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Educating Otago – and over achieving

Thursday 26 September 2019

Educating Otago – and over achieving

Despite operating on piecemeal funding, the Otago Museum Education department’s Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom (LEOTC) programme has educated record numbers of youth this year, surpassing government targets by a phenomenal 851%.

The Ministry of Education gave targets of between 1500 and 4500 children educated annually; Education Manager Kate Timms-Dean has reported figures of more than 13 000 for the 2018/19 financial year.

Dr Timms-Dean has been managing the department for three years, and has vastly increased numbers being educated by the Museum year-on-year.

“The Museum is a wonderful space to educate children; we have the Planetarium, the very diverse galleries and their collections, and of course Tūhura, the science centre. The department has a focus on fun first, so schools love coming here and giving their students an opportunity to extend their learning in a really hands-on way.” said Dr Timms-Dean.

A long-time educator, and a speaker of te reo Māori, Dr Timms-Dean has brought a bicultural perspective to Otago Museum’s education programming. This has taken Otago Museum’s traditional areas of strength in science and technology, and added a vitally important strand of mātauranga Māori. This perspective can be seen in the Museum’s Tuia250 education project, which is firmly bicultural and shares a Māori understanding of the impacts that Cook’s landing bought to our nation. This programme too has been extremely sought-after, with the funding body requesting a target of 3200 youth participating, and the Museum delivering to 1200 students in the first four weeks alone.

“I just can’t turn people away”, said Dr Timms-Dean, when asked about the successes of the department. While high workloads and low budgets are a constant, demand is always high and the team always does its best to accommodate requests for outreach from the region’s schools.

Tania Pleace, an Andersons Bay School teacher who recently attended a science programme with her classroom, said, “The variety of programmes is great. We touch on things at school and then here [at the museum] it broadens and deepens the understanding in a fun interactive way. Today, they showed some really great experiments with chemical reactions that we can’t do at school. There was so much animated chatter; the children were all really engaged.”

Otago Museum’s Education department provides outreach onsite at schools across Otago and Southland, as well as providing more than 60 programmes at the Museum. Most of these offerings are free to schools and students, and are now part of the fabric of education in southern New Zealand. The long term return on investment of these programmes for our youth is incalculable, and making it more sustainable through ongoing central government support would be of huge benefit to a team whose capacity is stretched.

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