This year, there 2500+ students who’re going to be part of our Integrated Creative Learning program. While that has me excited (and working up nights during the summer holidays), I can’t help but wonder why we never give Museums a serious thought.
Museums, galleries, heritage sites, archives, historic houses, science centres, archaeological sites and their ilk (hereafter collectively referred to as museums) all offer so much more than what I can put into worksheets or cram in 3-hour lessons. They’re places where the extraordinary jostles for space with the everyday – our local community’s everyday or that of distant peoples and past times. They hold evidence of craftsmanship, ingenuity, creativity and imagination, alongside that of cruelty, horror and inhumanity.
There’s no arguing with the impact that high-quality, meaningful engagement with cultural collections have upon young impressionable minds. Ms. Jeyanthi, who teaches at Mount Carmel, Chandigarh mentioned to me, how excited her students were till days after our Museum trip. They understood Gandhara and the Kushan empire so-indepth, that they were highly disappointed it didn’t form a larger part of their Unit Test Question Paper.
Children and young people benefit from leaving the classroom and learning in different settings. We all learn best from a range of people, working in different ways with interesting stimuli. Key skills are honed and developed, teachers are supported and inspired, imaginations and ideas are sparked.
So why is it that our museums are sidelined when it comes to formal education? Why are educational strategists / museum visionaries not placing its collections, stories and expertise at the heart of the educational experience? Why, when technology makes collaboration and exploration beyond classroom walls easier than ever before is that not happening as a matter of course?
Countless artworks, natural specimens, artefacts, films, sounds, documents, books, buildings and more are safely conserved and in public ownership. Millions of objects are digitised and available online (if you only knew where to look). Collections aside, within the museums sector a wealth of careers are represented, either within institutions or amongst related sectors enabling their work. Academic disciplines, marketing, making, writing, teaching, building, designing, administration, finance, digital and technical skills, customer services, catering … the list goes on. There is no other public service as perfectly suited to be a part of young people’s educational experience.
We need to embed cultural learning deep into curriculum delivery and across the whole school experience. We need cost-effective, scalable models that empower teachers and value learners as content creators.
Some things that Museums / Cultural Institutions / Heritage Sites could do:
• Appoint cultural learning staff — shared between venues and schools, to enable collaboration in local, subject-themed clusters
• Exploit the local – not all schools have national museums on their doorstep but all collections have potential if interpreted with insight and imagination
• Wire museums up (WiFi, hardware, software and skills) – digital technologies enable learner engagement with collections and expertise regardless of location
• Articulate skills, experience and knowledge gained through cultural learning within formal educational assessment structures
• Support and respect museum learning teams – invest in training and career pathways
• Help parents understand the value of cultural learning
• Mix it up – blur schools and museum boundaries to enable cross-curricular, multi-site learning
• Ensure public cultural venues have practical education spaces with capacity analogous to the scale of their collection and the community of learners they serve
I wouldn’t want or expect every child to end up as a museum curator or an artist. That’s not the point. I do believe schools and the cultural sector should share responsibility for education with museums playing key roles. Does this approach undermine the art for art’s sake ideal? No. It’s not about downgrading the nation’s museums into a school support service. It’s not about squeezing joy and wonder from encounters with culture. It’s definitely not about worksheets.
By providing inspiration and opening up opportunities to children and young people around arts and heritage, we will raise levels of educational attainment, strengthen our cultural institutions and enrich lives.