The world of children living in segregated settlements is closed. Their daily routine is limited to going to the nursery school or the local school or visiting the doctor’s consulting room; their life can be made occasionally more colourful through an excursion, a camp or visiting relatives, or even through the reports of ex-prisoners and Canadian expatriates. In a divided society, there are not many opportunities for bridging the gap between rich and poor. They cannot afford to go to the cinema or the theatre, to skate or ski, family holidays are also out of the question. By contrast, they try to reach faraway worlds which are inaccessible to them in the real world but maybe brought close to them virtually. This ambiguous situation hardly provides any chance for the development of a healthy life vision and motivation.
It is important to take every opportunity which could widen and diversify the directly accessible world to them.
Our programme developed and implemented upon the request by the Miskolc-based Herman Ottó Museum set the objective of creating a welcoming/inclusive environment from the unknown museum world for children living in segregated settlements.
An essential part of the programme included the development of a new methodology necessary for the development of disadvantaged children through museum education. This was done through a series of workshops after the definition of the topics making up the backbone of the programme, by continuously assessing the completed sessions and by planning the next ones.
We organised study group sessions once a week, with the same 8 to 10 students at each occasion. The premises were provided by the Papszer street building and yard of the Herman Ottó Museum and on one occasion the Borsod earth castle.
During the practice-oriented programme, the children familiarised with the everyday life of people living in the era of the Hungarian Conquest (around end of 9th century - 10th century). The children practised archery, learned to strike fire with a flint and tinder, to prepare flour with a grindstone and to bake a pie, painted clothes with authentic patterns, and also prepared a yurt model. By the end of the series of sessions, the participating children became hosts of the given exhibition, and also became able to provide help during the demonstration sessions.
Context of good practice
The children participating in the programme came mainly from Lyukóvölgy, which is the biggest segregated area in Hungary, and they were the students of the Open Door Baptist School. One group was composed of seventh and eighth-grade children; the other was composed of fourth-grade children. The groups were mixed groups of boys and girls.
Our sessions were held with the children during school hours. The older ones were involved for one year and a half, whereas the younger ones were involved for one year. In this description, we only provide the programme for the older ones.
The management of the Baptist school is open to the new pedagogical methods even if they push the limits of the current public education system since these new approaches give efficient responses to their everyday problems.
The children could present their acquired knowledge at a thematic day organised in the school, and were even rewarded.
Main characteristics of the challenge, description of the target group
In the North-Eastern region of Hungary, there are several schools which are educating almost solely disadvantaged and Roma children, primarily as a result of spontaneous segregation processes. These children show typical symptoms of learning and behavioural problems of the disadvantaged/Roma children. Unfortunately, the concerned schools do not have at their disposal any real tool which was developed specifically for the efficient education of those children. Public culture institutions could provide a lot of help in the development of those children, but there has been no tradition and no established methodology in this field so far.
Typically, the children who were sent by the teachers to our sessions held in teaching hours were those who hindered classwork to the most extent, or those who might have needed the beneficial effect of our support in small groups because of recent traumatic experience.
Success factors and processes
The head of the programme was one of our colleagues holding a teacher’s qualification and having a lot of experience with the alternative pedagogical methods and the education of disadvantaged children. He was assisted by a teacher with a thorough local knowledge and a museologist who assumed the professional management tasks.
The traditional tools of the education system have proven to be insufficient for the development of disadvantaged pupils who are mostly Roma. The children’s internal motivation on their path full of failures within public education disappears rapidly because their abilities and the expectations typically mediated by the schools are far from each other. There are few activities integrated into public education, which serve carefully considered goals that are adjusted to the different abilities of the children, but also allow the use of efficient methods and are exciting for the children. Exciting, and not only for the disadvantaged children. While choosing the activities it is important to avoid stereotypes which are pigeonhole-like even in spite of their positive motivation. (For instance: Roma children? They will dance and make music!)
Instead, we started to work on the era of the Hungarian Conquest through practical examples. The technical content was provided by the exhibition entitled “Elite Corps”, based on archaeological finds from the graves of soldiers of the era of the Hungarian Conquest, as well as by the museologists’ knowledge. We aimed to bring the everyday life of the era of the Hungarian Conquest closer to the everyday life of the children in Lyukóvölgy.
Usually, we started the sessions with short drama pedagogy games to create the settings necessary for integration and as free from the external disrupting effects as possible. Drama pedagogy was one of our important tools, with a different focus, but as an integral part of each session. The children needed to think about the tasks more like “real-life situations” and not as being outsiders.
1. Use of a metal detector
First of all, we worked with a metal detector, one of the important tools used by archaeologists. Learning its use was important because of the subsequent phase of the programme as well. It helped us to find a fire striker steel.
2. Striking a fire with a fire striker steel, a flint and a tinder
It was not at the exhibition, nor in the building that we started the programmes. We did not want to make the impression that adults can organise beautiful exhibitions. The children tried to strike a fire in the museum’s yard with tools from the era of the Hungarian Conquest (fire striker, flint, tinder).
3. Preparation of a yurt model
After having become able to strike a fire, we could start building a shelter. We prepared the model of a yurt of the era of the Hungarian Conquest, with a diameter of about 1 m, with leather fastenings, with a felt cover, doing every possible phase of the work ourselves. The work required six sessions, which were not always successive.
4. Cereal grinding, cooking
We ground with a grindstone, then with a manual mill. We prepared contemporary meals using raw materials which were also available at that time, e.g. millet, spelt, goat milk, lovage, oregano, thyme, garlic, honey.
5. Military activities
We learned the traditional archery and tilting with arms similar to the contemporary ones.
6. Caftan painting
We painted clothes made of ecru fabric, of contemporary cutting, which we ornamented subsequently with patterns chosen by the children from the exhibition corpus, using cliché painting techniques.
7. Grave excavation and story processing
In the museum’s yard, we hid a skeleton and some objects in a grave model filled with sand. The children examined the grave with metal detectors, then excavated the grave’s segments with scrapers and brushes. Based on the object found in it (an arrowhead between the ribs and a pendant stitched with colourful pearls) and on their knowledge acquired until then they had to make up a story about the possible identity of the corps and what could have happened to it. The story was continued in several sessions. In the various roles played, the children experienced a lot of conflict situations which are also part of their life today.
8. Personal history
The majority of the students came from (Roma) families in which the perception of time typically differs from the perception of people having a written history and literature. The perception of time is made easier to them (by the way, to any children) if we use the history of their family or the personal memories and stories of their parents and grandparents as points of reference. The children’s task was to talk to their living older relatives and to bring old family photographs as well, if possible. Then, they told stories about those sources, for months, from one occasion to another, each time a different child. To be able to store the family photographs they received photo albums as Christmas presents. Thinking about their own families helped them a lot in being able to imagine the stories of the era of the Hungarian Conquest.
Necessary competencies: local knowledge, including the knowledge of families; openness to new pedagogical methods; awareness of the fact that the targets set by the school may occasionally be achieved more efficiently by using extra-curricular opportunities with a sense of purpose; enthusiasm. Experience in drama pedagogy.
It would be the most appropriate to perform the activities in the long term, integrated into the everyday life of the school. Thus, their development potential could be exploited in the most efficient and most targeted way.
Impact of measures taken
The most important achievement was maybe the success experienced by those often despised children, while they were performing activities which could be attractive to the children of any group of the society.
Pedagogues who had been meeting the children only in school settings were surprised and glad at the various abilities which could be brought out from their pupils.
One of the key aspects of the operation of the programme was the enthusiasm, the perseverance and the competence of the staff animating the activities, which was gradually complemented by the gradual involvement of the museum’s staff. The initially sceptic attitude of the latter could be transformed into an active and enthusiast contribution due to their gradual involvement.
The openness of the school is essential. A programme operated in school hours, but organised by an institution other than the school can only be successful if the teachers understand that a complex identity development has more benefits than a missed lesson.
An inclusive and cooperating attitude on the part of the public cultural institution is also important. Paying attention to a particular child/task is not automatic for them, either.
The series of programmes could be implemented partly with the Miskolc-based Herman Ottó Museum’s resources, partly with the support of the Miskolc Local Government, and after the initial success, within the framework of a tender of the National Cultural Fund of Hungary.
Any other information
The programme has been documented, certain parts of the programme have been treated in a short film, and has been presented in general terms at professional fora in the field of museum pedagogy.
The most important acknowledgement of our work was in 2014 when the children from Lyukóvölgy were the hosts at the “Elite Corps” Exhibition which was a priority stand at the “Exhibition of the Year” organised within the framework of the Festival of Museums in May in the garden of the National Museum.
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