Venezuela's National Music Education Program El Sistema: Its Interactions with Society and Its Participants' Engagement in Praxis


  • Michael Sy Uy University of Oxford


El Sistema, Student Orchestras, After-School Programs


Venezuela's government-funded, national music education program, El Sistema, has attracted worldwide attention because of its purported success in ‘saving’ children from lives filled with drugs, violence, and crime. It does this by giving them the opportunity to play in an after-school orchestra, one to four hours a day, five to six days a week. This article describes the program’s organizational philosophy and mission, and accounts for its day-to-day activities in order to explore how these programmatic aspects may positively contribute to participant engagement in Paulo Freire’s notion of praxis, that is, “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (Freire and Ramos, 2004, p. 51). Additionally, other programmatic aspects of El Sistema are highlighted to help link the program with previous research on improving students’ social behavior and cognitive development. Finally, the article discusses some of the program’s strengths and weaknesses and how it plays a role in Venezuelan society, interacting not only with the community of students and parents, but also with national and local governments and the private business sector. In doing so, El Sistema is contextualized within its social environment and conclusions are drawn on the potential for success and replicability in other cities and countries.

Author Biography

Michael Sy Uy, University of Oxford

Faculty of Music

MPhil Candidate in Historical Musicology