Science education and museums

Sadly, colleges and universities have not fully appreciated the massive wealth that is contained within many museums around the country. Science and technology are particularly well catered for, not only in the traditional museums, but also in more specialist facilities like those available in London, Liverpool, Runcorn, Manchester and Bristol, as well as in a number of science exploratory centres around the country. Other possibilities exist too. Colleges could establish stronger links with the multitude of scientific associations, clubs and groups that are active throughout the UK.

A recent report from the Department of National Heritage, “A Common Wealth – Museums and Learning in the United Kingdom”, starkly highlights the situation, ft is not just the colleges that do not fully recognise the potential, but equally the museums currently give further education a low priority in their education provision. It is interesting to note that museums and further education colleges share a common ancestor in the mechanics institutes of the 19th century, which offered evening classes where workers could improve their basic skills and acquire new scientific and technological knowledge. It seems appropriate now to re-establish significant partnerships between the colleges and the museums and recapture that Victorian entrepreneurship.

The report provides an excellent overview of the resources that museumspossess. A few examples are given where colleges and museums have worked closely together, particularly in Wakefield, Wirral and Norfolk. Other colleges most certainly can benefit from the unique learning resources that museums possess, across a wide range of courses. Adopting the principle of reciprocity, further education colleges could provide courses for the museum staff. The partnerships could also forge much stronger links with the community and, as I have said earlier, recapture the mechanics institutes’ philosophy of the 19th century.

Colleges, therefore, can provide an attractive partner for museums and foster, on a win-win basis for all parties, a more effective environment for lifelong learning. Many museums are now developing some fascinating and valuable information on theirweb pages for the internet and, again, colleges could work in partnership to enhance these developments further.

I commend this publication very highly. It offers opportunities to colleges to strengthen links with their local museums and, via the internet with the national/international system of museums. In addition, it shows how colleges could establish stronger affiliations with scientific interest groups and associations that might exist in their localities.


“A Common Wealth – Museums and Learning in the United Kingdom”. A report to the Department of National Heritage by David Anderson (January 1997).

Copies can be obtained from the Victoria and Albert Museum Education Department as well as the Department of National Heritage Public Enquiry Point on tel: 0171-211 6200.

Dick Evans is Principal of Stockport College and chair of the ASE Post 16 SCience Committee.

This article was subsequently published in a number papers and journals.

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