The campaign to Keep Instrumental Tuition Free in Shetland

Whilst I believe that the SIC’s recent decision to instigate charges for music instrument tuition in school’s needs to be reconsidered for a variety of reasons (a subject I shall return to another day), I have been heartened by how our young musicians have pulled together to exercise their democratic rights and protest against these charges using electronic communications and a variety of online tools.

The first time the proposal to instigate the charges was made public was in document which appeared on the council website a few days before the decision was taken on 17 February 2010 – the innocuously titled “General Fund Revenue Estimates & Council Tax Setting”. The 14 page report contained point that simply read “Introduce charges of £160 per annum for Instrumental Lessons, based on a middling charge compared with other councils, (yielding an extra £130,000)” – a point not considered important enough to warrant further explanation or its own mention on the agenda of the meeting, also published on the website.

Most people were completely unaware that the introduction of the tuition charges were even up for discussion until after the decision had been made and reports appeared on the Shetland Times and Shetland News websites and in the news on Radio Shetland.

Links to the stories and the “Listen again” facility of Radio Shetland’s website were quickly circulated via email and social networking websites and later the same day the first phase of the campaign to oppose the charges appeared on Facebook – eight young musicians who have all benefited from free instrumental tuition, many of whom are now studying music on the mainland, started a group called “Keep instrumental tuition free in Shetland”.1000 people joined in the first 48 hours with hundreds more uniting behind the cause each day. Members include prominent Shetland musicians such as Jenna Reid, Maggie Adamson, Brian Nicholson, Kevin Henderson, Ross Couper and Gary Peterson.

Two days later, the young musicians instigated an online petition that boasted hundreds of signatures within hours of launch and has remained in the top three most popular petitions on the international GoPetiton website since then.

The young people behind the campaign also encouraged folk to email their councillors and the media to make their feelings known, resulting in a number of stories being carried in the local media over the preceding days and features in the Scotsman and Press & Journal in the pipeline as I write.

I am very proud of how our young people have become enthusiastically engaged in a local issue which affects them, how they have conducted themselves throughout their campaign and how positive their message has been. They have used all the communications channels available to them, combining direct contact with councillors and disseminating their opinions via traditional media and the internet. Perhaps other members of our community could learn from them and avoid unconstructive moaning and criticism without becoming actively engaged in local politics themselves.

Search Google for “Keep instrumental tuition free in Shetland” to follow the campaign.

Article for Shetland Life magazine – March 2010