Earth is Also a Star: Tin Marín Museo de los Niños

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I’ve always believed education to be the key when working towards the improvement of the world. Education provides the tools that we can use to build the better future we envision for ourselves and for our societies, creating paths and opening doors that help us achieve whatever we set our minds to.

I believe that investing in education for younger generations can be crucial in determining the future of a nation and its people, as we’re often told that children are the future. It is because of this that I decided to do my summer internship at Tin Marín Museo de los Niños (Tin Marin Children’s Museum) in El Salvador.

The museum was inaugurated on October 28, 1999, as a private non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the education, culture, and development of children through innovative and non-formal educational strategies. Since I was born in late 1998, I was able to grow up alongside the museum, which became an integral part of my life and one of the places I remember most fondly when thinking about my childhood in El Salvador. Casual visits, birthday parties, school trips – all of these I would look forward to knowing I would be headed to the magical place that was Tin Marin.

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This year, the museum will celebrate its 19th anniversary, having remained true to its mission from the start: contributing to the education of children and their companions to form integral and creative citizens through meaningful learning, cultural orientation, and fun experimentation with integrity, innovation, respect, and teamwork. The museum’s vision is also being met, as they strive to become the favorite, cultural, and fun space for children where they can learn and enjoy unique, exciting, and unforgettable experiences. Through this, the museum aims to be crucial protagonists in the development of the salvadoran youth’s personal, family, school, and social levels.

Today, the museum hosts 34 permanent exhibits that cover 5 different areas of learning: health, expression and communication, science and technology, environment, and culture. One of the permanent exhibits is El Mariposario (The Butterfly House), which hosts 16 different species of butterfly, where children can learn about the metamorphosis of a butterfly and how butterflies signify a healthy ecosystem. Another is La Cama de Clavos (The Bed of Nails), where children can lie on a bed composed of 1,500 iron nails and learn about different concepts of physics. El Mercado de Don Emprendedor (Mr Entrepreneur’s Market) is where children can shop for pupusas, milk, flowers, and more, and where they learn different mathematical concepts as well as enterprise skills. El Avión (The Airplane) teaches children about air travel at the museum’s small airport, and allows them to board the front half of a real Boeing 727-100 that was donated to the museum by the exhibit sponsors. Because the museum is a non-profit organization, all exhibits are sponsored by different private organizations that help fund and maintain them.

 

Along with the permanent exhibits, the museum also hosts different educational workshops as well as temporary international exhibits. The museum’s workshops include a Bubble Workshop, where children learn how to form different kinds of bubbles with special tools, a Recycling Workshop, where kids children learn how to make their own recycled paper, an Arts Workshop, where they can make art projects out of recycled materials, a Debate Workshop, where they learn the basic principles of debating for and against different topics, and a Science Workshop, where they can perform different simple experiments. The museum’s temporary exhibits are also quite varied, ranging from animatronic dinosaurs in their 2017 exhibit Mundosaurio, live farm animals in La Granja (The Farm), different reptiles in Reptilandia, and their current exhibit: Castillos y Dragones (Castles and Dragons), where visitors can see different animatronic dragons and learn about those mythological creatures.

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My first experience at the museum more recently, when I considered myself too old for the museum, was when I was sent work at the museum in 2014 as a part of my school’s work experience week. During this week, 9th grade students were sent out to different organizations related to different fields they were considering as career options for a 5-day internship. Myself and two other students were introduced to the Volunteer Guides program at the museum, where we worked as educational guides and helped give explanations and tours to visitors. While short, that experience was one that I really enjoyed and felt myself wanting to repeat. The program itself was quite small at the time, and I never could have imagined how much it would evolve in the following four years by the time I started my latest internship.

The Volunteer Guides Program as it is today is open mainly to highschool and university students, who serve as educational guides and help organize workshops and activities for visitors of the museum. The Guide’s role is to contribute actively to the education of Salvadoran children and youth, through an innovative method that allows the volunteer to acquire skills and abilities with a cultural orientation. It will allow you to create a real impact on Salvadoran children and youth, and at the same time obtain personal and professional growth.

The program itself is divided into different sections, that ultimately hold the same role at the museum but give different opportunities to those involved. The first branch is the Volunteer branch, where people can choose to help out at the museum out of their own accord for the experience. The next is the Social Service branch, where high school and university students can complete their national requirement of 150 hours of social service to obtain their high school graduation diploma, or up to 500 hours of social service for their university degree. This consists of a large part of the program, followed by the Scholarship branch. This branch provides those involved opportunities to obtain scholarships to help fund either their university studies, or language studies to help further their career. The final branch of the program is the Seminar branch, which started earlier this year and is about to finish its second round. This branch allows people to sign up for an educational seminar about leadership and entrepreneurship, and asks participants to contribute to the museum with a few shifts as guides.

In order to apply to any of these programs, the participants must first pass through the audition and training process. The first step is the audition, where volunteers must present themselves and participate in different dynamics that help situate them in the mindset of a volunteer guide. They must also present a game of their own and interact with the other people auditioning. Through this process, their dynamism and innovativeness is tested, as well as their interaction skills. Once they pass the audition process, they’re inducted into the training program where they are presented with 7 different exhibits from the museum. The participants then have one week to learn and memorize the information from these exhibits using the guide scripts, and they must present the 7 exhibits they were given themselves to the evaluators. If they pass this evaluation, they must then accompany official museum guides on 3 guided tours to get a feel of the job while having direct interaction with children from school groups or family visits. After this, they are officially integrated into the Volunteer Guides Program.

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Over the past month, I was able to contribute to the museum as a Volunteer guide but also help out with the Social Projection program at the museum, where they manage and control the logistical aspects of the Volunteer Guides Program, as well as help organize and record school group visits, attendance, seminar development, and more. They also help keep track of those involved in the Audition and Training programs, making sure that everyone is progressing at the right pace, as well as working on outreach to get more people involved in the program. The current project is that of their temporary exhibit – Castillos y Dragones – where the museum will include night shift options as opposed to only morning and afternoon.

I am incredibly grateful to have had this opportunity, as the museum turned out to be so much more than I remembered it being. I got to re-live my childhood through the children that I gave tours to. I gained a second family in the group of guides who welcomed me into the program with open arms. I was able to appreciate the effort and dedication that goes on behind the museum front with all the organization that goes on. I learned so much from the multiple exhibits that the museum holds. This experience is something that I’ll carry close to my heart for the rest of my life, and I can’t wait to go back whenever I have the opportunity to do so.

If you’re ever in El Salvador, be sure to stop by Tin Marín for a visit, regardless of your age. The museum has something to offer for absolutely everyone, from toddlers to grandparents, teenagers to adults. We are all young at heart, and this museum is the perfect reminder of that.

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China: Is Our School Life Heaven or Hell?

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Like many other countries, China takes education seriously. In China, we normally have a six-year primary school, followed by a three-year middle school (Junior) and a three-year high school (Senior) before we finally enter college. Many differences between China and other countries may be found throughout these twelve years.

 

Why heaven? School life in China brings its teens a lot of good qualities!

Team spirit: We Chinese like to emphasize the conception of a team. While many foreign schools allow their students to choose their lessons themselves and therefore, be put in different classes with different classmates, it doesn’t apply to most of Chinese schools. We have certain schedules and are supposed to stay in a certain classroom, together with certain classmates. So the conception of a “team”, or in this situation, a “class”, seems to be much more important, for we spend a lot of time with our mates. Almost every teacher in Chinese schools considers ‘class-building’ as a hard but unavoidable task. So do we, the students. We study together, exercise together, eat in our school dining room chatting with others. The time spent together strengthens our relationships. Classmates are also our great friends. Even after many years pass, students may keep in touch with their previous classmates.

To improve students’ team spirit, many school activities are held in the name of the class, such as the annual celebration of New Year, which encourages students to make performances in their class and have fun together. There are also some activities for which classes compete against each other, such as our Art Festival, Technology Festival and sports meeting. Winners of such activities are often announced as “Class One” or “Class Two” instead of their names, even if the victory is due to only one student.

While fully respecting every individual, we have to acknowledge the great importance of team. All the wonderful achievements in China today rely on a team of people devoted to the group.

 

Discipline: Chinese schools especially emphasize students’ sense of discipline. It doesn’t mean we need to live as soldiers, but means that we have a much stricter code of conduct to obey, especially in those famous schools. This code of conduct aims to instruct students about what is good and what is bad, how to do things correctly when we are still young and easily misled by others. We are supposed to follow it exactly, in order to grow to be a better person.

Military training is a necessary part in almost every Chinese middle schools, high schools and colleges, often before new students start their new school life. It is held in a special base, not real army, but by real soldiers. During these days students are required to learn some basic skills like goose step. But the most important thing is that students can learn discipline and tenacity from a-week-or-more training. These qualities are thought to be significant in study and in daily life.

 

Depth of knowledge: Chinese students usually have nine main subjects (including Chinese, mathematics, English, physics, chemistry, biology, politics, history and geography) and several other subjects (such as music, art, physical education and computer). Before going to college and choosing a specific major, we have to study all these subjects. Because of that, we Chinese students can grasp comprehensive knowledge during middle school and high school.

Chinese courses are generally more difficult than in many other countries. For example, in Australia, when students learn conic curve, they merely know its definition. However, in China, the use of some relevant theorems is more important. Generally speaking, Chinese students learn much more difficult things than some others’.

 

Why hell? Breaking off teenagers’ wings

Utilitarianism: Chinese education is often called an ‘exam-oriented education’. This nickname is a typical expression of the utilitarianism in the education practice.

Here’s a typical situation as an example. Qian Liqun, one of the most famous professors in Peking university, once taught a session named “Selected readings of Lu Xun” in a famous high school. But then, he found that only twenty students came, for the reason that “We wouldn’t have disliked coming to your class, but it was not relevant for Gaokao (college  entrance examination), so we’d rather get infos on Peking university at first and then come to listen to your class”

To get a higher mark in the college entrance examination, students have to give up on their own interests and only focus on studying mandatory courses. In my school, most of the books are forbidden when we are in third grade, because the books are seen as a waste of time, no matter how fantastic they are are. Also,most of the students only have to worry about their school work, so they rarely get part-time job when they are young. Nor are they devoted to social or volunteer work, which makes them lack some basic and essential skills when they grow up and get to work.

Even more: Chinese children, especially children in primary school, also study many extra skills such as music, drawing, dancing. However most of them do not study for fun or to follow their hearts, but according to their parents expectation of upward mobility.

Most of the time, what the students study and know is not what they like; what has a tremendous importance is not what they need. The society never needs a worker who only knows how to work out a mathematic problem, but doesn’t know how to live and work with other people.

 

Simplification: In Chinese middle school, we hardly have any optional courses, and because of the existence of the settled class, all of us get the same knowledge. The single examination system also limits students’ horizons. In China, there is a vivid metaphor: our middle school education is just like an assembly line, producing the exactly same product, not taking care of the personality at all!

On the other hand, in a couple of top-range middle schools, there are abundant clubs and school activities prepared for students. But we also have to admit that the clubs are virtually imaginary in a certain sense, for students have few breaks and time to organize various activities, and the school activities are limited to a number of traditional ones (such as reciting, singing, sports meetings and so on). Most of these activities are still team work and lack demonstrations of any personal ability.

The homework we are given is also a reason why we can talk about simplification. Unlike some European and American countries, there is no essay to write in our middle school homework, but fixed subject. Even Chinese compositions, the one task that can best reflect one’s theoretical thinking, also have many fixed routines. Therefore, Chinese middle school students easily lack personal analytical and thinking skills.

So when everyone learns the same courses’ content, reads the same books, does the same exercises everyday, how can our education raise skilled people who love the field they’ll be working in and are good at it? 

 

Harm: The harm caused by education in China is divided into two aspects: physical and mental.

Long hours of study have seriously affected the health of Chinese students. In China, due to the serious pressure of competition, most of the students have to work more than 16 hours a day. For example, in our school, we have to go to school at 6:50, and go back home at 23:30. Many students still can’t finish their homework at that time, so after they get back home, they still have to work many more hours. “Sleep only five hours” is a typical thing people in grade three can be told, because it is an evidence of dedication and in some cases, it can lead to better grades. But apparently, chronic lack of sleep and physical exercise can do great harm to health. In a general way, high school graduates are always in poor health. (We have a joke that says: every student in grade 3 will gain more than ten pounds!)

Distorted competition regimes and excessive pressure can also be the cause of many psychological problems. “Every senior grade 3 student cries at least once a year “. More seriously, some students develop autism or anorexia. Some students only consider their grade and are never curious towards the outside world. They even think that chatting with others is a waste of time. It’s a vicious circle: they become more and more asocial, and without necessary communication, the pressure on their shoulders becomes heavier; so they see, even more, their grades as a reflection of their own value as an individual. And once they loose the competition, their mental state will sharply deteriorate.

 

Education is a thing that has its good and bad sides but can hardly be evaluated fairly. Many Chinese parents hate the education they have gone through, so they spare no effort to send their own kids abroad. But there also rumors that some schools in Britain and America want to introduce Chinese textbooks to their class. Actually, the evaluation of education can never be separated from the conditions of the country. What’s the special national conditions of China? It is huge and has a large population. There is an obvious gap in economy, society and population quality and therefore, education. The normal solution in some developed countries now seems unfair in China. Some provinces, that have a better environment and better opportunities, are much better in education without doubt, which is also unfair for those who live in mountainous areas. Also, there are a huge number of graduates every year. Only in Shaanxi, my province, the number of high school graduates goes up to 268,000. A universal examination may then appear to be a convenient way to deal with the problem. School life in China today is then merely decided by the way colleges choose their students.

Twelve years have passed. Now, when I look back to the life I have had these years, I can’t say whether they were good or bad. They are memories. How many twelve years will we have? Eight? Nine? No more than ten. These years were, at the utmost, 10% of my lifetime. And no matter whether they were heaven or hell, they are a precious period of time in our life, that make us the people we are today. School life in China is far away from perfect. We are still trying to improve it. But more important, it is neither heaven nor hell: it is memory, or rather, life.

 

Written by Yihan Liu, Keeper of China

Photo credits: http://shsworldstudies.blogspot.com