The International Council of Museums (ICOM) says a museum can be defined as a permanent non-profit institution in the service of society and its development which collects, conserves, researches and interprets for the purpose of man and his environment. The museum is therefore a composite organization.
According to history, museums play a vital role in the society. Access to the materials they collect, conserve and exhibit serves to inform, educate and entertain people. It fills a vacuum created by other institutions in the society such as schools, etc. Museums have a responsibility towards the communities, particularly those they inhabit.
Within these communities is the youth population that is considered significant. Hence the importance of youth development as a pertinent focus of the museum cannot be overemphasized. Youth in this context refers to individuals within the category of 13 to 20 years of age. This piece examines the museum and how it helps in the development of our youths by focusing its programs on certain key areas.
These include youth-focused programmes that respond to the different talents, skills and interests of children and build on those strengths. For instance, extra-curricular learning that helps them to participate in museum activities in order to learn skills, responsibility, leadership and history. This usually falls under the weekend art club and holiday club activities that take place in some museums in the country.
There is also community focused programs in museums that creates caring family-like environments in order to build trust in relationships, establish clear rules, give participants responsibilities for the programme and provide constant access to adults and the society.
Another important area of youth development is the knowledge focused programmes. Here, the intention is to have a clear focus, provide good quality instructions and ensure that participating youths have teachers from the program itself and the community as well. For instance, museums can organize science fairs where the focus is the growth of science over time with youths learning the scientific progression of the society.
These vital areas are critical to successful programming of museum activities. They ensure the museum fulfills capacity building, partnerships, youth-driven programming and opportunities for the youths to contribute their strategies meaningfully to their development.
When museum activities are programmed in such a way to enable youth become active participants with some choice and control over their activities, youth tend to become empowered which promotes leadership skills and meaningful learning. By truly listening to youths and shifting the focus from working for youths to working with youths, community change is possible. For example, museums could organize after school programmes involving teens in research and evaluation projects related to the design and implementation of the youth program.
Such special projects that involve youths serve multiple purposes which include increased individual development of youth and encourage their active involvement in decision that affects their lives. It equally provides the youth with the opportunity to create real communities change, as well as, contribute to organizational development.
Lately, young people across the world are increasingly involved in museum activities, recognizing that heritage does not only belong to the past but also to a part of their identity. Transmitting heritage values to youths through innovative museum programming favours inter cultural understanding, respect for cultural diversity and in essence contributing to the overall aim of youth development.
Oshoke is a staff of the National Commission for Museums and Monuments, Abuja