Debate education in museums across Central and Eastern Europe
This project is supported by International Visegrad Fund.
In 2019, UNESCO underlined the fundamental role of museums in education and the dissemination of culture. Yet, museums often struggle to actively engage visitors, especially the local younger audience. In the Visegrad region and across Central and Eastern Europe, the potential of innovative museum education is rarely explored. Lack of regional partnerships and insufficient exchange of good practices in this field results in decreasing youth participation in cultural activities and diminishing understanding of the region’s history and heritage. Education has been long argued to have reached central position in the hierarchy of museums functions (Hooper-Greenhill, 2000). Debate programs run by NGOs are a widely appreciated educational tool enabling active democratic participation, applicable in formal and informal teaching at every level (Firmin, 2007). Debates are also proven to be highly beneficial and effective in museum education as they allow for deeper interaction with information and have a positive effect on skill-building, such as creative and critical thinking. The need of museums to find new ways to engage the audience, especially local youth, as well as the challenge to rediscover their role in functioning of democratic societies is an issue that has to be addressed through increased regional dialogue and sharing of experiences. The need of NGOs operating in the countries of Visegrad region to increase their capacities has been voiced regularly during meetings at International Debate Education Association, to which Polska Debatuje belongs since 2018.
The project fills the existing gap in the field of innovative museum education through research, capacity building and establishment of a durable partnerships. Additionally, the project increases the volume of well-research educational tools which can be adopted to specific local needs. Through encouraging cooperation among debate education organizations and museums, the project identifies new areas of cooperation, as well as establishes partnerships strengthening the civil society. Increasing the knowledge of innovative educational tools among museum staff and improving the cooperation between NGOs directly improves attractiveness of museums and cultural institutions in the region. Thus, the project indirectly increases awareness of common cultural heritage among visiting local youth. Lastly, debate education in museums facilitates the access of local young people to soft skills indispensable for active participation in culture and democracy, but also valuable on the labor market.
The project aims to operationalize and disseminate the know-how accumulated by Polska Debatuje through:
1) research of institutional aptness of museums in Central Europe to use debates as a tool engaging and educating the public, especially youth;
2) building a real partnership between educators and museum practitioners from Central Europe in order to identify synergies within debate education and museology;
3) producing and disseminating a research-based handbook of good practices addressed to debate education NGOs and museum professionals in the region.
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The project combines museum education and debate education in a way previously not propagated in the region and offers innovative response to recent developments in museology. In 2019, ICOM’s commission proposed a new definition of a museum as “democratizing, inclusive and polyphonic spaces for critical dialogue about the pasts and the futures.” Debate is a tool yet undiscovered by museums located in Central and Eastern Europe that perfectly corresponds with their evolving role in democratic societies. The rare examples of successful debate initiatives such as Leiden Museum Debate Challenge and Debating History Clubs run by Polska Debatuje in Poland have not resulted in similar projects being conducted in the V4 region. The research component provides museums with new foundations upon which new education and outreach initiatives can be build. The project presents museums as a place of meeting, dialogue and reflection. It connects two spheres - civil society and cultural institutions, and two professional circles - debate education and museum education. Through exploration of synergies through face-to-face discussion, the project offers a forum where ideas such as regional and national identity, history and youth involvement can be freely debated. As the project is focused on capacity building among debate educators and museum professionals, it offers practical tools which can be used to build tangible and sustainable projects in respective states. This is why the value added by the project will be multiplied through local cooperation and involvement of the local audiences.