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Singapore classes explore museum mysteries

Update: September, 04/2015 - 12:16

Out of the classroom: Students from CHIJ Primary, a Catholic primary school in Singapore, visit the Peranakan Museum. Visiting museums has become a popular field trip activity for students.

by Khanh Linh

Koh Hui Hui, an eight-year-old schoolgirl, looks attentively at the portraits of the Chinese Peranakans displayed at the Peranakan Museum in Armenian Street.

"They are children of Chinese immigrants and our local Malaysian women. They are the pioneers who shaped the life and culture of Singapore," she said.

Hui Hui, student of CHIJ Primary, a Catholic primary school in Singapore, gave a brief introduction when asked about the portraits. Last time, she had come here with her parents who told her many stories about the Peranakans.

"I like this museum a lot. It's one of my favourite places," she added.

Opened in 2008, the Peranakan Museum has long been a must destination for locals and tourists. But over the past several years, it has become known as a good place for students undertaking outdoor activities in Singapore.

In Malay, Peranakan means 'child of' or 'born of' and is used to refer to people of mixed ethnic origins. Apart from a collection of the Peranakan portraits taken by a local photographer, the museum also features sparkling wedding jewellery a bride used to wear at her wedding.

Ashley Ann Teo, another student of the CHIJ Primary, said she was surprised that any bride tried to wear so much jewellery on her big day. The bride in those days must ensure that all her ten fingers were adorned with gold and diamond rings, and that both her arms were full of bracelets and bangles.

"It's all for luck," she said, adding, "It must be very heavy."

In the museum, there is a small area displaying beadwork and embroidery. A large piece of Peranakan beadwork made in the early 20th century is on display in the middle of the room. It was regarded as one of the best in the world, thanks to the composition of motif, colour and the skill employed in the execution of these motifs.

"It's beautiful," Ashley said, "They are skilful artisans."

While the Peranakan Museum is a place for primary students who are acquainted with museums, Singapore Art Museum (SAM) located in Bras Basah Road helps closely observe and showcases the contemporary art for older students.

The image of a group of school students sitting in front of an artwork, listening to their teachers and SAM staff has become quite familiar with visitors there. Figures from SAM showed that 28,128 students from more than 450 schools visited the museum last year while 14,910 students came on their own.

"Our educational programmes encourage students to explore the museum's exhibitions by feeling, experiencing and imaging about artworks," Tan Shir Ee, head of Programmes at SAM, said.

To encourage more students to undertake independent visits, she said SAM gives free access to both local and foreign students who are registered with local educational institutions. Free daily docent-led tours in English, Japanese and Mandarin language and many educational programmes are available for students without having to make any advance booking.

"They are first introduced to basic museum etiquette, so that they may enjoy their museum and learning experience while respecting the site, content and other visitors," she said.

 

Tactile learning: A group of secondary students sits in front of a contemporary art piece at the Singapore Art Museum. — VNS Photos Khanh Linh

Child-friendly place

Visiting a museum in Singapore is not all about arts and history. The 128-year-old National Museum of Singapore, the oldest building in the country, brings something more than a regular museum offers: a very own place for kids, right on the third floor of the building.

Boys can enjoy their 'on-screen' opportunities with a huge television in the living room or sit on the comfy chairs designed for their size while girls are happy messing about in the kitchen, embossing a picture of a Singapore dish such as ice kachang, roti prata, chill crab and nasi lemak.

When they become tired, a comfy tent located behind the kitchen would be an ideal choice as they can get to watch some short films on its ceiling.

On weekends, kids can do some art and craft in the gallery, which is designed to help them take their first steps towards museum-going and make the museum an interesting place for the kids.

Lilian Tan Wei Chuan, a parent of a five-year-old kid, said that she and her kid have been to this area since it opened last year.

"The ability to touch and handle the exhibits freely and independently excites him," she said, adding, "The area is even more suitable for two-year-old kids."

She said her boy liked the tent showcasing short films, and they usually spent half of the playing time there. However, she said, it seemed to her that it was like a preschool learning centre than a place where children could be enriched with knowledge about Singapore.

Chuan said she and her boy have been to the DDR museum in Berlin, focusing on German Democratic Republic's history and Kids Kingdom in the German Museum in Munich - a museum on science and technology.

"Both museums convey their messages effectively through their exhibits and displays. My boy enjoyed himself tremendously at both these places," she said.

Angelita Teo, director of the National Museum of Singapore, said it was time to create an immersive and interactive environment at museums for visitors.

"We've realised that visiting a museum is not about looking at the objectives and reading the description to understand the culture. It's about spending time together, especially for young people with their families," she said.

"It'll encourage them to return and visit the museum," she added. — VNS

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