UNESCO, SDC join hands to improve Taxila Museum’s Educational Role

PESHAWAR: It is a sad reality that we don’t usually hear children excitedly tell their parents, “Let’s go to the Museum!” In today’s age of gadgets and gizmos, cartoon channels aplenty, and infinite interactive options on social media, the rich learning opportunities presented by activities geared towards cultural heritage are lost in the white noise of technology.

However, if children are offered the opportunity of combining their love for technology, and efforts are made by the development community to make museums interesting again, it exponentially increases the chance that children would develop an inclination and sense of appreciation for the objects carefully conserved and displayed behind locked cases.

That was the forethought that went into the project designed by UNESCO with the financial support of SDC (The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation). The project’s closing ceremony was conducted Wednesday, says a press release. A one-and-a-half year venture, the project was broken down into three components; firstly, museum staff were trained and capacitated to develop a digital inventory of Museum artefacts; secondly, the educational role of the museum was improved by developing a web application with QR codes that allow visitors to engage with the artefacts safely and securely; thirdly, in order to generate interest among children by creating interactive material for them to learn about the Gandharan Civilizations, and encourage them to become “ambassadors of cultural heritage”, the project also trained teachers to educate students about heritage.

The museum, which was subject to disappearing artefacts and a lack of informational plaques next to display cases, now hosts digital kiosks that anyone with an Android-enabled phone can easily access and download (now available through Google Play store). The online application will provide a new platform that can serve as a learning opportunity for children and adults alike. The bilingual application, developed by the Technology for People’s Initiative (TPI) at LUMS is audio and text enabled, with pictures and panoramas of the Taxila World Heritage Site.

The educational activities engaging schools from within the Taxila region were (conducted by The Little Art). They have also established a “creative space” at Taxila Museum which will house puzzles and activities for children to partake in when during their visit. Most importantly, it is through the development of creative and unconventional activities that many museums are getting children interested in heritage.

The staff at Taxila Museum have been working on developing the inventory- with close to 23,000 products on display and in storage, this is no easy feat.

The closing event was attended by development partners, members of civil society, academics, schoolchildren, teachers, and members of the government. The opening address was delivered by Ms. Vibeke Jensen, Representative/Director of UNESCO Pakistan, and was followed by Thomas Kolly, the Swiss Ambassador to Pakistan. Ms. Jensen applauded the work of the implementing partners and the Taxila Museum staff, and stated, “It is necessary, that our cultural heritage is not only protected, but that museums and their collections are brought into the 21st century through creative means that redefine them as modern strongholds of ancient heritage.”

Ambassador Kolly, expressed Switzerland’s commitment to the protection and preservation of culture and art, and how effective contributions can be made towards promoting diversity, tolerance, and peace. He said, “This museum reflects a rich history and varied achievements of the people of Taxila during the last four thousand years. We are glad to see, that through this joint effort of the Government, Taxila Museum, UNESCO and the Swiss, the exhibition has become more visitor friendly- especially for young people and families.”

During the course of the event, TPI/LUMS and TLA presented their work at the museum. TLA also handed out activity kits to students, and students presented speeches and poems centered around the activities conducted through the project, and the remarkable aspects of the Taxila World Heritage Site. A tour was conducted around the museum that showcased the improvements and creative spaces installed in the museum. The event concluded with the ceremonial handing over of equipment to several other national museums- including the National Museum of Karachi, Hund Museum, Chitral Museum, Kasur Museum, Harrappa Museum, and Islamabad Museum.

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