March 25, 2008

Museums are ready-made schools waiting to be used

Lessons from the museum Sreelatha Menon Business Standard New Delhi March 25, 2008
A unique experiment of teaching that started in three museums in Bhopal will now be replicated in three other metros.

The four walls of a museum can be a substitute for a school. Pradeep Ghosh thought so, four years ago wracking his brain for a solution to bring light into the lives of thousands of children who have no access to schools in Bhopal. Ghosh, a former IT professional decided to leave the business world ten years ago to take the plunge in the development sector. It began as a job with Plan International. He then decided that he could work for human development himself. Thus was born the Organisation for Awareness of Integrated Social Security (OASIS), in Bhopal.

Bhopal’s museum school was born three years ago with the intention of removing the disparity in the quality of education in urban areas and teaching the school runaways. The model is already expanding. Next month, Delhi will have its first museum school and that would be followed by Chennai and Bangalore. Ghosh was dreaming of a model education method which had the best elements of the teaching system followed by Shanti Niketan in Bengal, Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry and the Japanese system of education. Ghosh decided to take them all and combined them with the information offered by museums in Bhopal.

Ghosh explains how his 120 students learnt their first lessons at the National Museum for Mankind, the only museum of its kind in the country. An entire hill has been shaped into actual habitats of various tribal communities of the country. There are three actual houses on tree tops depicting the houses of a tribe of the North East, and the children can learn about culture and habitat from this museum, he says. The 20 teachers mostly volunteers from various colleges and BeD students are trained by Ghosh and the museum staff and are exposed to training sessions on child psychology from time to time. The only people Ghosh has to pay are the literacy workers from the slums which send the children.

In the first few years, the accent is on literacy skills, followed by letting the children respond to the senses and learn what they see and hear. The museum helps in this. It is a textbook which children can respond to easily. Oasis picks up its 120 odd children from various slums in Bhopal after 1 pm and brings them to the three museums where they have permission to work. The children are split in groups, and while some may have material inside the museum, others sit in groups outside and learn. The buses go and drop back the children in their homes.

Ghosh says that the children are also being trained in wood and clay modelling and as they grow older, they are taught business management and entrepreneurial skills. The children are registered in the National Open School where they are free to take examinations whenever they are ready for it, says Ghosh. The children, many of them rag pickers, continue to ply their trades, some have started going to regular schools, but all of them are attending this unique museum school. Encouraged, Ghosh wants to extend the timing to 5 pm. Apart from the children, Ghosh’s museum school has admirers in museums themselves. The Museum School in Bhopal started in 2005 in collaboration with 3 Museums: The Regional Science Centre, National Museum of Mankind and the Regional Museum of Natural History.

OASIS has received encouragement and acceptance from 5 museums in Delhi: National Science Centre, National Museum of Natural History, National Crafts Museum, National Rail Museum and Shankar’s International Doll Museum. Ghosh calls museums ready-made schools waiting to be used. His idea has found ready takers in NGOs and social entrepreneurs in Delhi Chennai and Bangalore. In Delhi children living in Savda Ghevra slums relocation colony in Rohini will benefit from the museum school that opens there. About 20,000 families shifted from Jamuna Pushta to live there. “We expect 100 students in the first batch,” says Ghosh, an Ashoka social entrepreneur.

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