Sunday, 5 April 2015

SIGNtific at The Science Museum, London

We were lucky to time our visit to the Science Museum just right. On a trip to the museum with my two youngest siblings (Abraham, 6 and Essam, 5), we were invited in to one of the Science Museum's SIGNtific sessions.

SIGNtific is a wonderful series of projects and events led by deaf presenters using BSL accompanied by speaking interpreters. This particular event was a storytelling session called The Real McCoy, told by the hilarious Deepa, and her interpreter Bibi. A handful of tots, from 18 months to 7 years, piled into the 'Launchpad Briefing Room' and were a flurry of excitement and forward-rolls on the laid out cushions as they waited for the story to start.

An introduction to the session included a wonderful explanation about Deepa's deafness and Bibi's role -sitting at the back, Bibi would be interpreting, but they would be Deepa's words and Deepa's questions. Deepa then told the story of Elijah McCoy and his invention of the oil cup, wrapping it up with an image of the gigantic Mill Engine, laden with oil cups, which sits in one of the museum's main halls.

Outreach projects such as SIGNtific are absolutely invaluable to the education of children up and down the country. Not only was this 15-minute storytelling a brilliant way to engage children with a feat of engineering and human invention, it educated practically and socially about deafness and sign-language. It's very likely that the majority of the children taking part in SIGNtific events have also watched a fair amount of Something Special in their time, whether hearing loss is part of their day-to-day life or not. A basic understanding of BSL, furthered by conscious efforts such as SIGNtific will begin to foster understanding and inclusion not often seen within modern day mainstream education.

Far too excited for an actual photo...
British schools fail children, with subjects being dominated almost exclusively by white, able-bodied men. It's very worth noting therefore that the session was inclusive and diverse in a whole manner of other ways - a deaf, Asian woman, telling a story about a black man's engineering achievements at a time rife with slavery. A 15-minute storytelling it may have been, but outreach projects such as this have a certain responsibility for 
representation which school curriculum ignore.

It's joyous to see such brilliant programmes put together to inspire learning and understanding on such a multitude of levels - it's even better to see how fixed and involved each child was. On our morning de-brief the next day, it was clear my brothers had hung onto every word, remembered every sign, and had a very clear understanding of who was telling the story.

A huge attraction and educational institution, the Science Museum has budgets, facilities, worldwide connections and 100s of staff to play with - yet all the session needed to be was a few people, a few silly hats and a PowerPoint presentation. Resources and funding can be a huge struggle for educational, arts and heritage sites everywhere, but developing participation and outreach events need to be considered as integral projects, and the Science Museum are an excellent example of doing that right.