An account of educational work carried out by Halil Demirdelen, education director. (Submitted to the Head of Education, Egyptian Museum, Cairo, Egypt. June 2004)
The Anatolian Civilisations Museum in Ankara is one of the largest museums in Turkey and houses a priceless collection of materials and artefacts dating back to the earliest civilisations 10000 years ago. For more details about the museum, see their booklet.
Work with the disabled began in 1998, when the museum was refurbished and physical access was provided.
The development of the educational program is a more complex process, and it is still growing.
The overall aim of this work is not limited simply to bringing different groups to the museum. Much more fundamentally, the aim is to demonstrate that people, whatever their needs and abilities, can enjoy leaning outside a school environment, whether in a museum, a theatre, a park or an exhibition.
The first group that was considered was children from a local school for the mobility impaired. The first step was to choose a quiet day, Mondays, when the children – many in wheelchairs, others with limited movement – would not be disturbed by the regular flow of visitors. Group size was limited to 10-15, to guarantee that all children would get attention and be able to get close enough to the displays. One factor that has to be considered is that, as many of our disabled children start school late, it is important to give explanations according to educational age rather than actual age. This was done in conjunction with the class teacher. One other point when working with such children is that drama work carried out with mainstream classes is not possible, as the children are not able to act out roles. The alternative that has been developed is for the activity leader to take on the dramatic role alone.
The next group that was invited to the museum was a class of visually impaired children from the school for the blind. Here, standard museum education objectives must be adapted as a museum, with so many artefacts being displayed in glass cases, is essentially a visual experience. Without sight, the visually impaired use touch and hearing to conceive what is around them. Rather than attempting to tour the whole museum, education work has been shown to be most effective when focussing on a specific civilisation to ensure that the concepts are grasped. In order to be able to perceive what is around them, the visually impaired have to be able to touch. In the first stage a number of reproductions (vases, coins, symbolic amulets and sculptures, clay tablets and styluses) are given to the children, who are guided through exploring and understanding the objects and their features. Later, the children are allowed – the only exception ever allowed – to touch original antique objects, such as lion statues, sphinxes, or reliefs dating from 700 B.C. Only by physically touching can they develop an idea of a mythical creature that combines a human head, bird wings and a lion’s body. And anyway, what is a lion like?
Hearing is used when it comes to gaining an understanding of the size of a hall. The museum was originally built in the 18th century as a bedesten. The children are encouraged to estimate the dimensions of the central room according to the echo of their voices; their guesses are surprisingly accurate.
Again, small groups are essential; as for active participation, for each task 3 individuals are selected: 3 will shout to hear the echo in the hall, another three will touch a sphinx and describe it to their friends, etc. Otherwise, the group would dominate and artefacts would rapidly be worn out.
The overall aim remains the same: by developing thought and understanding, those participating enjoy learning.
Hearing–impaired groups, if accompanied by a sign interpreter, are easier to accommodate than either the mobility or visually impaired; when the interpreter provides communication, these children can then follow the regular educational programme offered to mainstream school children. The one difference is the absence of feedback as many children do not speak. In such situations it is important to observe body language: if the children are happy, continue. If not, when given personal interest, most become involved again.
The learning-impaired are the most difficult to work with as levels will not only vary greatly between children in a group, but each child’s abilities may vary considerably. Another group we have worked with is hyper-active children, who are unable to concentrate for reasonable lengths of time. For such children, it is hard to explain the concept of ‘museum’. With these it is most effective to have a rapid unstructured tour of the museum, followed by practical application in the educational workshop of the museum. Here it is possible to accommodate around 50 people; for instance, 30 children and family members are divided into 3 sub-groups, with 10 children writing clay tablets, another 10 moulding coins and amulets, and the last 10 involved in a painting activity. Again the main aim is achieved: all are happily learning outside a regular school environment. Very little is mentioned to them about the ‘museum’. Often the closest is to talk with them about what ‘old’ means to them: a bag, a coat… “Well a museum has many old things in it. Would you like to paint / make your own copies of some of these old things?”
The educational workshop is in the basement of the museum; 10 bays, originally built as shops in the original Ottoman han, enable small groups to be engaged in very different activities, under the supervision of volunteer teachers.
The most important thing is to get the young visitors to DO things IN the museum. Once suitable accessible premises are arranged, the visitors can work happily. This results not only in a change of behaviour and attitude, but also means the experience will not be forgotten/
Halil Demirdelen, Archaeologist and museum educator, can be contacted at the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, 06240 Ankara, Turkey. Tel: 0312 324 3160
Claire Özel, Middle East Technical University, METU Without Barriers Student Club Adviser.