published an article in response to the government's Creative Youth Programme to promote the arts in schools, where he discusses the importance of music in the classroom.

The full article examines three factors:

1. How music can impact student performance in other subjects, examined in a case study by The Guardian (October 2017).

2. The move to play-based learning in primary education, a call by Minister for Education Richard Bruton published in The Irish Times (March 2017).

3. Reducing child-hood anxiety, a report released by the Irish Primary Principals Network (January 2017).

Music Education: the Pulse of Primary Schools for the Future


I asked my dad recently how he learnt music in primary school growing up in Belfast in the 60s. He told me about the BBC radio show Singing Together which broadcast every Monday morning at 11am.

Classrooms across the country would tune in and sing along to songs covering everything from Cockles and Muscles to cowboy themes like The Streets of Laredo – my dad’s personal favourite.

The show stopped airing in the 1990s and, in recent times, music education has since been given less and less priority in the UK. With increased calls for rejuvenation, perhaps now it’s time to learn from what was achieved in the past and decide how best to reverse the trend on a national scale.

Reigniting focus on the arts

In December, Leo Varadkar announced the Irish government’s plan to reignite the focus on arts education within schools. The Creative Youth programme seeks to give every child in Ireland practical access to education in music, art, drama and computer coding within the next five years.

The intention of the government is to create a country where people can think creatively and be prepared for the future.

With this renewed government focus, is now the right time for music to become the heartbeat of our schools’ curriculum? Below are three trends why I believe Ireland is poised for a music revolution. 

Music can help improve students’ performances in other areas

Back in October, The Guardian released an article called ‘How to improve the school results: not extra maths but music, loads of it.’ The report told the story of Feversham Primary Academy based in Bradford.

In 2013, the new Head Teacher Naveed Idrees developed a programme where children would spend up to six hours a week learning music. Prior to this decision, the school was performing 3.2% behind the national average in English. Since then, 74% of its pupils have now achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and maths, against a UK national average of 53%.

Countless research papers would confirm this impact that music can have on improving memory retention and language processing. These, however, were not the only improvements the school reported: a rise in attendance levels, improved staff morale and an increase in student confidence all resulted in a much happier school life.

Music supports the proposed move towards play-based learning

Minister for Education Richard Bruton proposed reforms back in March where children would not study traditional subjects until 10 years of age. Instead, there would be a greater emphasis of creative play during these years. The proposed reforms are inspired by the high-performing education systems in countries such as Finland.

While the timeline for this reform is still unknown, a music curriculum consisting of learning songs and creating as a group, could be a positive first step in helping a primary school to deploy a programme focused on this new method of teaching.

This could help serve as a pilot for future subjects to adopt this play-based learning approach.

Music can help in reducing child anxiety levels

The Irish Primary Principals Network released a study last January which reported increasing anxiety levels among primary school children in Ireland. One solution suggested to reversing this trend is to build child confidence which again, music is great outlet for.

Take, for example, making music as part of an ensemble. This experience teaches the discipline of playing in time with others and blending sounds as part of a team. Performing music in a group can create a strong sense of achievement which, in turn, can help build a child’s confidence and also lasting friendships.

To conclude, music has always been relevant in our classrooms, it just so happens that certain political and societal factors are arguably making it more relevant now. However, even if the factors I’ve mentioned didn’t exist, it would still be a worthy endeavour.

Through our work in Dabbledoo Music, we are lucky enough to visit classrooms across the country and see the impact music can have not only on a child’s development but also on their parents and friends through things like school concerts and shows.

This power that music can have in bringing people together means it can, in my opinion, be the pulse of our primary schools and the surrounding communities they serve. That itself, is reason enough as to why we need music in education.


 Chris Rooney,  Music Educator

Chris Rooney, Music Educator

DabbledooMusic is a new way to learn about music. It is a child-centered approach that focuses on creativity and learning through activity. Musicality is gift that we all share and it is important to nourish at a young age. We teach music in a way that is all-inclusive with no barriers.

With an eye to the future, Inspirefest 2017 was bolder than ever

“Inspirefest unapologetically has diversity and inclusion at its core,” said founder Ann O’Dea while onstage at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre on July 6, delivering the opening to Dublin’s Inspirefest. Billed as “a unique international festival of technology, science, design and the arts,” the festival's programme boasted three days of fascinating speeches, panels, presentations, and workshops.

 The festival, held from 6-8th July, boasted a colourful programme of STEM- and creativity-focused topics

The festival, held from 6-8th July, boasted a colourful programme of STEM- and creativity-focused topics

The festival brings together founders, innovators, educators, investors, and techies, mostly within STEM but also in business and the arts, and its central mission champions diversity and inclusion in a sector that is famously scant on those values. In his welcoming address, An Taoiseach, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, praised Inspirefest for its emphasis on equality and on the fusion of arts and science to create change.

“Inspirefest unapologetically has diversity and inclusion at its core.” - Ann O'Dea, Editor-at-Large of Silicon Republic & Founder of Inspirefest

These proclamations were borne out in Inspirefest’s programming, which included 75% female speakers. Many of the speakers--both men and women--discussed gender equality in the workplace and in STEM, as well as equality and diversity of race, age, and ability. Dr. Anita Sands, a Board Director of three Silicon Valley public companies, discussed the jarring absence of women as leaders in business, and Colin Graham, Director of International Compensation and Benefits at Facebook, talked about the need for new technologies like facial recognition to include people of color and reflect the diversity of their users. Ana Matronic, author of Robot Takeover, went beyond the human realm, discussing the importance of accepting not only transgender people but also transhuman cyborgs, a technological certainty of the future. Young entrepreneurs Ailbhe and Izzy Keane talked about their business, Izzy Wheels, which sells beautifully designed and decorated wheelchair spoke-guards.

Inspirefest speakers made sure to keep the discussion nuanced and honest, balancing their praise and excitement around technological innovation with discussion about the dangers that technology can pose, especially in today’s global political climate. Despite covering  serious topics, the speakers were not pessimistic. Rather, they gave the audience calls to action--read an article before you post, for example--in the hopes of a better future.

 Ashoka Fellow Matt Flannery is the founder of Kiva and Branch, two fintech social enterprises that are empowering those who are underserved by banks.

Ashoka Fellow Matt Flannery is the founder of Kiva and Branch, two fintech social enterprises that are empowering those who are underserved by banks.

Two Ashoka Fellows, Matt Flannery and Bart Weetjens, took the stage to highlight the intersection of social enterprise and STEM. Matt talked about his journey to founding the microfinance nonprofit Kiva, and the digital loaning platform Branch, both of which serve entrepreneurs in developing countries. His three main lessons: work in the field first, do what you love, and get started fast. Bart Weetjens, whose Tanzania-based organisation, APOPO, trains African giant pouched rats to detect landmines in post-conflict areas, and to sniff out tuberculosis infections in health centres, spoke about the importance of innovative thinking in solving global health challenges. Bart’s talk included video clips showing how the rats are trained by experts, and revealed that more than 900,000 landmines and 82,000 TB infections have been detected by APOPO since 2000.

 Ashoka Fellow Bart Weetjens is the founder of APOPO, which trains rats to sniff out landmines and tuberculosis infections

Ashoka Fellow Bart Weetjens is the founder of APOPO, which trains rats to sniff out landmines and tuberculosis infections

All of Inspirefest’s speakers envisioned a bright future for humanity and for STEM. As Marcus Weldon, president of Bell Labs and corporate CTO of Nokia, said, machines will take over but only “over the mundane things, freeing humans up to do cognitive, aesthetic, creative things.” Indeed, the Inspirefest speakers showed that these aesthetic and creative pursuits were already happening, and in new and exciting ways, as many of them discussed the convergence of STEM and the arts. Several gaming experts discussed the importance of art and design in creating a powerful and beautiful gaming experience. Keri Krukal, first a dancer, then a biochemist, and now the founder and CEO of Raw Science TV, told of how she had blended art and STEM in her career because “technology alone is not enough.”

More of Inspirefest’s wonderful programme is available on Silicon Republic’s coverage of the festival, live social media (follow #Inspirefest on Twitter or Facebook), or the InspirefestHQ Youtube account. Cheers to the inspiration gathered and lessons learned from the strong and diverse stories, speakers, and ideas of Inspirefest! Let the countdown for next year’s festival begin.

This post was written by Aviva Klein Meyers, Programme Intern at Ashoka Ireland, Stanford University Class of 2019.

Read Matt Flannery's interview with Silicon Republic here. Find out more about Bart Weetjens in Fiona Koch's profile on APOPO here.

Spring is here! And so is our new #AIQ

With apologies for the radio silence... 

The first few months of 2017 have been busy in our office, with a lot of behind-the-scenes work on our Fellow nomination process. We are also getting ready to announce two new partnerships and a campaign later this year - so watch this space!

In the meantime, we are delighted to share our quarterly round-up of news from the Ashoka Ireland community, in our spring #AIQ newsletter, below. 

You can read about a system-changing collaboration between Fellows Neil McCabe and Mike Feerick, and learn about leading global Fellows in our #GlobalChangemakers campaign. Changemaker Schools got a big feature in The Irish Times this month. And we celebrate the work of Jacqueline Williamson, who is our first Fellow to join the network from Northern Ireland!

Read on at the link:

#FridayPhilosophy: Ashoka's Founding Story



Bill Drayton founded Ashoka in 1980, around the idea that the most powerful force for good in the world is the individual social entrepreneur: a person driven by an innovative idea that can help correct an entrenched global problem. At Ashoka, we call these sorts of ideas system-changing, because they permanently alter existing patterns of activity, as opposed to simply adding in minor fixes here or there.

 Bill Drayton is the founder and CEO of Ashoka

Bill Drayton is the founder and CEO of Ashoka

Once we realized that social entrepreneurs were the key to making the world a better place, we decided that the most important thing we could do was identify the best of them and help them excel. Our efforts towards this goal--finding and supporting social entrepreneurs--characterized the first stage of our development, sometimes referred to as Ashoka 1.0.

From the beginning, Ashoka has identified and supported these outstanding individuals with ideas for far-reaching social change by electing them to the Ashoka Fellowship. As defined by Ashoka, the social entrepreneur has the same makeup as a business entrepreneur—in attitude, vision, bias for action, and skills—but the social entrepreneur seeks to better the world in a specific way. “Social entrepreneurs, for some reason deep in their personality, know from the time they are little that they are in this world to change it in a fundamental way,” Drayton explained.

Bill Drayton and Ashoka’s Earliest Years

While Bill was an undergraduate at Harvard, he started the Ashoka Table, a discussion group which invited prominent public leaders for off-the-record dinner conversations with inquisitive young students. At Yale law school, he founded Yale Legislative Services, an analytic and drafting service conducted by law students and provided to legislators who lacked their own staff support. As assistant administrator for planning and management at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Carter Administration, Drayton designed and pushed through an array of market-based approaches to environmental regulation, including the now widely disseminated idea of tradable pollution permits to control greenhouse gas emissions.

The idea of creating a global fellowship of social entrepreneurs had been in Drayton’s mind since his college years. While at the EPA and later as a consultant at McKinsey & Company, he began to search actively for nominators and Fellows candidates. Nominators were those who had the knowledge and contacts that could be used to identify the extraordinary individuals whose social ideas Ashoka wanted to encourage and support. The candidates who were ultimately selected as Ashoka Fellows would become part of a global fellowship of their own, a community of social entrepreneurs from all parts of the world.

Before launching this venture, in 1978, Drayton and several supporters visited India, Indonesia, and Venezuela to assess the climate for their enterprise. They interviewed 364 people in a wide range of social fields such as the environment, education, and children’s advocacy. They wanted to ensure that they could develop an independent, systematic approach for identifying high potential candidates, and that they might avoid suspicion that their program was a front for other, clandestine “political” activities. On June 3rd, 1980, the fellowship organization was incorporated in Washington, DC under the name "Society for the International Public Interest." The board of directors of the SIPI consisted of 3 people: Bill Drayton, Julien Phillips, and Bill Carter. 

The organization's first stated mission was to "encourage and assist development of public interest work in developing countries," including:

  1. Assist in the design, testing and development of public interest programs in developing countries.
  2. Disseminate ideas and provide information and advice to public interest groups.
  3. Assist in funding start-up costs of public interest programs in developing countries.
  4. Build bridges between public interest groups in different countries and the international community.

The following year, the organization elected its first Fellow. Four years later Bill Drayton was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (“genius” award), and began to work full-time on building the organization. 

Ashoka: The First Twenty Years

Drayton, then in his mid-thirties, was looking for people with compelling visions who possessed the creativity, savvy, and determination to realize their ideas on a large scale: people who could, in his words, leave their ‘scratch on history.’ As he conceived of it, building an organization that could find these wildflowers and help them grow would be the most highly leveraged approach to social change possible. It would be the single most powerful thing he could do to speed up development and democratization around the globe. 

Drayton believed that the kind of social entrepreneurs he was seeking – passionate, resourceful, system-changing, history-making innovators who could “unbalance” static social, political and economic equations – were extremely rare; perhaps 1 in 10 million.  

The process of becoming a Fellow, therefore, was extremely selective, and began by extensive sourcing from nominators worldwide, particularly in developing countries where problems of poverty and deprivation were often acute.  The organization embraced both ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ roles in social change: supporting the work of individual entrepreneurs and, in doing so, building the broader field of social entrepreneurship.  Accordingly, its mission was to “develop the profession of social entrepreneurship around the world by supporting talented visionaries who chose to devote their lives to solving social problems.”

As the organization developed, it became ever more clear that the organization was not about "public interest work," but about social innovation, and the entrepreneurs that drive it. Accordingly, on June 10, 1987, the Society for the International Public Interest changed its name to Ashoka.

The purpose of the newly renamed organization was also changed, to:

  1. Encourage and assist individuals in making important innovations for the public good in the fields of economic advancement, protection of minorities, assistance to the poor, legal and civil rights, education, protection of the environment, health, and other public service work.
  2. Build an active mutual help fellowship among such public service entrepreneurs, both established and beginning, across all barriers.
  3. Educate national publics about other areas of the world, especially through person-to-person contact. 

And to match this new purpose, Ashoka's activities were listed as:

  1. Help beginning public service entrepreneurs succeed in launching both their innovative ideas and their own longer-term careers.
  2. Provide start-up financial support to these public service entrepreneurs and to offer the assistance of established public service entrepreneurs working in the same or related fields.
  3. Link public service entrepreneurs who are working in different regions of the same country or in different countries altogether, so that they may benefit from each other’s experience.
  4. Support independent public service work generally and to encourage individuals to commit themselves to this work.
  5. Educate the publics of the countries having Affiliated Organizations about each other’s societies by creating direct links between the Affiliated Organizations, the public service entrepreneurs in these countries, and with others associated with the International Society and its Affiliated Organizations. 

Ashoka 2.0: Re-visioning Our Mission

In How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas David Bornstein chronicled much of the good work – and the lessons learned – from Ashoka and its Fellows.  In his discussion of the Fellow selection process, Bornstein examined just what Ashoka evaluators mean by the “knock out test:” what defines a powerfully new and transformative idea.  “Such an idea,” he wrote, “does not arrive in a flash of inspiration.  It takes shape over years in an iterative process of adjustments and readjustments, with new pieces continually being added and others continually being dropped." According to Drayton, “Every day you’re modifying the idea. You’re seeing new opportunities. You’re seeing the nuances of problems. It’s a continuous process." This same process of idea modification and adjustment applied to Ashoka itself, as the organization continually examined ways in which it could advance important social change in systemic and lasting ways. 

By the late 1990s, it was clear that Ashoka had largely achieved one of its primary goals of establishing the field of social entrepreneurship. A number of Ashoka like organizations – Echoing Green, the Skoll and Schwab Foundations, New Profit Inc, Endeavor, the Acumen Fund, and many others – had formed to support the work of promising social entrepreneurs at various stages of their individual and organizational development. Social enterprise programs were now a staple of business and public policy schools in the US and other countries, and a burgeoning cottage industry of researchers and professional service firms – lawyers, consultancies, academics, trade associations – had evolved to study and advance the work of social entrepreneurs.

The fact that Ashoka had helped launch the careers of nearly 3,000 social entrepreneurs and had been, in the words of its President Diana Wells, a critical “engine of the sector” at large begged important “adjustment and readjustment” questions: Was it possible that the potential for advancing social change resided not just in the work of an elite one in 10 million, but perhaps in the efforts of every individual?  Was it possible to imagine a world in which Everyone was a Changemaker?

Ashoka 3.0: Fulfilling the EACH Vision

While in some ways a eureka moment, the Everyone a Changemaker (known at Ashoka as ‘EACH’) vision was as much evolutionary as revolutionary. Drayton and his staff believed that the core work of identifying, electing and supporting extraordinary social entrepreneurs would remain central to Ashoka’s mission. The key was to draw on the inspiration, depth of knowledge and expertise, accumulated experience and collective insights of the Fellows’ work to enable a broader flowering of social change efforts. “We are no longer talking about one in ten million,” explained Stuart Yasgur, one of the organization’s managing directors. “Ashoka aims to engage 80% of the world’s social entrepreneurs.” In order to facilitate an ‘Everyone a Changemaker’ world, Ashoka would need to design new programs and processes to:

  • Continue to support the work of individual social entrepreneurs, who inspire thousands of others to be changemakers
  • Help entrepreneurs work with each other, and with partners in business, government, academia and other influential institutions to draw on and demonstrate the power of collective entrepreneurship
  • Build the right architecture for the sector and for the organization

Want to find out more about our organisation? Visit the global website:

Highlights from the 2016 Changemaker Education Summit in Killarney, Co. Kerry

What is our definition of changemaker education? 

"Every young person becoming empowered in a learning ecosystem that is explicitly focused on providing experiences that equip and incline them to make a better world."

From 19th to 22nd of October, we welcomed over 150 changemakers and leaders in education to Killarney, Co. Kerry, for the 2016 Changemaker Education Summit. It was a unique opportunity for European members of the Ashoka Changemaker Schools network to come together with innovators from all over the world, to share ideas for the co-creation and reinvention of education in today's world.

The summit programme included keynote speeches by Dr. Daire Keogh (Deputy President of DCU), Miho Taguma (Senior Policy Analyst OECD), Prof. Tom Collins (Chair of the Governing Bodies of DIT and IT Blanchardstown) and Margret Rasfeld (Ashoka Fellow and founder of School on the Move).

Attendees toured St. Oliver's National School (a member of the Irish Changemaker Schools network) and observed a Roots of Empathy class, based on the ground-breaking method for empathy education developed by Ashoka Fellow Mary Gordon.

We would like to extend a warm thank you to all who attended, and a big thank you to Rory D'Arcy and the school community of St. Oliver's N.S. in Killarney for making everyone feel welcome.

See more photos from the summit on our Facebook Page.

Search the #ChangemakerED Hashtag on TwitTER to see live updates from the Summit.

'Meet the Changemaker Schools' - read Carl O'Brien's article about the Changemaker Schools network in The Irish Times.

Meditation practice brings tranquility and confidence to the school day

By Breda Murray, Principal of Our Lady Immaculate J.N.S.

As educators, it is part of our job to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of children who exhibit signs of stress or disruption. In 2010 we introduced a Meditation Project for the students of Our Lady Immaculate, aged between 4-8. We did this for a few reasons. There was a marked absence of any form of ritual or time where the children were offered an opportunity to sit in silence and contact something beyond the business and challenges of their daily lives. Our children were under a complete barrage of noise and activity with few opportunities to go inside and build the inner resources they so desperately needed. The impact of this was evident in their behaviour, concentration, levels of attention and focus, behavioural disturbances, depression, apathy and general wellbeing. Their emotional and mental resilience was not as robust as it could be as they had many obstacles to overcome and often very little support at home. 

Our school is situated in what is termed a 'DEIS band 1' area, which is a category devised by the Department of Education and Skills in 2005 that refers to areas of significant economic, social and educational disadvantage. Although proud of our community, we recognise that growing up in a challenging and sometimes unstable environment can be taxing for young children.

 A drawing by a student of Our Lady Immaculate JNS, submitted as part of their meditation practice feedback

A drawing by a student of Our Lady Immaculate JNS, submitted as part of their meditation practice feedback

After researching different types of meditation, we obtained some practical guidelines and resources for both staff and students, and in time established a meditation room that we decorated with a beautiful mural and simple relaxing furniture. We began slowly with about 7 classes, but within 2 years the whole school was meditating on a regular basis. Classes were facilitated by Steve Gregory, who has been working in this area for over 30 years. He brought a sense of deep calm and focus to the children and school environment as he began to work with parents and children on a weekly basis. Steve would work each week with all class groups modelling the meditation practices that the teachers could then with their own class group as they wanted to.

Parents, care givers, and the wider school community were also offered a weekly class, and soon a variety of people regularly gathered in our parents’ room for meditation. There was also a class for the teachers after school, which we have now extended to teaching staff in all the neighbouring schools.

At the end of the first year, I collected feedback from our students in written, verbal and artistic expression. I wasn't prepared for the depth of response and understanding of meditation the children displayed. They had absorbed and understood the various practices, and were using them throughout their daily lives, not just at school. They used the practices to help them sleep or energise, to release negative feelings, or draw in positive ones. Some children spoke of how the meditation helped them to soothe and reassure their anxieties and stress. Some even referred to feeling the presence of deceased family members while meditating, or seeing colours and images.

 Reflections on meditation practice

Reflections on meditation practice

It was a revelation to me and Steve to see how deeply they had related to the whole experience. The children's knowledge and understanding were evidence of their immense capacity to go within themselves and find a deeper sense of being. There were many amazing moments that I heard, read or saw in the feedback as well as during meditation classes I observed, but perhaps the most satisfying thing was the realisation that for these young people meditation was as much a part of their lives as P.E., Music or Reading classes. Meditation had become a practice they drew on when they needed it.

It can be challenging in life to develop a sense of connection or meaning to something other than the present situation - a journey inwards that satisfies and nurtures and is not dependent on anything other for a sense of completeness or joy. If our children contact that even once through this meditation project, it will all have been worth it, as that experiencecan make all the difference.

This blogpost was written by Breda Murray, Principal of Changemaker School Our Lady Immaculate J.N.S. in Darndale, Dublin 17. Visit their website to find out more: