C o m m o n w e a l t h
A s s o c i a t i o n o f
M u s e u m s
CAM Bulletin Number 4 - May, 1998
Children in African Museums: the Undiscovered Audience - the Road to Discovery
The title of the Nairobi workshop held from November 9-16 in Nairobi was not chosen to indicate that children are not present in African museums and museum programmes but to stimulate all the participants to think about whether we really know this special audience. Have we really discovered what we should know about children? Have we spent time talking to them about their interests and expectations? The workshop marked a stage on the road to discovering what children expect, want and really need from museums.
The purpose of the programme was to raise awareness of children and youth as a special museum audience and to provide an opportunity for reflection, discussion and training on how museum educational programmes are developed for them.
CAM is especially grateful for a special message from President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, CAM Patron, who emphasised "our children are the rock on which our future will be built, our greatest asset. They are the leaders of tomorrow, the generation that will take human civilisation to new heights". Let our museums make this a special burden of our responsibility.
Emmanuel N. Arinze, set the stage for the workshop by addressing the topic "Do We Hear the Voices of Children in Our Museums?" He reviewed the situation of children in African museums which ranges from active discouragement, to sufferance, to school programming with some success, but still involves no real effort to include the participation of children in developing programmes and to encourage and excite children to experience the museum in their own way. Museums must become "children-friendly" both by creating a warm, welcoming and relaxed museum experience and by listening to children in order to present programmes which meet their needs and expectations.
The sound of children's voices in the museum and the children-friendly museum became the keystone ideas of the workshop.
There were forty-three participants from fifteen Commonwealth countries (thirteen African nations, Canada, Great Britain) and the United States, including museum education officers and several teachers from Kenya. In addition, one day included the participation of children, parents and teachers to discuss their expectations of the museum.
The format of the workshop after the opening day was a program of sessions with targeted results. Bried initial presentations by experiences participants were made to raise the questions for each session and followed by discussion by the full workshop or breakout groups. Joining the experienced Museum Educators from Africa were museum education experts from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Anacostia Museum in Washington, DC. The resource persons from Africa, Canada, Great Britain and the U.S. also participated fully in the workshop, facilitating and providing ideas for the discussions.
The workshop was designed to cover the existing situation regarding children's programmes in African museums and move on to examine the method of determining needs through analysis and discussion with children, teachers, parents and those working with children. The development of programmes was a primary focus and evaluation and other logistical aspects were briefly discussed.
Before the workshop, a brief survey was sent to possible participants in Commonwealth countries of Africa to assess the current situation and form the basis of the initial workshop session. A significant number of those unable to participate answered as well and revealed a wide range of situations. While children were not necessarily consulted in many places school programming was the primary and often sole focus of children's programming and sometimes formed a majority of the museum's attendance. However, there was frequently no seperate budget for children's programming or even programmers per se. With some significant exceptions there were few non-school programmes.
The highlights of the workshop were the "children's eye views" of the museum galleries, and the three sessions involving children and parents. These included 1) the children experiencing the galleries under casual and unobtrusive observation by one or two participants; 2) children talking to participants; and 3) the parents and teachers expressing their wishes and expectations of the museum and how it relates to children. The workshop participants "became" children and young people visiting the museum and experiencing all the difficulties of understanding the museum and galleries designed for adult educated audiences. This session set the group to thinking seriously about making museums "children-friendly". The findings were supported by the participants' observations of the children in the galleries along with the comments of the children themselves.
The teachers and parents presented another viewpoint, both perceptive and thoughtful, and clearly based on a broad view of the role of the museum and its relation to children. The need and wish for more lively and interactive exhibits to bring the museum alive and better facilities that improve the comfort and easy access of family groups were strong recommendations. A plea to reach out to all children regardless of language, economic background or location and to take the museum to them if they cannot come to the museum was ardently expressed.
While it was clear that this particular group of children and parents and teachers had previous knowledge and appreciation of the museum, the day was enlightening to the participants in realizing both the difficulties and rewards of conversation with the audience.
The spirit of the workshop was in the CAM tradition of good humour and active and lively discussion. There was no lack of different opinions but there was also a readiness to place higher value on learning together and on the opportunity to do so. Participants were stimulated, deeply involved and ready to listen to the voices of their international colleagues, all with much laughter and enjoyment. Delegates shared ideas, written material, slides, videos well beyond the designated times of the sessions.
The workshop produced positive results in deciding on principles and guidelines and designing three examples of children's programmes. It also put into place a structure to carry forward the enthusiasm and spirit and continue to improve the interaction and education of children in African museums.
This action created the Group for Children in African Museums (GCAM) consisting of the workshop participants, some of whom will act as national Coordinators, and others that they will recruit in their own countries. This group will continue to strengthen their network to focus on making museums children-friendly, and will share ideas, initiate, link, encourage, support and monitor children's programmes across Africa to meet the needs and aspirations of young Africans. See GCAM Column #1.
A strong statement of intent and vision for children in African museums, called the Nairobi Declaration on Children in African Museums, was drawn up to guide GCAM and clearly express the philosophical direction of the workshop.
CAM will work to carry on this mission through facilitation and dissemination of information on GCAM and in seeking funding for projects from appropriate sources. CAM will take on current responsibilities for the international co-ordination of GCAM under the President and supported by the Secreatary General.
In future, a Manual for Children in African Museums will be developed from the workshop when the necessary funding can be obtained.
CAM is delighted to thank all the donors listed in the Declaration and is especially grateful to The Commonwealth Foundation, The A.G. Leventis Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation for their major funding support and the National Museums of Kenya for hosting the workshop and enabling a significant number of staff to attend. ICCROM-PREMA also provided assistance for several participants to attend. It was truly a combined effort with many museums and funding agencies assisting as indicated on the final page of the Declaration.
In addition to financial support, a team from the National Museums of Kenya made our time there a true pleasure. In order to indicate that we value everyone's contribution, including our Kenyan workshop colleagues who made us all feel at home, we will not try to list everyone who helped. Leaders among the team were George and Lorna Abungu, Fredrick Karanja and Omar Bwana, an independent consultant. We greatly appreciate the support and hospitality of the Director, Dr. Mohamed Isahakia. Last but not least, the workshop leader, Emmanuel Arinze and PRogramme Chair, Doreen Nteta, recreated the spirit of CAM once again for this successful project.