Towards a sustainable museum education

According to a recent study (in Spanish), one out of three university students in Spain have never visited a museum. It is a surprising data. We actually assume that students should have had more and easier access to museums than any other group of the same age. So what has been going wrong there? Who are the guilty ones – museums, parents, the university, society as a whole?

Assumption 1: Nowadays higher education is more accessible than ever, so people from weak social backgrounds where museum visits are not common are studying at university.

Assumption 2: When these students were small children, so about 15 years ago, many museums still did not have educational departments. Maybe within ten years, most of the students will be able to say that yes, they have visited a museum at least once in their life.

But again, should this satisfy us? I’d say no, because what matters is not visiting a museum, what matters is learning something there, is taking out something, a piece of information, a positive emotion, something that will stay with the person throughout his or her life. In the best case, this memory makes the person come back to this same or any other institution. In the very best case, the person will transmit his or her knowledge and lived experience to friends, parents, own children, etc.

Family visiting the Museu Frederic Marès, Barcelona

A large number of museums do offer educational activities for school children and many museums save visitor statistics thanks to these school activities. That’s all fine, but we should rethink museum education and creating very best cases: we should actively foster a sustainable museum education, one that will live on beyond the individual who receives it.

It’s a difficult task, that’s for sure, but maybe we can simply start by surveying the current museum education, especially the one addressed at schools.

Museums should try to create a culture of visiting museums, something that forms part of people’s life. Too ambitious? Maybe, but we might be able to avoid situations such as these: “Where have all the children gone, Britain’s galleries wonder” writes The Independent a couple of weeks ago.

And we might have stopped wondering by then.