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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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Educational Work by Museums

Educational work for children was first instituted in Wellington (1917) and Auckland (1929). This developed into a system of class visits for specific lessons and, in Auckland, into the preparation of small, easily transported cases containing museum exhibits to be circulated amongst schools. Prior to 1937 museum staff members were responsible for organising such work and actually teaching the visiting classes. During 1937, with considerable financial support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a pilot scheme was instituted in the four main museums. From 1941 Carnegie support ceased and the scheme, now well established, became a part of the regular education system of New Zealand. In its present stage two trained teachers, attached to their respective teachers' training colleges, are based upon each of the four metropolitan museums. These teachers organise class visits to museums, the lessons in general being related to topics from the school syllabus, and involve studying and in many cases handling museum objects. The teachers are assisted by training college students who are attached to museums for teaching practice. This enables visiting classes to be split into relatively small groups, a factor of advantage both to visiting children and to teachers in training. Detailed procedures differ from museum to museum, but the emphasis in general is upon active participation by children wherever possible and the stimulation of young minds by the products of nature and the achievements of other civilisations.

The development of this system in New Zealand has been a pioneer experiment which has excited interest overseas. The use of student teachers, which has allowed young teachers to try out different techniques in dealing with small groups, has also meant that children have received what amounts to individual attention during museum visits. In addition, a large number of teachers in New Zealand schools have done some teaching in a museum as part of their training (some 370 in a single year). Thus the teaching service is gradually being pervaded by teachers who have personal knowledge of the ways in which museum displays can be used to supplement and stimulate more formal classroom practice. The practice of seconding education officers to the staffs of museums, while retaining their affiliation with the education boards, has meant that the system has been very largely integrated with the whole primary education programme.

One activity of the education service has been the development of methods of taking the museum to the schools. The most usual method has been the regular circulation of small cases containing actual museum specimens and explanatory notes. These cases have been designed to be used by the class teacher as the basis for a lesson and may be accompanied by more detailed teaching notes. These cases are circulated particularly amongst country schools where classes have little opportunity to visit a museum. A large proportion of such New Zealand schools is now included in this service. One museum is using a truck to carry mobile exhibits to smaller centres, this being treated as a museum extension service intended primarily for adults. In the smaller museums class visits are often organised by the local education board nature study specialist, or they may be taken for special topics by museum staff members.

Practically all New Zealand museums are display museums, that is, part of their collections are on permanent display and available to the public. Most maintain reference collections of one sort or another, although true research collections of any size are mainly confined to the larger institutions. Research work is possible only in the main city museums where professional full-time staff with specialist training are available. The volume and quality of research carried out in New Zealand museums is very high. Three museums publish their own scientific records and monographic series, and many papers by museum workers are published in a wide variety of scientific journals.

The establishment of the Art Galleries and Museums Association of New Zealand (A.G.M.A.N.Z.) in 1947 gave the museums of this country a professional organisation which has provided a framework for cooperation and interchange of ideas. Normal membership is channelled into the two classes of institutional and ordinary membership so that association meetings provide a forum for members of governing bodies, the working staffs of museums at all levels, as well as past members of the museum movement. The objects of A.G.M.A.N.Z., in short, are to raise the standard of service given by museums, to encourage the spread of knowledge of museum activities and skills, to try to raise the status, qualifications, and remuneration of staff, and to arrange courses of instruction and conferences upon museum matters. As a mark of recognition for service to museums and art galleries, the association awards fellowships to officers fulfilling certain service and attainment qualifications (F.M.A.N.Z.).

The association holds conferences in different museum centres every two years, a practice which has provided a valuable stimulus for staff members and for the respective museums visited. The normal day by day activities of the association are conducted by an elected council which, among other functions, is at present administering a scheme of travelling fellowships financed by a grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation. Grants to A.G.M.A.N.Z. for general purposes are also made by the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council.

by Richard Kenneth Dell, B.A., DIP.ED., D.SC., Assistant Director, Dominion Museum, Wellington.

  • Guide to the Art Galleries and Museums of New Zealand, Art Galleries and Museums Association of New Zealand (1958).