Winston's wonders

11th February 2005 at 00:00
The new pound;6m Churchill Museum opens today. Never in the field of education has so much of the war leader's life been on public display. Sebastian Lander reports

Sir Winston Churchill once quipped: "I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught." And that remark went some way towards explaining the great leader's disappointing early school reports. There is little doubt, though, that he would approve of the new pound;6 million Churchill Museum, at the Cabinet War Rooms, as a valuable educational resource.

The opening of this excellent new centre coincides with the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and the 40th anniversary of Churchill's death.

Sam Cairns, head of learning and access at the museum, says it offers a wide range of educational programmes. "The exhibition supports the curriculum from Key Stage 2 to older groups studying modern world history as well as A-level topics such as the Cold War conflict," she says.

Audio-visual and interactive displays with film, photo and sound content are divided into chapters representing various parts of Churchill's life.

They feature his most famous speeches and more than 150 original artefacts.

These exhibits surround what is perhaps the pi ce de resistance, the Lifeline. This touch-activated computer is the museum's chronological spine, providing an interactive record of the 90 years of Churchill's life in the context of world history. Groups can take part in the Lifeline Trail in which they complete curriculum-based worksheets. Pupils can also activate lifeline "rewards" or sound and graphics that accompany specific historical events. For example, opening up August 6 1945 produces the sound of a bomb blast and a white screen, chronicling the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. Certainly, this museum is a very powerful learning resource.

Despite the focus on Winston Churchill, the exhibition offers a useful research resource for particular curriculum topics.

Sandra Tavernier, a Year 3 teacher at St Luke's CE School, west London, says: "The children would need to know what they are looking for as there is a lot of information here. There is quite a bit on the 'home front', a topic we have looked at in the classroom, and there is a useful visual exhibit on mass observation diaries. This features quotes from members of the public at the time of the Second World War. It's almost like sitting on a bus in 1940 and listening to people's opinions."

Sam Cairns is also keen to promote the museum's capacity to reach audiences from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of learning needs. The Winston Churchill leadership programme is also available. This offers a scheme of work that helps to support pupils' work in history and citizenship.

"We want to question what it really means to be a leader," says Sam Cairns.

"Churchill became prime minister in spite of personal failures - his school reports were far from outstanding. We want to get children to value themselves and see that they can be successful.

"We have an interactive exhibit which asks children to decide whether Churchill was racist through his handling of India's call for self-government. This exhibit aims to address issues on the citizenship curriculum."

As the great man once said himself: "Success is not final, failure is not fatal - it is the courage to continue that counts."

Well said, Winston.

The Churchill Museum opens on February 11. School bookings are free. For more details telephone 020 7766 01302 or 020 7930 6961; cwr-edu@iwm.org.uk;www.iwm.org.uk

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