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How museums teach

An international organization underscores the significance of museums in education

Museums used to be the highlight of every educational tour with all of its magnificent collections of art and historical materials telling us of stories of long ago. But in recent years, these houses of knowledge seemed to have been left out of the bucket list. Hence, many kids today are deprived of the understanding only museums can teach.

With the goal to bring back the status of museums as the hammer and anvil for learning and national identity, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) Philippines recently held a forum at the De La Salle College of Saint Benilde  (CSB) Museum of Contemporary Art & Design, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, University of the Philippines – Diliman, International Federation of Social Science Organizations, Philippine Association of Museums Inc., International Movement for Development Managers, Hiniraya Cultural Heritage and Development Foundation, and Gulf Air.

   28Open-Air Museum in Ifugao 28Open-Air Museum in Ifugao 2    The Open-Air Museum in Ifugao lets visitors see with their own eyes the tradition of the people which spans hundreds of years. (Photos courtesy of SITMo and Habitat for Humanity)

The forum focused on how museums around the Philippines can collaborate and support each other to bring culture and heritage closer to the people. It also discussed how museum collections should be preserved and protected. Concerned parties also talked about how museum artifacts could be made relevant in this modern age.

“These cultural objects are references like a book or a birth certificate – it may be scientific or artistic but these are all evidences of who we are, our traditions, way of life, way of thinking, creativity and they date back from generations before we even become the people that we are today,” says ICOM Philippines president Gina Barte.

According to her, museums are not only meant for recreation but also a place for learning.

“It’s called a social institution for public education. If libraries have books as the reference points, museums have the (cultural) objects, so they also have the obligation to enhance their collections. Just because you have 10, 000 objects, it doesn’t mean that that’s all you have to do. You have to continually develop it. If there is something that will enhance your collection, you have the obligation to acquire it and protect it,” she shares.

WINDOWS OF THE PAST, DOORS TO THE FUTURE

Barte says that in order to create bonds between visitors, generations and cultures around the world, museums need to ensure that their collections are dynamic. In other words, collections shouldn’t just be exhibited for a long time. Instead, they have to show the transition of cultural materials through time so that people will be able to think, reflect and absorb knowledge from these objects which are more than just old stuff but treasures that Filipinos can be proud of.

28CSB Museum 28CSB Museum 2        CSB Museum of Contemporary Art & Design shows modern artistic creations like short films featuring urban architecture and living spaces.

“As societies change and undergo social transformation, so do the old objects that have become less useful in the present, but just because they’re no longer useful don’t mean that they no longer have a value. In fact, their value increases as we change our lifestyle,” she explains.

But museums are not just confined to those showcasing historic cultural collections. Barte says that futuristic science museums like the Museo Pambata in Manila and the Mind Museum at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig are equally important as the conventional ones. They also give children an enjoyable learning experience through interactive exhibits that encourage them to take up a career in science someday.

EVOLUTION OF MUSEUMS

Aside from the usual covered buildings, open-air or living museums are also gaining popularity among students, travelers and culture-loving people. One of these is the Open-Air Museum in Kiangan, Ifugao.

Marlon Martin, chief operating officer of Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement says, “The main purpose of this is to educate the younger Ifugaos on how their ancestors lived and we’re also into cultural revival and better understanding of Ifugao culture by the younger generation of Ifugaos. Kasi nakakalimutan na eh, nawawala na ‘yun. So we want people to understand that Ifugao culture is a living heritage. The rice terraces is actually a source of food and the values of the community so if it will be lost, it will also lead to the disintegration of the Ifugao values.”

The museum which is also a community, boasts of traditional Ifugao houses filled with traditional tools and ornaments. Here, visitors can observe how the people do their everyday work like weaving, dancing, performing rituals, and of course, planting rice on the world-renowned rice terraces. The tour ends in a community learning center managed by the locals themselves.

“Through the open-air museum and integrating indigenous history into mainstream education system, we will be able to preserve whatever is left of our original culture. It’s not yet dead and there is hope. It can be revitalized if only the youth can understand that this is something that will define our identity as Ifugaos. That’s what’s important to us,” Martin says.