Search for Monarch butterfly leads to discovery of inspiration and self-esteem

23rd October 2009 at 01:00
But the Centre of New Enlightenment is anything but a musty old museum

Can an hour-long, high-tech adventure trail through a Victorian art gallery and museum inspire 10 to 14-year-olds to do something useful with their lives?

It is a tall order, but staff at the glitzy Centre of New Enlightenment in Glasgow's Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum claim that 3,000 youngsters have already used the new computer-assisted education programme as a "springboard to achievement". It was recently shortlisted for the UK's prestigious pound;100,000 Art Fund Prize.

The centre (TCONE for short) is housed within Kelvingrove's pound;5 million Campbell Hunter Education Wing, its target audience the more difficult to engage 10 to 14-year olds.

"At Kelvingrove, we already had the Mini Museum for the pre-fives; family- friendly displays in the French Gallery and cartoon-style information panels in the Ancient Egyptian Gallery aimed at the P5s and P6s," says John-Paul Sumner, the programme's curator.

"But there was nothing specifically for the 10 to 14-year-olds. So our objective was to use the museum and our collections to create something that would inspire that age group - and make them want to achieve something in their lives, as well as feel better about themselves."

Working with groups of young people, the education team at Kelvingrove established that, perhaps predictably, they were inspired by celebrities and pop stars and "people on the telly", as well as family members. Questioned further, however, it transpired that most of the famous people they admired had had to practise hard to achieve their goals (literally, in the case of footballers) or had overcome setbacks. Inspirational family members were those who listened to them and had shown they could be trusted.

Examining the results, a psychologist concluded that the character traits the youngsters found most inspiring were trustworthiness, compassion, determination and endurance. He also found that many in the target group seemed to lack confidence and aspiration.

"Using our collections as a tool, we wanted to develop a programme that would help young people feel better about themselves and show them that they already had some of the character traits they most admired in others," says Mr Sumner.

The TCONE programme is based on what Glasgow's museums and galleries director, Mark O'Neill, described as the "Jungian archetype of the "hero". This is someone who "has to separate from the group they know, undertake a series of challenges, then go back home and use their new-found knowledge to help others", explains Mr Sumner, which is approximately what happened during the original 18th-century Enlightenment, hence the name of the centre.

But does it work? Nine months on, and having now "ironed out the bugs" that are to be expected where computer software is concerned, the results are encouraging.

"It's the real thing," Mr Sumner says, referring to TCONE's impressive display of high-tech gadgetry. "It hasn't been knocked up with Sellotape and Blu-Tack."

His view is certainly endorsed by headteacher Anne Littleson of Castlehill Primary in Campbeltown, whose P7 class visited Kelvingrove. "It's been absolutely fantastic," she says.

After an induction in TCONE's gleaming white Mini Theatre, which included having their pictures taken, being split into teams of two and shown how to use their headphones and PDAs (personal digital assistants), the 32 Castlehill pupils set off, followed by two Kelvingrove learning assistants who used electronic equipment to track them throughout their "journey" around the building.

Using verbal and visual information fed to them through their headphones and PDAs, team members have to co-operate with each other to tackle four challenges out of a possible 16. These are broken down into themes covering trust, compassion, determination and endurance and are based on 16 individual objects in the museum's collections.

For instance, pupils have to follow directions to the Monarch butterfly in the Natural History section. The hardy Monarch flies 3,000 miles annually - the children are challenged to test their own determination by trying not to blink for up to two minutes, timing each other with their PDA stopwatches.

Lives may not have been transformed by the TCONE education programme, but youngsters do appear to find the experience of charging around Kelvingrove on a high-tech adventure trail a positive and enjoyable one. If nothing else, they have learnt how to negotiate their way through a vast Victorian building and probably walked at least a mile in the process.

Where confidence is concerned, it was interesting to note that one of the Castlehill P7 boys was wearing a slogan T-shirt which read: "Young and Gifted".

T: 0141 276 9544.

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