Monthly Archives: February 2014

Hauz Khaz village and Dharavi experience: Study India Programme

I first fell in love with India when I was back home, through the novels of a great Romanian religion historian and philosopher, Mircea Eliade. In his novels he portrayed a magical land, India that he adored so much.

My journey to, through and from the Pearl of the British Empire does not begin in a port, like it did for the aforementioned author, but at an airport. As we arrived in Delhi I was greeted by a swirl of sensations and newly found emotions that shook me down to the core. In the monsoon heat of the first morning in India, we set out to see New Delhi for the first time and were greeted by a noisy, fast-paced and wonderful city.

One of the highlights of the Delhi leg of my stay was at the British Council for a session regarding their mission in India and a meeting with Sam Miller. From the latter I collected a couple of quotes (about his life in India) that will stay with me for the next years at university : “I write why I try to understand why I think what I think” and “I am for better or for worse, distinctive.

The next part of the journey was a visit to the Hauz Khas village. Watching the sun set, being the witness to the gold rays on the dusty red ruins of the fort overwhelmed me. Time came to a standstill and the world was in absolute equilibrium. It is there that I met an old Sikh with his grey beard, white turban and ebony staff. He approached me while my eyes were arrested by the scenic lake and his simple ways struck a chord deep within me. We were both looking out at the dusk and he just smiled and waved his hand across the landscape seeming to say “See, this is my home, see how beautiful it is!” I was moced to tears and the only thing I could say was “It is so beautiful, is it not”? Of this I’m sure that he didn’t know what I said, but he surely understood the instant connection. It is this that mad my tryst in India an extraordinary one.

This hectic day concluded with us getting lost on our way to a Hindu temple where we took part in a ritual where we were blessed by Brahmins (pandits), the entire experience having a calming effect on me.

It was a day full of excitement and new experiences on cultural, spiritual, historical levels.The effect of the mantras chanted by the priests lingered long after the ritual ended. We wandered around the surroundings as the sun set and the final bell rang for chants to begin.

Mumbai trip culminated with the most extraordinary visit to the largest slum in Asia, Dharavi. The experience left me speechless and during my time there I barely spoke a couple of words, except for questions to our tour guide from Reality, an NGO that uses 80 per cent of its profits to implement social programs in the slum.

Our visit coincided with the first day of the 10-day festival dedicated to lord Ganesh, the god with a head of an elephant and protector of all things. The tour of the slum is an experience I will never forget and it changed the way I look at the commodities of modern life back home. Strolling along the narrow and dark paths of the slum, taking sneak peeks through flowery curtains into the life of the people living there and watching through open doors how they work, live and love has been a most enlightening happening.

It was shattering to see the happiness of the children that we engaged with in small conversations on side streets and their eagerness to say a simple “Hello”. But what touched me the most was their perseverance, their genuine belief that if they work hard enough, not they, but their children or grandchildren will have the chance for a better life.

Dharavi cannot be described or truly depicted in words; it is a swirl of activity, joy, sadness and hope. It is so overwhelming for outsiders through the reality that it paints that you seem to be part of a story, not reality. A story where people can live and work in the same 4 square metre room, where the entire neighbourhood celebrate their God in unison, where children still know how to enjoy childhood games and where every couple of feet you are greeted with a warm smile.

Everyone has something to learn and take back home from Dharavi. It is here that you are stripped down to your soul and drawn into a whirlwind of emotions, sensations and ideas. Dharavi is where efficiency, entrepreneurship and empathy meet; it is a tightly knit community before it is anything else.


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Inclusion key to museum success

Indian Museum Kolkata

The Indian Museum Kolkata is celebrating 200 years

Who is the museum for? Is it for scholars or students, for historians or curators, for out-station visitors or those living in the city? And casting the net a little wider who should run a museum? Is it the domain of a historian, a curator, an educator, a marketer or a designer?

Just some of many questions around people and inclusion that kept arising at the two-day conference on Strategic Transformations: Museums in 21st Century held in Kolkata. The conference coincided with the bicentennary celebrations of the Indian Museum in Kolkata.  Representatives of UK museums who took part in the discussions shared their perspectives on people and their role in museums, and museums and their connection with people.

For museums to transform it was essential for them to involve a range of professionals and not just curators, said Mark Taylor, Museums Association Director. “It is individuals from a range of professions, from accountants to PR to education, retail and marketing. And even the curators have to adapt, have to develop a greater range of competencies over and above simply academic knowledge of the collections.” His talk on Transforming people to transform museums can be downloaded here.

To attract a range of people to museums it was important for them to connect with people, highlight and discuss issues that were relevant to them. “Museums can highlight contemporary issues and trace their history. At the V&A we have even developed a rapid response collection, which allows us to raise debates on contemporary issues,” said Martin Roth, at a panel discussion. The strategy is to collect objects as soon as they become newsworthy, to reflect the way global events influence society.

Technology was also responsible for transforming museums, making them more accessible to people, even those outside their walls. Carolyn Royston, digital head of the Imperial War Museums spoke at length about attracting audiences online. “Many visit us online and then come into our museums. We’ve seen a massive change in online activity in the last five years, and we are now open 24×7 through our online presence. People interact with us commenting on our online collections, contributing comments.”

A museum is no longer a collection of artefacts and objects lined up for display. Collections now have to be curated to speak to people, be relevant to contexts local and global, and allow people to form a close connection with what they experience. And museums in the 21st century seem to be gearing up to that challenge — to be of the people, by the people and for the people.

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Live webcast: Teacher Educator Conference 2014 from Hall G01/02

Watch live webcast from Hall no 1

Day 1: Friday, 21 February 2014

11.45 – 13.00 The Impact of Using Evaluation Criteria on Writing Performance: a Study of Pre-Service English Teachers, Lina Mukhopadhayay & Geetha Durairajan
14.00 – 14.30 Reciprocal Teaching in a Pre-Service Teacher Education Context, Susmita Pani
14.45 – 15.15 Innovations in Pre-Service Second Language Teacher Education for Elementary Level in West Bengal, Kuheli Mukherjee
17.00 – 18.00 Feedback and Self-reflection: Equal Partners?, Elaine Boyd (Trinity College London)

Day 2, Saturday, 22 February 2014

10.15 – 11.15 Co-development for Continuing Professional Development of English Language Teachers and Professionals, Nivedita Bedadur & Vijayalakshmi K
12.00 – 13.00 Shaping the Way We Teach: from Observation to Action, Diane Millar
14.00 – 15.00 When Mentoring Works: Participation, Relationship Building and Sustainability in Borneo, Vanessa Lee
17.00 – 18.00 Learning Oriented Assessment: How Assessment can Promote Learning, Angela ffrench (Cambridge English Language Assessment)

Day 3, Sunday, 23 February 2014

10.15 – 11.15 TeachingEnglish Radio India: Self Access and Collaborative Resources for Developing Teachers’ Understanding of Learner-centred Methodologies, Rustom Mody and Amy Lightfoot
12.00 – 13.00 Digital Literacy/Pedagogy: Will the Twain’s Meet?  Atanu Bhattacharya
14.00 – 15.00 Critical reflection for CPD: Using the SOAP Strategy to Analyze Pedagogical Experience, Padmini Boruah
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Live webcast: Teacher Educator Conference 2014 from Hall 1

View live webcast from Hall no G01/G02

Day 1: Friday, 21 February 2014

09:30 – 10:00 Inauguration
Sir James Bevan, British High Commissioner to India
Rob Lynes, Minister of Cultural Affairs, British Council India
Sunaina Singh, Vice-Chancellor English and Foreign Languages University (EFL-U), Hyderabad
Paul Gunashekar, Dean, English Language Education, EFL-U
Sanjay Arora, English Language Teachers’ Association of India (ELTAI)
George Pickering, International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL)
Chair: Michael Connolly, Assistant Director, English Partnerships
10:00 – 11:10 Key Note Address: Teacher Research for Professional Development, Simon Borg
11:10 – 11:15 Address by Andrew McAllister Deputy British High Commission, Hyderabad
11:15 – 11:45 Networking and coffee/tea break
11.45 – 13.00 Teaching English in Large Classes: An Enhancement Approach to Research and Teacher Development, Richard Smith
14:00 – 15:15 The Pedagogy of Collaboration: Teaching Effectively with Evolving Technologies, Dawn Bikowski
15:45 – 16:45 Panel discussion: Do all experiences lead to learning/reflection?
Panel: Rama Mathew, Vanessa Lee, Padmini Boruah, Jacob Tharu. Chair: Paul Gunashekar
17.00 – 18.00 Road to IELTS:  Integrating online resources into IELTS preparation, Louisa Dunne
18:15 – 19:15 OUP sponsored Debate: This house believes that new learning technologies exclude teachersProposers: Geetha Durairajan & George Pickering. Opposers: Nicky Hockly & Atanu Bhattacharya.Chair: Graham Hall

Innovation in English Language Teacher Education

Post By: Annie Besant

The Teacher Educator Conference 2014 shifted into top gear with a plethora of views, quotes and opinions on technology and what it means for teachers and educators. Speaking on Innovation – the theme of this year’s conference – Michael Connolly, Assistant Director, English Partnerships, British Council India, quoted Irish avant-garde novelist Samuel Beckett: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’ Beckett’s thoughts, perhaps, crisply reflect the conundrum teachers and educators face when embracing and implementing new technology within traditional teaching contexts.

Building on this idea, Professor Paul Gunashekar, Dean, English Language Education,English and Foreign Languages University (EFL-U), said that ‘choosing innovation’ as TEC-14s central theme was to provide practices, skills and strategies to deploy to solve common classroom problems.

This was stressed upon by Rob Lynes, Minister of Cultural Affairs, British Council India, who said, ‘innovation is not simply advanced technology…it’s about people, teachers, administrators and academics.’ In his address to over a 1,000 delegates, he expressed his view that everyone has a responsibility to put aside fears and encourage new ways of teaching. He reiterated that ‘innovations are not bright ideas alone but the nitty-gritty of practice, feedback and taking risks, which also means being prepared to fail.’ Rob Lynes’s keywords to the audience were share and collaborate.

Speaking further on the importance of innovation in education was Professor Sunaina Singh, Vice Chancellor, EFL-U. She opined that it was important to focus on how a teacher could transform or innovate oneself before bringing new ideas into the classroom. Professor Singh clearly outlined the need to reinvent and remodel teacher education if new practices in language learning were to be established. She cautioned that a loss of language entails a loss of culture.

Professor Santosh Panda, Director, IGNOU, India, added that it was important to help teachers transform themselves by pointing out that ‘a culturally wrought change in the entire teaching processes’ was the need of the hour. He mused that teaching is often a creative process, but that learning needs engagement, practice and context that is cultural.

These cumulative opinions on the need for innovation in English Language Teacher Education marks the beginning of what is slated to be three-days of presentations, workshops, debates and networking by over a 1,000 teachers and educators at the Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre Hotel in HITECH City.

Should teachers turn researchers?

Post by: Annie Besant

Simon Borg, visiting professor of TESOL at the University of Leeds, and ELT consultant-at-large, delivered a seminal keynote address at the Teacher Educator Conference 2014.

His presentation, titled ‘Teacher Research for Professional Development’, looked at whether teachers should also be researchers. Teacher research, according to Simon, is a practical strategy because it focuses on pedagogical issues. It enables teachers to study student engagement related questions, and understand and improve teaching as well as learning.

Moreover, in his view, teacher research is a holistic strategy for professional development because it’s an ongoing process; one that allows teachers to constantly stay connected to their learning.

Simon’s presentation struck a chord with speakers and panellists who echoed his thoughts in other sessions during the course of the day. To see his full presentation on teacher research, click here

The Guide to Creating Meaningful Online Professional Development Courses

Post by: Annie Besant

Tim Herdon, Senior Teacher Trainer at Oxford University Press, chose for his session at TEC-14 what is probably one of the most debated topics in ELT: Creating meaningful and stimulating online professional development courses.

‘One of the biggest problems with online courses is the dropout rate,’ he quipped as he swiftly explained to the audience the various ways to deliver online courses. He also candidly admitted that the twin obstacles to designing online courses are partly technological and mainly financial.

Elaborating on what e-learning actually entails, he said that “e-learning is exactly like any other kind of learning in three fundamental aspects: Value, engagement and impact.” He touched upon why it was crucial to offer value at the beginning and at the end of the task. Using metaphors, he illustrated that people want value within a framework and that there should be clear frames of reference for activating and sustaining interest.

Since its inception four years ago, TEC-14 has stimulated discussions and debates that are often out of the purview of the common classroom. To know more, join us here #ELTChat

Simplifying Shakespeare in the Classroom – Yea or Nay?

Post by: Annie Besant

Anyone who studied Shakespeare in school probably remembers having a love-hate relationship with The Bard. While his tragedies and comedies offer immense opportunities for teaching strategies, they also pose a very real challenge to students – as well as teachers.

This, John Gardyne says – in his TEC-14 session “Fair is foul and foul is fair”. Using Shakespeare’s Macbeth to unlock meaning and bring spoken language to life in the classroom – is because Shakespeare wrote his scripts as plays to be staged and not as stories to be published.

But Shakespeare is inevitable in the classroom. So, should his language be simplified and modernised to make it more accessible and meaningful to contemporary teachers and students? The audience answered in ‘yeas’ and ‘nays’.

Gardyne explained that it was more important to help students understand a character’s emotions, the intentions and meaning behind actions and words, and character perspectives and choices if we want to make Shakespeare a truly authentic experience in the classroom. This does not pre-empt a contemporary adaptation; on the contrary he introduced to the audience an alternative script written by two young sisters from Chennai.

Titled ‘Macbeth – The Untold Story’, the script was enacted by a group of lively teens from a local school. Interestingly, this version of Macbeth had mention of pizza delivery boys, robot dance moves, and a jaw-dropping pop song peppered with rap.

The audience, comprising mainly of teachers and educators, were enthusiastic in their response to this teenage take on one of the darkest and most powerful tragedies Shakespeare wrote. But at the end of the session, the question remains ‘Are we missing the point when we start to simplify Shakespeare?’

Telling the Untold Story

Post by: Annie Besant


The smiles don’t stop coming for Prithika, Anna and Sanjay. They have just finished their performance of Macbeth- the Untold Story as part of a TEC-14 presentation to tremendous applause and appreciation. These three friends are part of a large group of teenagers from the DRS International School in Hyderabad that put up the contemporary adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most powerful tragedies.

Macbeth – the Untold Story – an extension of John Gardyne’s session on Shakespeare and language – does away with the corrosive and corruptive effects of an ambition for power and replaces it with a hunger for pizzas, cheeky satire, and even a pop song and dance number.

Certain stereotypes apart, the play is vibrant and so are the students who play their roles with a casualness that belies their experience in drama.

‘We are all part of the drama club,’ Anna explains, adding that they didn’t want to pass up this opportunity when their English teacher offered it to them. It is unabashedly slapstick, the three students quip together, but that is what they love about it.

‘It gets everyone interested immediately in Shakespeare,’ Prithika points out. ‘I think plays like this help people understand Shakespeare.’

The form in which the play had been adapted does render it interesting to the myriad students and teachers who struggle with Shakespeare in the classroom. But could such an adaptive play replace the preference for the nuanced language, raging characters, and dizzying twists and turns of a Shakespearean plot? ‘Of course not!’ chime the teens.

Day 2, Saturday, 22 February 2014

09:00 – 09:55 Plenary: Teacher Development as the Future of Teacher Education, Rama Mathew
09:55 – 10:00 Launch of ELT Research Survey of India
10.15 – 11.15 How to Write Papers for Publication in a Refereed Journal, Graham Hall (Oxford University Press)
12.00 – 13.00 CPD in Action, Alison Barrett & Emma-Sue Prince
14.00 – 14.30 Assessment Practice as an Energiser of Self-driven Professional Growth: Prospects and Challenges, Jacob Tharu
14.45 – 15.15 Can the CBB Teacher Training Project Move into the Digital Age?, Lesley Dick
15:45 – 16:45 Panel Discussion: CPD: how do we move from theory to practice?
Panel: Simon Etherton, Julian Edge, Monishitha & Jayagowri Shivakumar
Chair: George Pickering
17.00 – 18.15 Shakespeare for the 21st Century, John Gardyne & Padmaja Anant (Trinity College London)

CPD – What and the Why

Post by: Annie Besant

It’s the question on everyone’s minds and over the past 24 hours has been debated and reflected upon unceasingly at TEC-2014. An integral strand of this year’s conference theme – Innovation in English Language Teacher Education – the need for CPD, its importance and relevance has been everyone’s favourite topic.
Alison Barrett, Director, English for Education Systems, South Asia at British Council and Emma-Sue Prince, founder of Unimenta, elaborated on CPD –with special focus on the CPD Framework in India – in their session ‘CPD in Action’.

The session looked at CPD – the what, and the why. It dealt at length with the new CPD framework for India, and reviewed how the British Council addresses CPD through the work that is done with state governments. The session was very interactive with both speakers engaging participants with various activities.

In one such interaction, Emma-Sue and Alison challenged the audience to describe their CPD in one word. In response, the audience threw out words like sporadic, rewarding and innovative to describe their CPD journey. On being questioned about the different avenues teachers and educators use to facilitate their CPD, members said that a conference like TEC-14 was a part of the CPD process, as well as webinars and workshops at the British Council.

Post a quick look at what CPD means and the framework within which it operates, both Emma-Sue and Alison talked about their own CPD practices. Emma-Sue shared that CPD, for her, was an ongoing practice that is closely connected with personal development. She added that she often tried to make time to watch videos on TED, follow Harvard Online Lectures, and indulge in daily reflections.

Alison’s CPD practices revolved more around reading documents, reviews, research articles and discussing those findings and their implications with colleagues.

Speaking about her work on the CPD Framework for India, Emma-Sue said that process started with trying to understand the needs and competencies of teachers in India. A five-year review of teacher development projects across India followed. This led to identifying gaps and areas that needed streamlining especially in the existing policies.

Alison added that the framework was an organic process and that the competencies for teachers covered areas such as language proficiency, ELT proficiency, planning lessons, professional behaviour, and other inclusive practices such as equity, different language groups etc.

With the audience enthusiastically agreeing to their points, Alison and Emma-Sue touched upon the barriers to CPD that teachers and educators face. Time, motivation, access, and language were highlighted as the main barriers. Alison further quoted Pratham Education Foundation’s ASER report to support her views. Proposed solutions to these barriers included making CPD a mandate across schools and institutions, raising CPD awareness and giving teachers a legitimate space for professional development and reflection.

The session ended with the 60 second Elevator Pitch – an activity that elicited vigorous responses. To sum it up in the words of one audience member: ‘Nobody lives in isolation, so we should stay connected through CPD.’

Important Links:

Can Textbooks be Communicative?

Post by: Annie Besant

Are textbooks meant to be communicative or instructive? Are the two ideas mutually inclusive or exclusive? These were some of the questions generated in a lively and interactive British Council workshop led by Senior Teacher Trainer and academician Shefali Kulkarni.

She said that textbooks take on a communicative form but teachers are often forced to follow models such as narration, interaction and assessment which leads to a straitjacket situation.

Shefali suggested that when trying to make something communicative, new rules can be built to engage students and stimulate collaboration. When disseminating a text, these rules should be crafted in order to create a purpose that is engaging, real, authentic, and contextual. Teacher’s in the room agreed, but pointed out that often teachers don’t have the time to frame and exploit new ideas.

The audience had to adapt the story of the Tiger’s Tail using the models of mime, prediction, active listening and role play. The session was marked by energetic audience participation with an elderly teacher even breaking into an animated dance as penalty for a ringing phone!

Tips from the workshop:

  • To make a textbook communicative, change close-ended questions to open-ended questions.
  • Don’t adhere to the stages of a lesson – pre, while and post reading – but examine if a real and engaging purpose can be created from the text.
  • When teaching grammar, use tools like role play and skits to change focus from fluency to understanding structure.
  • Understand that communication is not to create accuracy but to create coherency.
  • Activities can be extended outside the classroom context. Encourage students to apply a principle or a lesson during their time outside the class.

Day 3, Sunday, 23 February 2014

09:00 – 10:00 Plenary: Innovation in Pre-service Education for English Language Teachers: Issues & Concerns, Julian Edge & Steve Mann
10.15 – 11.15 Digital Literacies, Nicky Hockly
12.00 – 13.00 Teacher Facilitators in English in Action:  Peer Mediation and M-learning in Professional Development, Malcolm Griffiths & Huma Rebecca Rodrigues
14.00 – 15.00 Remote teaching, distance learning, team teaching or blended learning? Graham Stanley
15:30 – 16:30 Plenary: Teacher Education, Mobile Learning and the Challenges of Scale, Tom Power
16:30 – 17:00 Valedictory


TeachingEnglish Radio India – Old technology in new contexts

Post by: Annie Besant

A joint-presentation between Rustom Mody, Senior Teacher Trainer, and Amy Lightfoot, English Language Advisor, British Council – titled TeachingEnglish Radio India: Self Access and Collaborative Resources for Developing Teachers’ Understanding of Learner-centred Methodologies – focused on using TeachingEnglish Radio as a resource in the classroom.

When evolving the programme, the team was often asked the question: why use radio? It would seem that in the relentless surge of technology and apps, the radio is a bit old-fashioned, but that, Amy says, is the reason it works.

‘Radio is an old method of distributing content, but it has been proven to work very well and we get a very wide reach with it,’ she says emphatically.

Rustom adds, ‘Research suggests that listening to audio with some written support helps them (teachers) retain the content better.’

And so exists one of the reasons for developing TeachingEnglish Radio. The other reason for creating this resource is that face-to-face training periods tend to be relatively short, and delivering content regularly through the radio ensures continued support.

‘We are hoping to encourage teachers to use it in small or large groups with a lead teacher facilitating the process,’ Amy says of the initiative.

The resource, aimed at A2/B1 level teachers, will not be used in isolation. The radio programmes, which are a series of 12 episodes of fifteen-minutes each, will be supported by a workbook.

TeachingEnglish Radio has a potential audience of 400,000 – primarily a mix of primary and secondary school teachers, and master trainers. Though it’s early days yet, Rustom shares that quite a few lessons have been learned.

‘There is a tension between having a structured series or a more spontaneous one,’ he says. But the team finally decided on a more fluid process.

Speaking about the production process, Rustom said that it took two months to travel to various schools and record the material. However, the post-production process took over a year. In addition to this, publicity has been continually happening through adverts, flyers and social media.

The TeachingEnglish Radio series is designed to be played in partnership with broadcasters across India. The first series will be aired, in Maharashtra and in the district of Dharwad in Karnataka, on the Akashvani (All India Radio), and will be available on shortwave bands in districts where there is no FM.

To learn more about the TeachingEnglish Radio India initiative, click here

For more details on sessions, please click here

Do you ‘like’ the idea of Facebook in your class?

Post by: Annie Besant

Facebook as a social app is extremely popular. But Facebook as a tool to aid and enhance the learning experience? Steven Baker sees great potential for Facebook in the classroom in his TEC14 session ‘Reasons to ‘Like’ Facebook: Social Networking in the Classroom and for Continuing Professional Development.’

Steven, a Senior Teacher at the British Council, first took the audience through the basics of setting up a Facebook page for their schools before plunging them into how to use their page for everything from homework to revision, and in the case of certain institutions as a source for course details.

He then encouraged the audience to think about some of the advantages and disadvantages of creating a Facebook group.

Audience members pointed out that some of the advantages are that updates automatically show up on student feeds, every student has a chance to express himself or herself, and ideas could be shared in real time.

The disadvantages, they argued, are that classroom bullying is possible on FB pages, and student resistance to teachers viewing their FB activity could interfere with learning.

Steven then veered the discussion to how being a part of professional Facebook pages can help with CPD. Points that floated up from the discussion revealed that teacher’s felt they were often helped by the sharing and interaction that took place on FB pages.

Wrapping up the session, Steven shared a thought provoking quote: ‘A teacher not moving forwards is going backwards.’

When setting up a Facebook page for your class, remember:

  • Have a picture that represents the essence of the page
  • Schedule your posts on Pages, but don’t post it for top of the hour
  • Interact with your FB page audience, but ask questions that are relevant
  • Plan on updating your page at least 3 times a day.
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Museums in the digital age:In conversation with the museum experts

As we live increasingly mobile and digital lives, museums are finding new ways to tell stories and engage their audiences. In recent times, changes in society and technology have reshaped how museums function and how they deliver experiences. Over the coming decades, new technological advances and social changes will place pressure on museums to innovate to meet changing audience’s expectations and economic realities.

Leading names in the museum world gathered in India last week for the ‘Strategic Transformations: Museums In the 21st Century’ conference. Martin Roth, V&A, Dr. Gordon Rintoul, NMS and Carolyn Royston, IWM share their insights here on the future and the impact of digital on museums.

What role does digital play in the future of museums?

Martin Roth: Digital is a great tool to help create a truly open and accessible museum. Digital helps to understand a collection, to understand objects and to explain what a museum is. However digital has to be something that is providing more opportunities and value to a museum. Decisions to incorporate digital into aspects of a museum must be carefully and sensitively planned, with a concrete objective in mind.

Dr Gordon Rintoul: Yes, digital is of key importance to the future of our museums. I also think that museums play a larger role in society than before and I think digital has helped speed up this impact as digital gives us the opportunity to reach out to a much more people than ever before, and in different ways.

Do you think digital technologies will ever replace the physical museum?

Carolyn Royston: No I don’t think so; they are different but yet complimentary experiences. For a museum in the UK, we have 2.5million visitors who come through our doors but we get over 5 million people who come to our website, so it is an opportunity for the museum to have a global presence and for us to show what we do, as well as support people who are planning to visit the museum. Digital needs to add value to the experience when you visit, and also to be a shop window for our collections. Digital is mostly the opportunity to engage with people who will never visit the museum.

As museums are rapidly transforming, what advice would you give to young artists or arts professionals?

Carolyn Royston: One of the biggest things is that there are so many places to display your content or work now and so much of it is possible through doing it yourself and for free. Looking at places where people in your audiences are most likely to consume the sort of things that you are making and doing should be the places that you target – not always big institutions or organisations. You are as likely to get your work seen on Pinterest or Flickr as you are being in an exhibition in a museum. I think young arts professionals should take advantage of these opportunities of self-promotion and to take control of your career.

Dr Gordon Rintoul: The opportunities for those people entering careers in museums are very different from before. I think there is a lot more opportunity and interdisciplinary working and more engagement between curators and their colleagues in other departments of a museum. As well as towards digital, there is a huge shift in the museum world towards putting your audiences as the focal point of the museum, so I’d say young curators should approach any work that they are doing with their audiences at the front of their minds.

Interviewed by Emer Coyle, British Council

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My study stay and work experience in India

Taking part in UKIERI Programme was an exciting and insightful experience for me. During the three weeks of the programme I visited the most spectacular places of historical and cultural significance in Delhi and Mumbai, the two metropolitan cities which play a major role in the Indian politics and its rapidly growing economy. Fellow participant students and I also met a number of prominent people from India and those from abroad who embarked upon India and found home there. It was fascinating to learn about their experiences in India from and their views on the issues surrounding India.

We spent most part of our time in Delhi where in addition to visiting places and attending lectures and workshops I also gained work experience while doing internship in the UK India Business Council (UKIBC), the UK organisation helping British businesses to operate and/or establish businesses within India. While doing my research for UKIBC I discovered many interesting facts on business and investment opportunities in India finding the answer to my big question why more and more international UK companies want to increase their presence in the Indian market. It appears that the main reason is the cost effectiveness of services and manufacturing due to the low cost human resources (as a result of the grown Indian population), which mostly comprises of young potentially employable people under the age of 24.

To address and satisfy the needs of densely populated India, the government has introduced numerous measures aiming at drawing investments into India both internally and from overseas. One of these government’s initiatives is the programme of Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) which mainly concentrates on development of the Indian infrastructure to boost economic growth. I researched the investment opportunities in India’s Defence and Aerospace sector, which have been given high priority by the Indian government as it follows from media and experts’ comments and reports. Even though the share of foreign investments in Indian Defence sector has been limited by the current FDI Regulations to 27 per cent there are a lot of business opportunities in India for the British Air Defence manufacturers especially now that India has diverted its attention from Russia for strategic partnership in defence sector and actively looks for cooperation from other countries. This presents a good opportunity for the declining, due to the public spending cuts, British Defence industry to invest into and to develop the Defence sector in India. However, spending money and resources on strengthening India’s defence without a good reason comes in conflict with the need to assist many of those homeless, poor and deprived people who I saw on the streets of Delhi and Mumbai including those struggling for survival in the slums.

Whilst doing my research for UKIBC I also discovered another opportunity, which in my view is attractive and potentially mutually beneficial both for India and Britain following introduction of the new Indian legislation, which reduces by half the tax on dividends declared by the Indian subsidiaries overseas to the parent company in India. India brought this law in order to encourage ‘repatriation’ of the dividends from the overseas subsidiaries back to the country to remedy the negative effect of the weakened rupee. In my view this presents beneficial investment opportunity not only for India, but also for UK businesses especially those struggling in the current economic climate. The Indian law which allows a generous reduction of taxes from 30 per cent to 15 per cent on dividends repatriated from the foreign subsidiaries back to the parent company in India may encourage such Indian giants as TATA to take over UK companies in order to make profit and declare dividends back to India. Taking advantage of the UK and India double taxation agreement where the dividends declared to India should not in theory be taxed in the UK, this may potentially present an attractive opportunity for the financially strong Indian businesses to acquire struggling UK companies and turn them around to make them profitable, thus helping the UK businesses survive in the current economic crisis.

Overall in the course of the Study India Programme I have discovered a great potential that India holds for the world. This has encouraged me to explore the career opportunities in the organisations having strong ties with India especially in the area of international and commercial law cooperation.


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Tête-à-tête with Martin Roth on museums in the 21st Century

Martin Roth, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, was in India this week for the ‘Strategic Transformations: Museums In the 21st Century’ conference. We caught up with him to find out his thoughts on what is happening in museums today.

Martin, in your keynote address at the conference this week, you spoke about the relationship between museums and the evolution of global culture. Would you mind sharing your thoughts about this?

Museums have always engaged with world cultures, but in recent times there have been such immense changes in the political spheres, huge changes in global mobility and an explosion in communication channels, so we have new opportunities. The world has opened up so much in my own lifetime; people can travel so much more freely now and this exposes people to cultures of different countries and they can see the differences and similarities between cultures first hand. Exposure to different people’s perspectives creates an impetus to understand the world from a wider point of view and a long term perspective of our experiences. What happens in the world happens in the museum, so museums are fulfilling their roles in reflecting our societies and responding to our audiences. It is about keeping pace and staying relevant.

What would you say is the biggest challenge for museums today?

The challenges are always fluctuating for museums and it is part of our duty to roll with this. Challenges such as money and management will always be there, but today I think it is about how you cope and change your institutions according to completely different business models, management models and political interests. The opportunity for a museum, but also the difficulty, is that it is not one museum, a museum is like an open space that is constantly changing with demands coming from outside and political changes, but that is the great thing about a museum. A museum is not a factory sitting there always producing the same goods – it is a very open space for a very open society, but that means that the museum is constantly changing. To manage those changes is the mission and challenge for a museum.

And finally, what would be your expert advice for getting the best out of a visit to a museum?

1) Just enjoy it. We shouldn’t see museums as formal academic institutions, just places to enjoy.
2) Pick a few objects or rooms to see.
3) Don’t try to understand everything.
4) Don’t go on empty stomach.

Interviewed by Emer Coyle, British Council

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What is the role of a museum in the 21st Century?

Asia’s first museum was founded in India 200 years ago, but what is the role of the museum today?

‘International Conference and Intensive Seminar on Strategic Transformations: Museums In the 21st Century’ (10 to 14 February) was organised by the National Council of Science Museums in collaboration with Indian Museum, Kolkata, in association with British Council. Museum professionals from around the world had flown in to discuss the global trends and practices in museums.

A running theme in the discussions was the key role of a museum to foster mutual understanding and collaboration in our rapidly changing world. Museums have always been able to contribute to society by enabling visitors to understand society and culture, but as our world is moving faster than ever, museums are increasingly important spaces to foster cohesion and understanding.

The emergence of the ‘Community Museum’ is an interesting global development. There is a shift towards different attitudes to authority and ownership, which is nudged by the rise of social media and visitors’ expectations of greater participation and interaction. Community museums are run for and by the community. They curate objects, stories, and art that are most important to the local community. They tell the stories of the area and the museums have to be creative to meet the needs of the community. These types of museums can have an especially important role to play in areas with high levels of immigration or social exclusion. They are vibrant, social places where people can meet each other, express themselves and contribute to a larger cause together.

The role of a museum as a space for social cohesion and understanding is of course something to be applauded, but how does this happen in places such as post-conflict areas or countries as diverse as India?

Is this the right role for a museum? What do you think should be a role of a museum in our world today?

Post by: Emer Coyle, British Council India

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The Kumbh of the Written Word

IMG_0159It was a love affair with the printed word. Words that represented ideas, generated debates and elicited humour. The Jaipur Literature Festival this year had thousands jostling to listen to writers and browse through books. You were spoilt for choice. Whom do you listen to and whom do you leave out? I did a careful book-cart selection to maximise my visit of two days.

My big discovery was Reza Aslan, the Iranian author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, an attempt to humanise Jesus that became number one on Amazon after a Fox news interview, deemed “the most embarrassing interview” of the decade, where the anchor asked him how as a Muslim he could write about the life of Jesus. He was in conversation with A N Wilson, British writer and columnist, whose biography of Leo Tolstoy I had devoured as a college student, and whose recent Dante in Love and The Elizabethans stunned critics with its profound scholarship. The session was moderated by William Dalrymple, festival co-director, who tweeted on Republic Day: “On this day, exactly 30 years ago, 26th Jan 1984, I first touched down in India (from the UK), and my life changed irrevocably and irreversibly forever”.

I followed that up with a session on “Raj aur Samaj: Democracy and the People”, with journalist Kalyani Shankar, ex-election commissioner Navin Chawla and Bihar Government adviser Pavan Varma in conversation with Ravish Kumar the talkative Zee news anchor. It was fun because the argumentative Indians never did agree with each other and with the many vocal members of the audience.

A N Wilson was worth encountering the second time when he was in conversation with Richard Holmes on The Age of Wonder/The Victorians. Holmes’s Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science focuses on the work of British naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, Hanoverian-born British astronomer William Herschel and English chemist and inventor Humphry Davy, describing the relationships between the scientists of that time, and the early days of the Royal Society.

In his latest book In Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air Richard Holmes writes about the history of ballooning. I had seen a balloon go up (and not go up) recently at the International Kite Festival in Kolkata and my interest was kindled to learn more about a science (or art?) where the basic mechanics as Holmes explains have not advanced much since its heyday in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Besides being a first-rate writer, Holmes is a delightful raconteur and his account of James Glaisher and Henry Coxwell making several ascents of over 20,000ft, calmly recording the discolouration of their skin and the onset of oxygen deprivation along with the meteorological information they were primarily seeking, was hilarious.

Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge and called “Britain’s best-known classicist”, brought Pompeii alive by describing the lives, obviously sometimes raucous, of its residents. She has inspired me to read up more about the Romans and download her BBC Two documentary on the subject.

Then there was the gripping account of The Siege by Adrian Levy, an award-winning journalist currently with The Guardian, who along with his wife Cathy Scott-Clark has done a detailed reconstruction of the 27/11 terror attack on the Taj in Mumbai. The book has been a sensation as it has spine-chilling revelations of how Lashkar-e-Taiba and David Headley carefully planned the attack for years.

You have to be fleet-footed to flit from one session to the other at JLF and I only managed to catch a bit of Rana Dasgupta discussing his Capital on the global elite (“the farm house in Delhi is nothing like a farmhouse”) and then Nicholas Shakespeare, Isabella Tree, Robyn Davidson, Cheryl Strayed discuss the relevance of travel writing in the age of social media and Google, both dexterously moderated by William Dalrymple. I ended my tryst with JLF with the true story behind F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby as related by Sarah Churchwell, Professor at the University of East Anglia, to the skilful moderator Chiki Sarkar, publisher with Penguin Books India.

As I soaked in the atmosphere at JLF near the British Council stall selling online library memberships, I remembered how I had travelled with Sanjoy Roy of Teamwork, and producer of JLF, to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1999 that set off his agenda for international arts festivals. Sanjoy writes about this in the Bloomsbury-British Council publication Re-Imagine: India-UK Cultural Relations in the 21st Century. Our work in the arts has impact, but some of it is felt years later!

Post by Sujata Sen, Director, British Council, East India

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