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What is the perspective of museum education in Estonian?

Is museum education educational entertainment like edutainment (education + entertainment) in English or rather a learning experience in the museum environment (Visnapuu 2009: 3, 49)? Is museum education informal (learning in any vital and natural situation) or rather non-formal (targeted and partially structured and directed) learning? Several acknowledged museum specialists (Hooper-Greenhill 1996: 229; Hein 2002: 3; Kelly 2007: 2) have remarked that although museums’ prioritised development directions have varied throughout the time, it is the educational activity which has to be the most important today and justify its existence altogether.

Estonian National MuseumText and photos: Kaja Visnapuu, museum pedagogue 2003–2012, member of the education board of the museum counsel

Is museum education educational entertainment like edutainment (education + entertainment) in English or rather a learning experience in the museum environment (Visnapuu 2009: 3, 49)? Is museum education informal  (learning in any vital and natural situation) or rather non-formal (targeted and partially structured and directed) learning? Several acknowledged museum specialists (Hooper-Greenhill 1996: 229; Hein 2002: 3; Kelly 2007: 2) have remarked that although museums’ prioritised development directions have varied throughout the time, it is the educational activity which has to be the most important today and justify its existence altogether.

When talking about the trends of in the museum education in Estonia, we should begin with the analysis or at least explanation of the term museum education in the context of our museums in general. How is the definition of the museum provided by ICOM interpreted and implemented by 250 different museums in Estonia today? Museum is an institution, which does not pursue economic income, operates continually, serves the society and its development, is open to the public, collects, stores and studies, mediates and expose material related to people and the environment on scientific, educational and entertainment purposes.


Virumaa Muuseumid: aastaringse haridusprogrammi  „Päritud aastaring” 2012/13 reklaam  sirvilaudade eeskujul.
Virumaa Muuseumid: a year-round educational program “Inherited circle of the year” 2012/13 advert in the form of the runic calendar.​
Museum education in Estonia today

In relation to the year of cultural heritage this year, other questions may also arise as follows: is the person, who visits museums in the ownership of the Estonian state by buying a ticket for the visitation or an educational program/lesson in the museum, a consumer of culture or a creator of culture; a bearer, a supporter or a user of the heritage? Ideally the content of the dialogue between museum workers and the members of the society has to give answers to the questions and the modernisation of everyday activity based on common standpoints or values. The debate cannot be conducted within the museum domain only because the topic of values is an issue in the Estonia society generally. The question also comprises issues like whether and how these debates take place, which kind of results are achieved and how clearly the activities proceeding from the debate results and output are observable.

Simple and clear measuring devices are numbers used in our pragmatic organisation of Estonian life and also in the reports submitted to the Ministry of Culture reflecting the work of museums. Numbers as numeric indicators express the number of visitors, show the number of museum lessons carried out, and activities – numbers are certain and real indicators, which can not be rejected. However, the figures in the annual report show the economic aspect at present or may be in the perspective of some years but not from the aspect of the a long-term perspective. Figures, even if they increase, do not give us a comprehensive overview whether all our 250 museums are going to be necessary and will serve the society in 10 and 20 years’ time. In additional to economic indicators it is much more complicated to measure the visitor’s quality time in the museum, which is definitely important but impossible to measure. I guess that the value of the content of the visitation is similar to the economic factors from the aspect of the sustainability of the museums. In other words – we can see the result of the museum education, based on mediation or communication, more clearly in the future than today.

Museum education in its informal and non-formal form is a part of the naturally rich life, which belongs to everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It is a closely-knit joint part of the education, culture and entertainment domain, museum education by nature is ambivalent, develops on its own and is marginal in its own way, a phenomenon cultivated and developed by a relatively small but rapidly developing community on the Estonian cultural and educational landscape. School education affected by the pressure for changes and the growing need for life-long education assume that museum education is a trend, which can support the domain of education on a wider basis. Semiotic Juri Lotman has said that something new and important in culture is probably created in marginal areas due to the contact points of different domains. I think that something similar is happening in the museum education today. The museum as an equal learning environment to the classroom has become a part of the new prepared national curriculum of comprehensive schools and the extension of the target groups of the museum education in the development strategy of Estonian museums, however, the practical aspect, including the content, know-how and material needs have to be implemented creatively by the people involved in the area or in other words by people working in the museums and schools, it is rather project-based than systematically supported by the state.

Concurrently, being independent in the structure of cultural institutions, standing all alone supplementing formal education, museum education continues school innovation introduced by a well-known Estonian pedagogue Johannes Käis with the principles of personally active work mode (Käis 1935: 3–6), which today are mostly known as learning by discovering. In a good museum lesson, similarly to the previous personally active and individual work mode, several subjects and methods of active learning are integrated; the learners are actively involved in activity and (communication) processes like conversation, discussion, teamwork, implementation of manual activities. The same applies to the free time programs targeted to adults, which main focus is on attractiveness and/or activity. The majority of people who visit museums during their free time find that during the visitation they have learned something new even when this has not been established as a direct goal (Visnapuu 2011: 38, 52). Museums are aware of the necessity to communicate with the visitors more actively to support all age groups in learning the cultural heritage and the creation of one’s own identity and development in the museum environment. In all museum activities, including entertainment, it is currently important to follow the principle that the museum as a memory institution is earnest and authentic (Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt 2009: 7). 

Töötuba Rannarootsi muuseumis, muuseumipedagoogide suvekool 2012
Workshop in Rannarootsi museum, summer school of museum pedagogues 2012
Key person on the educational landscape – museum pedagogue

One relevant person and the mediator of the museum as a memory institution in communication with the visitor is the person performing educational activity in the museum and mostly known as the museum pedagogue. Unfortunately, no better title in the Estonian language has been found yet. The assignments of the museum pedagogue may be performed by curators, research fellows, trainers, guides or supervisors, treasurers and museum managers. They are mostly people who know their area of expertise, want and can communicate with people like the majority of teachers/pedagogues. While according to the andragogue-theoretician Malcolm S. Knowles learning is considered to be art and science at the same time, then museum pedagogues are called “people of the Renaissance in the museum world” (Glaser & Zenetou 2004: 92), which proceeds from the variety of assignments of the museum pedagogues (see Visnapuu 2011: 27, 29). One may ask the question where such miraculous people may be found and how to prepare them for such work. At the present moment it is not possible to study and become a museum pedagogue in Estonia. The professional preparation of the 40 museum pedagogues working in Estonia at the moment is connected mostly with the certain specific domain of the museum, or history, ethnography, nature, art, literature, etc; more than half of the museum pedagogues have also pedagogical education (Uusmaa 2012: 56).

Based on the above-said it is understandable that the professional level of museum pedagogues, who work with different target groups use corresponding methods with different age groups might be uneven. The problem has to be dealt with from two aspects – from the viewpoint of teachers and the museum pedagogues. School teachers, who have visited museum lessons, have considered the availability of a good and smart museum specialist relevant if not the most important […] This factor often determines the successful visit to the museum (Uusmaa 2012: 80). Museum pedagogues are expected to manage different groups successfully, to know how to establish oneself, have a powerful voice and ability to present the material in an interesting way (Uusmaa 2012: 82).

Although the people working in museums and questioned within the framework of the Master’s thesis of Sireli Uusmaa, dealing with museum education and defended in the History Institute of Tallinn University, did not mention any problems with the increase of the qualification of work in their responses (Uusmaa 2012: 80), the need for educating museum pedagogues is clearly evident. In the written feedback of the summer school of museum pedagogues in September 2012, 31 respondents referred to the topics required for further training as follows:

  • Group of teenagers in the museum
  • Methodological devices in the museum
  • Teaching values
  • Integration of study programs
  • Voice as the means of work
  • Arrangement and marketing of culture, organisation of events
  • Creative activities
  • Developmental psychology
  • Problematic/hyperactive pupils in the museum
  • Involvement of volunteers
  • The unemployed in the museum
  • Programs for families
  • Inter-disciplinarity and integration of different institutions/target groups in the museum
  • Drama training
  • Simplified sign language
  • Making and retaining a contact with intellectually challenged people
  • Nature protection and environmental awareness

According to my opinion it is a substantial input into the curriculum of museum pedagogy – either for the (further) training of museum pedagogues or as an additional subject for future teachers. The feedback provided by museum pedagogues in regard to further training confirms that a museum pedagogue needs pedagogical training to work with different target groups (Uusmaa 2012: 74) and the need for more general training in museum education signals that on the other hand a teacher needs training in the museum if he/she wants to conduct a lesson in the museum (the same).

Museum pedagogy in universities

It is important that in some departments of Tallinn and Tartu Universities students studying for their degree have a possibility to become familiar with museum pedagogy. For examples, in the Art Institute of Tallinn University and in Estonian Art Academy students, who want to become art teachers can study museum pedagogy under the lead of Anu Purre within the mandatory didactics course in the curriculum and the partner and the practice base is the Estonian Art Academy with its affiliate branches. Results are noticeable – no other museum can compete with the education centre of KUMU yet although some developments can be noticed in other museums of Tallinn and Tartu. Attention should be drawn to the fact that more than half of the 43 respondents in Sireli Uusmaa’s survey are museum educators and have pedagogical education, and the majority of them have been educated as art teachers (Uusmaa 2012: 56).

In the History Institute of Tallinn University history students under the lead and supervision of Mare Oja deal with methodology of museum learning and bind the themes of history curriculum with the museum education. In the history department of Tartu University and Viljandi Cultural Academy it is possible to choose a course by Virve Tuubel dealing with communication of the museum pedagogy. In the teachers’ seminar of the Institute of Educational Sciences of Tartu University the topic of museum education is supervised by Inge Lembinen. According to my opinion museum pedagogy could and should be at least an optional course in all higher educational establishments preparing teachers and andragogues. Only then we can expect new museum pedagogues, school teachers, hobby club leaders or adult trainers, who have a special preparation and awareness for the cooperation with the museum for making teaching and learning more varied. I can see a certain perspective for cooperation with the museum and the basic school and the gymnasium within optional courses, one of which might be for example the development of local studies as a subject.

Munapüha veeremäng Rakvere Linnakodaniku majas, SA Virumaa Muuseumid
Game with Easter eggs in the Citizen’s House of Rakvere, SA Virumaa Muuseumid
About everyday work 

It is possible to perform good work with the obtained knowledge and skills irrespective of the size or location of the museum if one is really committed. We have reached the understanding within three years while working in the education board of the museum counsel as the representative of the museum education when reviewing museum lesson plans submitted to the contest. Although the level is relatively even, the outstanding museum lessons/programs involve conscious and creative activity, the skill to combine different teaching methods or where the tradition of museum education is consistent and cooperation in the museum better. In older museum and museums where the limits of the topics are more defined, the room for activity is narrower and museum lessons have to be adjusted to the existing expositions. It may be observed that educational activity is gaining advantages in museums, where expositions or museum buildings have been renovated recently. In addition to the museum environment modernised with contemporary means, the ideas and suggestions of museum pedagogues have been included in the creation of the general concept, which enables to communicate the museum as a memory institution to the visitors better. One example might be the original experiment in the building of the Great Guild in the Estonian History Museum, where in addition to the participation in the museum programs every visitor can discover and try out different things themselves.

The management of the museums should pay more attention to and support education domain and the creation of synergy among museum pedagogues either within the museum or between the museums. While the first museum pedagogue was employed in the Estonian Open-air Museum in 1994 (Veeremaa 2008: 22), then it is interesting to point out that several people among the developers and leaders of the museum learning have started their career in the open-air museum like Triin Siiner, Tanel Veeremaa, Maarja Kõuts and Nadežda Saar, who continue their work in other museums such as Estonian History Museum and the branches of the Tallinn City Museum.

Merike Lang – the director of the open-air museum has a leading role in the education board by the Estonian counsel of museums founded in 2009.


The representatives of the education board of the museum counsel participated in the discussion concerning the topic of education and training in the Estonian national Museum in the autumn of 2012. As the result, the training of museum workers is dealt with pursuant to need in cooperation with the Estonian Museum Society, the Estonian National Museum Department of Own Culture, The Centre of Folk Culture and the education board of the Estonian Museum Counsel. By now two summer schools for museum workers have taken place, focussing on grown up visitors and people with special needs in the museum. The summer school in Palamuse this year focused on the teenager as the visitor in the museum.

In addition to the systematic training for sustainable museum education, the establishment of the manner and place for the collection of the existing know-how is required. Whether it has to be connected with some museum or higher educational establishment is a theme for a wider discussion. Currently there is something at different locations and anyone who wants to get an overview of surveys about museum education in Estonia have to re-invent the bicycle when searching for sources. My suggestion is make the existing written materials electronically available on the web page of the Museum Society in the section of special literature, in which only a small fraction of all BA and MA reach papers concerning museum education defended in different establishments of higher education have reached.

Original sourse: http://blog.erm.ee/?p=1237


ICOM´i muuseumi definitsioon: http://www.muuseum.ee/et/organisatsioonid/icom__rahvusvahelin/icomi_muu…  [2013, jaan 03]

Glaser, J. R., Zenetou, A. (2004). Museums: A Place to Work: Planning Museum Careers. London and New York: Smithsonian Institution.

Hein, G. (2002). Learning in the Museum. London: Routledge.

Hooper- Greenhill, E. (1996). The Educational Role of the Museum. London and New York: Routledge.

Kelly, L. (2007). Visitors And Learners: Adult Museum Visitors’ Learning Identities. Paper presented at the ICOM-CEDA Conference November 2007, Vienna, Austria http://ceca.icom.museum/_dbase_upl/Kelly%20CECA%202007.pdf  [2011, mai 24]

Käis, J. (1935) Isetegevus ja individuaalne tööviis. Tee töökoolile VII. Võru: Pedagoogilise ühingu „Võru Seminar” väljaanne.

Pruulmann-Vengerfeldt, P. (2009). Mida muuseum müüb? – Muuseum 25: 5-8.

Uusmaa, S. (2012). Muuseum kui formaalharidust toetav õppekeskkond. [Magistritöö.] Tallinna Ülikool. Ajaloo Instituut. http://www.muuseum.ee/uploads/files/magistritoo_sireli_uusmaa.pdf  [2012, jaan 03]

Veeremaa, T. (2008). Culture-educational programs of museums: the necessities and possibilities of linking to state curriculum (Muuseumide haridusprogrammide vajadused ja võimalused riikliku õppekavaga sidumiseks). [Magistritöö.] Tallinn: Eesti Muusikaakadeemia.

Visnapuu, K. (2009). Muuseumipedagoogika võimalused formaalhariduse toetajana. [Bakalaureusetöö.] Tallinna Ülikool. Rakvere Kolledž. Õpetajakoolituse osakond. http://www.muuseum.ee/uploads/files/visnapuu_baka.pdf  [2012, jaan 03]

Visnapuu, K. (2011). Muuseumikeskkonna mõju täiskasvanu kogemustele ja õppimisele. [Magistritöö]. Tallinna Ülikool. Kasvatusteaduste Instituut. Andragoogika osakond. http://www.muuseum.ee/uploads/files/visnapuu_magtoo.pdf  [2012, jaan 03]







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