By TEJSHVI JAIN
IN 2012, I was at the V&A London (the world’s largest museum for decorative arts and design) for a training programme. This trip was a real eye opener for me, despite my experience as assistant curator at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru.
For the first time I saw how a museum can be participatory, engage communities and make an impact on society at large. It is here that I experienced the true potential of a museum and realised how under-utilised museums in India are as educational resources for schools.
Museums and heritage sites can be learning spaces that have the possibility to foster dialogue, nurture empathy and build critical thinking about the world as it was, is and could be.
They offer a non-threatening, multi-disciplinary space that can create transformational learning experiences and have the potential to develop critical thinking, curiosity, communication and creativity (4Cs).
How museums can impact learning
Museum experiences go beyond knowledge gaining exercises. Collections offer opportunities for active learning that lead to better retention of information, a deeper understanding of the subject and present cross curricular links. Through diverse tools like discussions, interactions with experts, experiences and activities, learning in museums is made more impactful.
Object-based learning uses questioning to help students describe, dig deeper and decipher information. This grows their reasoning skills, sparks curiosity and encourages creativity.
Museums allow for inter-disciplinary learning and help emphasise the diverse economic, social, spiritual, cultural and political realities of our lives – past and present.
The 4Cs, as practised within museums, help build in children the ability to view a set of circumstances from multiple perspectives – and question and debate – while critically interpreting a situation, a narrative, a story.
This lays the foundation for an empathic attitude that seeks to understand the different voices, the different stories and the different narratives. Museum visits at an early age nurture in young adults the ability to view the past and present through a balanced and empathic lens.
Connecting classrooms to museum collections
However, the current education system in India and schools, do not recognise this potential. Museums themselves often do not present and use the treasures they house for the purpose of focused learning for young audiences.
Each museum’s collection is unique and has something different to offer students. Most teachers and schools are either unaware of the collection or do not have the time and ability to develop the it as a learning resource.
At ReReeti, we work closely with museum collections and are in a position to help teachers overcome this barrier. In-depth knowledge of the collection, the context, the artist and the curriculum gives us the ability to find the appropriate resource in the museum and adapt it appropriately for the age group required.
While we focus on a particular theme or concept which is linked to the curriculum, we also make cross curricular connections.
For example, in one of our modules, ‘Machines and Me’, we touch upon the human body (biology), old and new Stone Age (history) and nature as we explore mechanisms that work.
We use theatre, dance, art, poetry, stories and group exercises to understand the concepts, thus making the experience of learning multidimensional, contextual, meaningful and impactful.
Of course, being centres of lifelong learning is just one aspect of museums. They are important sites of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, co-operation and peace among people.
A museum is a place to capture forgotten histories and bridge the gap between the young and old. It could also seek to heal the wounds of the past and promote reconciliation. How? This will require another article!
Tejshvi Jain is the Founding Director of ReReeti Foundation, a not-for-profit that works with museums and heritage sites in the areas of capacity building and audience development. Formerly the assistant curator at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Bengaluru, she has curated shows, taught at colleges and published articles in several media. She is the recipient of many fellowships like the Art Think South Asia Fellowship and was the only Asian selected to attend the international visitors programme by the NRW KULTUR Secretariat, Germany.