Museum Education: Part 2 – Role of Museum Education

Jack Hiroki IGUCHI (Professor, Graduate School of Environmental Science, Aomori University, Japan)

[1] IMAGE OF MUSEUM

The nature of museums and their definition has already been discussed, and it has been determined that museums include a wide range of institutions and they exist as much as a public service as for public education and enjoyment. It has also been discovered that most museums have clear mission statements and carry out their own projects in accordance with the statements for the public. If so, the majority of museums must be not only educationally relevant for the public, but also attractive and enjoyable.

Cumming suggests that museums attracted more people than football matches in Scotland recently, according to figures released by the Scottish Tourist Board. However, he continues that “you could argue, of course, that some of them probably came in for climatic rather than museological reasons, and a lot of more where admission was free” (Cumming Ⅰ. 1985: 71). This author thinks that Cumming’s ironical conjecture is vitally important. On the other hand, some museums are really enjoyed by local residents such as Mill Green Museum, Hatfield, UK which achieved the highest satisfaction rating of any of 41 identified council services, beating local swimming and leisure centres according to the results of a random survey of almost 5000 residents (Museums Journal, 1993: 10). It is necessary for museums to bear in mind the opinions of visitors and those who professionally evaluate their attitudes toward museums such as Cumming.

Strictly speaking, a popular misconception of a museum is that it is a place which collects musty objects and is gloomy. These images of museums are common. Hudson quoted some opinions about the images of museums in his article including that “Children would rapidly become bored”; “This museum ought to be in a museum”; “Educational, but so uninspiring”; “The sooner this museum is closed down the better” (Hudson K. 1985: 13). Also Burcaw suggested that museum artifacts were regarded as peacefully sleeping – a repository for curiosities of the past – mummies, dinosaurs, suits of armour, and mementos of famous people of yesterday … and ordinary adults are very seldom shown going to museums, unless they are doing something curious or illegal or unusual (Burcaw G. 1990: 171, 172).

According to the report of the London Museum Consultative Committee, a negative image of museums prevailed in all age groups. Words such as boring, musty, gloomy and stuffy were predominant. The atmosphere was linked to that of a church or library (Trevelyan 1991: 55). Also the images of art galleries are “stand miles away; uptight; high brow; middle class; boring” (Fisher 1990: 39).

These data mentioned above suggest that museums must not only listen to successful examples, but they must make an effort to solve such problems actively. The cause of such negative images comes from either lack of an education policy or merely a nominal policy. If so, it is necessary to research into the nature of museum education in general. Before discussing the range of types of museum education, this author emphasizes that museum education is not only special activities for visitors but also the display of collections has vitally important role.

[2] DEFINITION OF MUSEUM EDUCATION

Recently many books on museums have regard museum education as of indispensable importance. “The Commission on Museums for a New Century” has asserted that museums make a majority contribution to education, and also “The Humanities in American Life”, the 1980 Report of the Commission on the Humanities, asks museums to explain more about the context of the objects they display and to share their collections to increase public access (American Association of Museums, 1984: 67).

In Britain today, the educational roles of museums are being emphasized at government level, where Richard Luck, as Arts Minister, identified this area of museum work in 1989 as a priority for development during the next decade (Hooper – Greenhill E. 1991a: 6). In addition, Hooper-Greenhill strongly suggests that it should not be forgotten that education is one of the prime functions of a museum and the reason for the existence of a museum (Hooper-Greenhill E. 1992a: 670).

All these resources suggest that museums are now breaking from the convention and advancing toward a new museology using effective educational methods and technology. Hence it is vital to reconfirm the definition of museum education for museum staff to improve on.

GENERAL IDEA OF MUSEUM EDUCATION

ICOM (International Council of Museums) code describes the educational and community role of the museums in the abstract, that is :

… The museum should take every opportunity to develop its role as an educational resource used by all sections of the population.

… The museum has an important duty to attract new and wider audiences within all levels of the community, locality or group that the museum aim to serve, and should offer both the general community and specific individuals and groups within it opportunities to become actively involved in the museum and to support its aims and policies (ICOM, 1990: 26).

This is a type of ethics for museums and describes how important museum education is, yet does not mention the scope of their educational role in detail.

The concept of museum education has a variety of meanings. Personally this author thinks that museum education is so wide including not only special educational activities but also exhibitions as well. Brucaw suggests “Museum people speak of their education staff; education department; and curator of education. What they refer to is their work with visiting school classes, loan exhibits to schools, and related activities, which sometimes include guided tours”. Although his idea does not include exhibitions in this part of his description of museum education, when he suggested this idea to a committee to coordinate public educational opportunities, someone told him that “My definition of education did not coincide with that of the majority of the committee. Some museums prefer to use the term school services for the department (instead of education services),even though its head is called the curator of education” (Burcaw G. 1990: 142). This idea suggests that even in a good museum, the term “education” is often used in its limited sense.

According to a Hooper-Greenhill’s paper, the general idea of museum education can be largely divided into two types. One is that, for some people, all the activities that museums undertake have an educational purpose. Included in this would be the collection of materials, the planning and production of exhibitions, and the arrangement of special events and teaching sessions. The other type is that some people would understand “museum education” to refer only to teaching sessions and events for adults and children (Hooper-Greenhill E. 1991a: 1).

Needless to say, the term “education” for museums must include a very wide meaning if museums fit the ICOM definition.

FLEXIBILITY OF MUSEUM EDUCATION

“Education in museums must be flexible and adaptable, requiring many skills” (Moffat H. 1992: 5), and “is lifelong, active, lively, participative and innovative, and also it is based on the collections, the sites and the professional work of museums, especially the education role of the museums must includes displays which communicate effectively with identified target audiences (Hooper-Greenhill E. 1992b:6, 7). Hooper-Greenhill also suggests that the nature of museum education is influenced by many factors: firstly, the collections of any museum being largely unique. Secondly, a vast range of different people, including pre-school toddlers, students…families and the elderly, as audiences. Thirdly, the methods used for educational experiences including exhibitions, drama, object-handling sessions, demonstrations, lectures, talks and many more (Hooper-Greenhill E. 1992b:6). Each educator, also curator, must carefully choose the methods of education to carry out the role of museum education which is needed by each audience.

TYPES OF MUSEUM EDUCATION

There is no doubt that the face of a museum is its exhibitions. In other words, building visitor’s interest depends upon how museums exhibit their collections to have an educational effect. This author discusses and examines this matter later on, as a main research focus, and in this section, he discusses so – called museum education services which are closely concerned with museum exhibits. All the following ideas of museum education services have been used by a large majority of museums. In addition, these methods listed below come from many resources, especially AIM (Association of Independent Museums – UK) Guideline No.6, Education in Independent Museums (Carter P.G. 1984: 10-43), and others, and were combined and summarized and added to by this author.

A. INDIRECT SERVICES

They are types of museum education services by which the museum staff do not educate visitors or general public directly but prepare printed materials instead which is the simplest and most basic form of museum education services.

FOR CHILDREN

1. WORKSHEET

To stimulate visiting pupils to observe closely and ask questions about the objects which are exhibited in the museum.

2. WORKBOOK

Occasionally the worksheet idea is expanded to produce a museum workbook. These are often beautifully illustrated in detail and describe a limited amount of information including questions.

3. CHILDREN’S GUIDE

This is prepared especially for young museum visitors. Such a guide has to be illustrated in detail and needs to concentrate on communicating simple information relating to the museum artifacts.

4. OTHER PUBLICATIONS

Any museum can extend the range of educational publications available in its souvenir shop. For example : identification books and background books on items within the collections; colouring books; cut-out card models; pictures; posters; jigsaw puzzles and games.

FOR TEACHER

1. PRACTICAL GUIDANCE

All the practical information which is required in order to make a trouble free visit by the school.

2. SITE INFORMATION

It describes the background information on the museum and its collection, and also suggests a selection of appropriate themes for visiting school groups.

3. INFORMATION ON ACTIVITIES

This gives teachers advice on possible activities which the children can pursue in the courses of their visit.

FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC

Children’s worksheets; teachers’ materials which are carefully thought out; and background history of the museum collections for the benefit of the teachers can be very useful for the general public as well. In addition, news letters which describe information about the museum, its services and current events (Ambrose T. 1986: 59) can be helpful for the general public.

B. DIRECT SERVICES

They are types of education services by which the museum staff educate visitors or the general public directly. Some examples are as follows.

FOR CHILDREN

1. GUIDED TOUR

A good tour can bring children into very close contact with museum exhibits and stimulate a high level of participation.

2. ILLUSTRATED LECTURE

Such a museum lecture is divided into two categories. One is the general introduction to the collection explaining to the children the types of objects. Another is usually on a theme selected as particularly appropriate to the museum collection. They might also be backed by appropriate filems or slide tape programmes.

3. HANDLING SESSION

This brings the pupils into the closest possible contact with museum objects.

4. DRAMA AND ROLE PLAY

This is more commonly used in historic environments where children can be clothed in appropriate costumes and asked to play out a part.

5. HOLIDAY ACTIVITIES

There is a great variety of these types of activities such as nature observation and making film.

FOR TEACHERS

These types of service are seldom offered alone. They are usually provided in conjunction with either an indirect service to teachers or with a direct service for school children. However visiting a teacher’s centre in a museum may prove to be a very valuable first contact point.

FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC

1. CLUB

There are many types of clubs, for example, “flora research clubs” and “history research clubs”.

2. HOILDAY ACTIVITIES

“Art” and “craft work” are popular. Some of them accept family groups.

3. ADULT EDUCATION

1) Special lecture or film show

2) Handling session

3) Adult activities for example:

botanical and zoological illustration, bee keeping, microscopy, bird watching, computer, folk dance, embroidery, basketry, pottery, wood sculpture.

4. GALLERY TALK

Large museums offer sessions for the general public who attend a special learning course related to the museum exhibits. Also guided tours by professional guides are often available in large museums.

SERVICES FOR SPECIFIC GROUPS

1. FOR THE SPECIALIST

There are a wide variety of specialist groups such as artists, scientists and research fellows. These services might include publishing books for specialists, library services, invitations to suitable conferences and joint researches.

2. FOR PRE-SCHOOL PLAYGROUPS

Local playgroups for the under five’s sometimes look for destinations to which to take their children. Museums can provide for this need.

3. FOR ETHNIC MINORITIES

Museums with foreign objects can provide very worthwhile activities for educational groups from ethnic minorities. Such objects should provide links between such groups and their own cultural heritage.

4. FOR THE HANDICAPPED

Many museums have made good efforts to make their objects accessible to the physically and mentally handicapped. For groups of blind visitors, it is vital to provide a simulating range of objects which can be touched and handled.

5. FOR FOREGIN SCHOOL CHILDREN

Multi-lingual captions and foreign language educational materials can be provided.

6. FOR FAMILY GROUPS

Museums must provide some family activities. Also discovery rooms are very popular for families with children (White J. 1990: 7).

SPECIAL OUTREACH SERVICES

Museum outreach includes an enormous number of activities and approaches for the community education. Within them, the following activities can be vitally important.

1. LOAN SERVICES

To loan out museum objects to other institutions for exhibitions, or to loan out special objects, which are provided as educational resources, to other institutions such as schools.

2. MOBILE EXHIBITION

To display objects, which are not easily damaged, on a bus for local people.

3. ITINERANT EXHIBITION

To exhibit museum objects in external institutions such as community centres.

These educational methods must be carefully selected for each specific museum, and should be combined some of them to enhance their educational effect. In addition, an evaluation of the implementation of education policy needs to be conducted.

[3] MUSEUM EDUCATION POLICY

From previous studies on education services in this thesis, it can be said that to establish a museum education policy is vitally important. The book “Writing a Museum Policy” (Hooper-Greenhill E. 1991b:14, 15) suggests many important education polices. This author chose some important polices from them and added his ideas. They are as follows:

STAFF

1. DIRECTOR

S / he must prepare an educational museum mission statement.

2. RECRUITMENT

All staff should be sympathetic to the museum educational role. Some of the staff must have relevant educational qualifications.

3. MANAGEMENT STRUTURE

Head of museum education services should be at the same level as the head of the curator’s department

4. CONSULTATION

All museum staff should cooperate with education staff to implement educational ideas.

DISPLAY

The method, which includes visual, audio and writing means, must be accessible for as many age and ability groups as possible.

LIAISON FOR RESEARCH

Museums should liaise with external institutions such as higher education institutions about shared projects.

VISITORS

1. Visitors should be consulted about their educational preferences in museums and invited to evaluate displays and educational programmes.

2. Organised activities should be suitable for all ages and abilities.

3. Museums should prepare enough space for educational activities such as study rooms.

4. Self-guided learning and access to some reference materials should be possible.

Now, it can be important to study the historical improvements in museum education before moving to research into existing museum education in general and problematic issues concerning museum education strategy. Hence next article will look into the historical study of museum education.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ambrose T., 1986. Museums a Start-up Guide, HMSO: 59.

American Association of Museums, 1984. Museums for a new Century: 67.

Burcaw G.E., 1990. Introduction to Museum Work, aaslh (The American Association for State and Local History), Nashville: 142, 171, 172.

Carter P.G., 1984. AIM Guidelines, No. 6, Education in Independent Museums, Association of Independent Museums: 10-43.

Cumming I.G., 1985. The Press Museums Deserve, Museums are for People, HMSO: 71.

Fisher S., 1990. Bringing History and the Arts to a New Audience: 39.

Hooper-Greenhill E., 1991a. Museum and Gallery Education, Leicester University Press: 1, 6.

Hooper-Greenhill E., 1991b. Writing a Museum Education Policy, Leicester University Press: 14, 15.

Hooper-Greenhill E., 1992a. Museum Education, Manual of Curatorship, BH: 670.

Hooper-Greenhill E., 1992b. Museum Education Today, Working in Museum & Gallery Education 10 Career Experiences, Leicester University Press: 6, 7.

Hudson K., 1985. Museums and Their Customers, Museums are for People, HMSO: 13.

ICOM (International Council of Museums), 1990. ICOM Statutes: Code of Professional Ethics: 26.

Moffat H., 1992. Introduction, Working in Museum & Gallery Education 10 Career Experiences, Leicester University Press: 5.

Museum Journal, 1993. News in Brief, Museum Journal, Feb 1993: 10.

Trevelyan (Ed.), 1991. Dingy Places with Different kinds of Bits, London Museums Consultative Committee: 55.

White J., 1990. What Have We Discovered About Discovery Rooms ? what Research Says About Learning in Science Museums, ASTC: 7.

 

 

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