Schools with a high number of socially or economically disadvantaged pupils are targeted. As this is a partnership with Swansea Council, we have benefited from the advice and support of local schools. Teachers decide which pupils, in their opinion, would most benefit. Though sadly, occasionally, parents will not allow children to visit despite the fact that transport and lunch are provided free of charge.
Fifteen children visit for two consecutive Saturdays and participate in various fun activities – taking the innards out of the ‘dummy-mummy’ is extremely popular. We also allow handling of real Egyptian objects, children go to ‘scribe school’ and write their names in hieroglyphs (some of these children cannot read or write English/Welsh), Egyptian mathematics is taught, etc. There are a number of craft activities and the resultant objects can be taken home.
At the end of the two days there is the presentation ceremony. Friends and relatives are invited and each child has a moment of glory as s/he publicly collects a certificate proving status as a ”Young Egyptologist”. Many of these children, and their carers, have never set foot in a museum before, let alone a university museum. However, initial apprehension is soon overcome by the children’s excitement.
Our aim is to improve literacy and numeracy but most importantly to build confidence. Child friendly questionnaires and anecdotal letters are used in evaluation. We received correspondence from one teacher stating that a particular child’s attitude to learning had changed so dramatically that she was now giving class talks on Egyptology and researching the subject in her own time!
Since we fundraise to continue these activities, Egypt Centre staff have been arranging cake sales, jumble sales, Charity Conferences and even cycling along the banks of the Nile in the Nile Cycle Challenge.
Last but not least, what do we do for the academic community? We do all the usual museum things of allowing access to objects, answering public enquiries, organising talks, conferences, etc. A digital catalogue was begun in 1998 and now has over 4000 items listed, a number of artefacts have been published by external scholars and artefacts can be viewed online. We have worked with the Department of Mathematics on a maths exhibition. We also work with the Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology in delivering their Egyptology classes and recently have provided an MA museology module in Museums and the Interpretation of Egyptology. Conferences and seminars have also been arranged, a number of which take place as part of the Friend’s events. We passionately believe in the value of object-centred learning. At the very least students who are able to handle and use real Egyptian objects are enthused about the topic in a way which is not possible simply by book reading. Since the opening of the Egypt Centre, Egyptology in Swansea University has developed enormously. We have also had a number of Swansea student volunteers from various academic departments who have gone on to gain paid employment in other museums.
Thus, the Egypt Centre is much more than simply a collection of Egyptian artefacts held for the delight of a few experts. Like a number of other museums we feel that artefacts can be used as a basis for improving the lot of a great many individuals.