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Challenging how schools teach history to engage all communities

The idea that all museums work to represent all diverse communities is a subject that poses multiple questions, as this is not as straightforward as displaying a historical picture of an Indian soldier standing with a white British lieutenant in British occupied Punjab or, showcasing materials and jewels which once belonged to a Maharajah. South Asian history has been very much visible in various forms in museums however, how does this represent India or the British South Asian community?

The lack of diversity in museums in terms of staffing is very much apparent when you enter most London museums, yet we live in a heavily diverse city. As a British Asian myself I do wonder why that is and what is deterring ethic monitories from pursuing a career in museums.

The education system could be an area that needs to be explored when looking at how we first learn about history academically and in what form it is presented to us. Schools need to take a more active role in teaching about South Asian history from Indian soldiers who courageously served in the World War to Princess Sophia Duleep Singh who was a political activist for the suffragette movement. There are iconic figures in history that the South Asian community can be proud of, however with the lack of varied teaching in history classes often those who have a passion for history must wait until university to hear of these people. The British National Curriculum structure needs to be challenged and adapted to show the representation of all communities for children to feel valued for who they are and what their community has achieved in history. From research to interviewing people, coursework can evolve into project work, where students can go out into the community and learn from people who were a part of anti-racial discrimination movements, or women who arrived in the UK from remote villages and broke barriers in education. It is time for ethnic minorities to learn how to value and appreciate their iconic figures who played a role in contributing to British society.

There is so much that can be learned from history which can be used today, it can unite people as well build bridges between professionals. Technology has been used to bring the world wonderful productions for entertainment but why not start to use technology to bring history alive. With the advances of 4D and simulations, there are opportunities for museums to bring history to us and transport audiences into other realms, this way audiences can experience the Paris bread riots (1789) or the Cawnpore massacre (India,1857) in theatre environments providing a glance into the past by stimulating emotions and realism. This only can build greater connections between museums and education and most importantly help to educate young people about history and get people excited about what history is, and how we are all consistently contributing to society. Although museums need to keep history real and raw it is important to understand that to engage people there needs to be a presence of what people love the most in society today, and that’s technology. Whether it’s social media or gaming, the idea of instant satisfaction can be used to inspire in the educational sense, for young people to have 5 minutes of a simulation of a war or a massacre generates conversation which turns to discussions, which creates future historians. Museums need to push forward the merger of working with other professions to create interest and passion for museums. Although historians rely on artefacts and sources for the delivery of education, it is very important that rather than just speaking about history or showing old footage to young people technology is used to its full potential when trying to stimulate young minds.

However, there are many factors in merging high-end technology with museums, as budgeting and funding play a huge role in what museums can deliver, it can be said that with the integration of professionals there is room to develop working groups to specialize in the delivery of education through technology to schools and colleges in the UK. To get a project started museums must take a leading role in the project and source funders to create a plan to fund the development, although this may sound like a big task, with museums working collaboratively there is every opportunity for a project this size to be successful in its delivery with potential expansion into other professions in a way of teaching. This can also work as a form of income generation for museums, by creating a world-renowned historic simulation, other professionals would be able to access the package for schools or colleges at a price that in return generates income for the museums to contribute to redeveloping new ideas.

It is important to appreciate all the current work that is developed by museums and multi-skilled professionals who were tirelessly working on collections, and curating projects to incorporate a diverse range of history from all communities. Local museums run by boroughs have made huge efforts to learn from residents about migration and culture through oral history interviews and workshops. However, this needs to escalate into larger museums with the help of communities to build engagement and develop a sense of belonging in the museum sector. Being South Asian or belonging from an ethnic minority is not just about representing Maharajas or depicting wars and massacres or teaching native dance, it is about pride and triumph which should have the opportunity to be taught in schools alongside other topics in the best possible environments to enrich peoples knowledge and passion for history.

About the author – Rebecca Jaffri

I worked with children and families in the NHS and schools for over ten years in London and changed my career in 2019 to study HND History at the Open University. I am now going to Westminster University to study for my final BA History year in September 2021. Coming from an educational setting I feel there is a lack of passion for history, and I understand the need for change in the delivery of history lessons in schools to incorporate diversity.

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