Museums! They kind of fascinate me. Now. But as a child? They were huge places, serious and quiet. So many things there, but all locked away in glass cases. Couldn’t even ask questions! The ‘keep silence’ boards everywhere told me that these were places where one needed to maintain silence but then what do I do to the thousands of questions that arose at every single exhibit. I decided to remember a few but found it impossible due to the sheer number of exhibits. So, most of them were lost by the time I was out of the museum and the rest by the time I reached home. When I went to my History teacher with a couple that were still left, the answer I got was, “You should have asked there. How do I know what you saw?” There! Gone.
Nothing much seems to have changed today. As an educator first, when I used to ask children, most ha their questions unanswered and hence forgotten or it was a one-time annual visit, being one in those queues of 200 students, mostly being bombarded by ‘chalo jaldi aagey’, ‘move fast, we have to leave in 2 hours.’ And they had nothing but “ kuch nahi kiya…sab dekha talwar etc…kuch cheejein thi tabhi k log ki..bas wapas aa gaye fatafat dekh ke” to say. Sad but true. As a teacher educator too, I found that many of the pre-service and most importantly the in-service teachers too, haven’t realized the value of museums.
Are museums just a place to go and see the objects of the past? Visit to a museum – Just a thing to be tick marked? Absolutely not. They are those educational institutions which hold the maximum potential to induce critical thinking and to foster curiosity. It is THE place where there is possibility to see Constructivism in action. (For the uninitiated, Constructivism is the pedagogical term, which in short means to construct the knowledge cohort instead of serving knowledge. This is a student centred way of learning and is active learning and hence more effective.)
Museums possess materials and information that can be (has to be, infact) used in enriching and improving school curriculum in various disciplines. Yes, variety of disciplines because when we say a museum, it also includes the science museums, technology museums to name a few disciplines. (In fact museums play the most important role in STEM education). It would be wonderful to integrate these resources in the learning process at various levels. In fact museums should develop educational programs with educators at various levels. It is an appeal to the teaching fraternity to approach the ‘Museum Educators’ at your local museum for such collaboration.
Museums are the only place that can impart cultural education effectively as they house almost all the tools and materials required to do so. In modern world, museums not only serve their fundamental purpose of assisting the future generations to understand and appreciate their history, culture and instill pride in the achievements of their forefathers but also provide as a platform for imbibing tolerance, understanding multiculturalism and appreciating diversity. Museums can promote cultural diplomacy that can effectuate greater understanding between people and nations, contribute to attaining sustainable peace. This can be done only if there is a provision to ask questions, to discuss.
Let there be sound and not noise. Let there be narratives, let the visitors also contribute if they can relate it to a particular exhibit. Let the museum be a warm place exuding enthusiasm. Let visitors have questions, with their curiosity spiked up, could the museum make it possible to actually allow visitors interact with the artefacts – replicas, if the artefacts are rare and need to be conserved? With so many of digital techniques available now, the museums can go a step further with simulations and even augmented reality! Imagine a huge hall, where you would step into a virtual pyramid! You could feel the climatic conditions, walk on the sand, feel the walls, and actually roam inside the pyramid! Yes, you would have an audio guide with you, but there would also be personnel who would answer your questions! What a wonderful learning resource it would be! There are museums in Japan that have this kind of experiential learning. Now, don’t shake your head there saying that it can’t happen in India. Well, visit the visitor centre at Ajanta caves then, for such an experience that will leave you amazed.