By Shraddha Bhatawadekar
Humboldt German Chancellor Fellow and Nehru-Fullbright Fellow
Importance of experiential education: heritage walks as a tool for engaging youth in heritage
Heritage walks are an important experiential model for heritage education. These tours involve physically walking in the area, which allows for personal observations and offers several nuances of heritage sites in their original context. This real-time experience is a strong motivator for creating emotional ties with the place, crucial for understanding the meaning and values associated with heritage. At the same time, the challenges facing heritage also become apparent, thereby encouraging questions and concerns. This engagement with heritage is a first important step towards promoting action for the protection and preservation of heritage. Especially in risk societies, where heritage is at a danger of being lost due to developments, and other such pressures arising out of globalisation and modernisation, fostering this association of people, especially of youth with heritage, can pave the way for its sustenance.
I have been engaged in the task of heritage education in Mumbai for over 6 years and have explored heritage walks as an informal way of educating people. These heritage tours involve walking through the myriad lanes of Mumbai, exploring city’s heritage, known-unknown, tangible-intangible. The idea behind these walks is to inform participants about various aspects of heritage, be it history, art, architecture, and countless stories associated with these places in order to create awareness and interest about city’s heritage. I especially perceive heritage walks as an important tool to educate youth about heritage and have led numerous initiatives in this regard. I would like to cite my experiences here, especially a course in Heritage of Mumbai, which I have been coordinating and how this experiential education approach has resulted in engendering interest about heritage among youth and the consequences it has in the risk societies.
Background of the course
The certificate course in “Heritage of Mumbai” was launched in the year 2011. My interest in heritage education, with special focus on youth, and strong support from the Department of History at Ramnarain Ruia College, a well-known college in Mumbai, paved the way for this course. This course also coincided with history of modern Maharashtra and Mumbai introduced by the University of Mumbai for first year students, at Bachelor’s level, as part of the curriculum in History. The course was therefore perceived as an added value to the teaching about Mumbai.
The course was designed to include lectures and heritage walks, covering different aspects related to the city of Mumbai and its heritage. Eminent experts, both university academics as well as professionals were to be invited to talk to students. The idea was to expose students to heritage practice along with strengthening their academic knowledge. The course was introduced as a co-curricular activity and was open to undergraduate students of Ramnarain Ruia College. It was divided into 8 sessions and held every Saturday in the months of July-August. Initially the course focussed on exploring the heritage of Mumbai and included modules covering aspects integral to knowing the city. The topics comprised history, architecture, transport and communication as well as communities of Mumbai. There were four lectures followed by walking tours, which helped students associate with these topics well and also allowed a glimpse into their real present context (Bhatawadekar & Yedurkar, 2016, p. 14). The course was successful and it was decided to continue with it the following year.
How the course has evolved
Since 2011, the course is being organised every year between July and September. It usually takes place right after the new academic year begins in the College. The course has seen growing response from students.
Beginning with the basic concepts associated with heritage of Mumbai, the course has now focussed on providing deeper insights into heritage. Some of the highlights of the course included a walk to Khotachi Wadi, a neighbourhood in Mumbai characterised by Portuguese-style housing and originally inhabited by East-Indian Christians, where students got an opportunity to visit and converse with the local inhabitants. The engagement was such that students were also invited to celebrate Christmas with the residents. During one of the visits, students learnt about history of evolution of currency and coinage in India with a visit to a Reserve Bank of India’s Monetary Museum. Another interesting visit in 2016 was the one to Raj Colonial Furniture shop, where students got a glimpse into the Victorian furniture and learnt about household decoration and other interesting aspects related to art trade.
The course has evolved over the years to include new components beyond lectures and visits. There have been competitions such as photography contests, essay writing competitions, quizzes and so on, to promote students’ interest and involvement. A Heritage Club was launched in the College, in order to continue heritage awareness activities. A blog was introduced in 2014 to narrate about the activities and experiences of the course, thereby also providing a platform for students to express their ideas, opinions and perceptions.
Students’ learnings from the course
This course “Heritage of Mumbai” has been successful in imparting new knowledge and creating interest about heritage among students. In the feedback received from students, many of them talk about how they learnt new aspects of their own city, which they had never known before. The real experience with heritage especially through walks helps build memories, connections and associations, which they cherish. When asked which aspects of these heritage walks did they enjoy the most, Uma Kabe, one of the participants said:
“Meeting and talking to people and listening to various folk stories of each and every monument was very mesmerising. We understood how each and every monument has gone through various incidents of Indian history”.
Another participant student, Aseema Karandikar, mentioned:
“These walks can make learning about tangible heritage a fun activity”.
Gargi Kowli, a student who participated in the 2016 edition of the course also made an interesting comment:
“We’ve all studied history in school and if you’re up for it in college. For some of us it has been a rather boring journey; just a barrage of dates and names one has to learn. But rarely is it provided as something tangible. A heritage course such as this one provides the opportunity for students to experience history. Its success lies in the fact that it has made students from various different fields want to learn more about where they live, starting from something as humble as the Vadapaav [a local culinary specialty of Mumbai]”.
Thus the course contributes not only to the student enjoyment, but at the same time, it promotes learning in an informal environment. The walks help reinforce what students have learnt in the classrooms; also open them up to the challenges in heritage preservation in a city context. This contributes to understanding about Mumbai’s heritage and its importance and the need to conserve it. This was reiterated by Yash Agrawal, who actively participated in the course for two years during his undergraduate studies. He stated:
“The heritage course played an important role for me to get an understanding about Mumbai’s heritage. It included very enjoyable visits to various places in and around the city, as well as interesting and informative lectures by historians with different specialisations. I gained valuable information which put my knowledge of history into proper perspective and helped me understand the connection of local history with global history. We visited places like forts, caves and museums. Various workshops and contests were organised too. We learnt to analyse history and understood the real meaning of ‘heritage’. The preservation of heritage of all kinds is also an aspect which was covered. My experience was so good that I did the course twice”.
The motive of the course is much more than creating awareness about heritage. It also contributes to the development of skills among students, which are needed for their future growth. The experience of using public transport to reach the destination, especially the crowded trains of Mumbai, walking through the busy streets, exploring new places, etc., it all helps build confidence among students by exposing them to the real-world situations. The interactive and exploratory nature of heritage walks promotes development of observation, analysis and critical thinking skills among students. Curiosity and interest initiated during these discussions does influence some students to choose heritage field as their career. Noopur Mukherjee, a graduate of Ruia College, who attended the course in 2013-2014 expressed herself along these lines:
“It was one of the best career decisions I made as it really inspired me to dwell further into the concept of heritage management and the need to protect the world’s heritage for the present and the future generations to come. This course gave me a completely new outlook towards the concept of heritage and it further motivated me to pursue my career in this field wherein I can protect the world’s heritage and take it to a next level”.
She is now pursuing a Master of Arts in Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology in India and wishes to contribute actively to the field of heritage management.
How teachers benefit from the course
Along with students, teachers also benefit from the course. Dr. Louiza Rodrigues, Associate Professor in the Department of History at Ramnarain Ruia College, who is a current convener of the course, shared her experience on how this course supplements teaching:
“Cultural studies, primarily art and architecture of Mumbai, Maharashtra and India is one of the component of the curriculum at the undergraduate level. This course conducted annually is thematic like maritime heritage, art and architectural heritage, culinary heritage, environmental heritage etc. So, it enriches the knowledge about heritage of Mumbai, both tangible and intangible and enables the teacher to teach with interest and put these structures in the context of society, economy, environment, politics and geography. This makes an interesting study and broadens the perspective of understanding heritage”.
She also mentioned the overall goal of the course is to contribute to the broader dialogue in heritage conservation. With regard to this, she stated:
“This course sensitizes the students of the neglected heritage of Mumbai. Students are enlightened about the rich, varied heritage of the city and the need to preserve it. It makes them realize that heritage is a reflection of the identity of the people and the nation. The students explore through this course lesser known areas and structures. Finally, students realize that Mumbai is one such city in the world which is characterized by antiquity and modernity”.
The course in the context of risk societies
The burgeoning cities like Mumbai are always at the crossroads of multiple risks. As Jabareen quotes from UNISDR Report 2010:
“Because of their socio-spatial character and large populations, contemporary cities are more vulnerable to a variety of risks and also have the potential to become generators of new risks, such as failed infrastructure and services, environmental urban degradation, and increasing informal settlements, which make many urban inhabitants more vulnerable to natural hazards and risk” (UNISDR 2010, quoted in Jabareen, 2015, p. 23).
In this context, heritage is at an imminent danger of being obliterated, neglected, forgotten and lost in the tremendous force of development and urbanisation. Other risks such as environmental hazards play their role in further degrading the heritage. What is critical in this situation is creating awareness about heritage and its importance and the role it can play in the integrated city development. Heritage courses like this one can be perceived as a first step in bringing this neglected heritage to notice, and generating interest and appreciation of this heritage. As Dr. Louiza Rodrigues rightly says:
“Heritage walks can garner interest and create awareness about lesser known historical sites which can enlighten students’ and peoples’ knowledge about their local heritage, which is a part of our composite culture”.
As Aseema Karandikar adds to it:
“As general awareness about the significance of these sites increases, so will the need for its preservation. Involvement of citizens can play an important role in preserving local heritage”.
The heritage walks help reinforce connections between youth, city and heritage and help them understand the role of heritage in the present and future. As Gargi Kowli aptly mentions:
“I feel very fortunate to be living in Mumbai. Not just because it’s a developed metropolitan, which provides every kind of opportunity but because it is the result of constant growth and effort, it was made by years of toil. It echoes the stories of struggle and momentum of advancement. That’s what makes it so rich and so exciting. As we are on the precipice of a new age, studying the stories of the old time is more important than ever. Because we must look to the past to move to the future”.
This association with heritage also makes students aware of issues related to heritage. This is well reflected in students’ comments. As Uma Kabe narrates:
“These walks enhanced our interest in discovering the heritage of our land and restoring it. Walking on the streets, glancing around, understanding the life of people were few of the things that brought to our notice the reality of our society. This helped me realise that we have not taken good care of our heritage sites and we ought to preserve them. It is our civic duty”.
Another student, Riddhi Joshi, also shared similar thoughts:
“It [the heritage course] has built up a responsibility in me for stewardship and protection of heritage – ensuring its continuation into future. It has made me realise that heritage has shaped past and present, and will influence future development as well”.
Thus, it is seen that this encounter with heritage in its living context instils in students the feeling of affection and responsibility, which is crucial for its conservation. Another contribution of this experiential approach is to increase competitiveness and confidence of students, as mentioned earlier. As discussed in the ENCATC Annual Conference last year, it is necessary to empower tomorrow’s cultural managers with skills to enable them to take on risks. Allowing students to experience the city and its heritage through their own lenses expands their understanding of the context and, in a way, prepares them for future challenges.
More and more such initiatives are required, which can engage students in direct experiences with their surroundings in real context. The world around us is changing rapidly, and this change needs to be reflected in the education system as well. The education sector needs to open up and adopt practice-based approaches. John Dewey promoted the idea of experiential education way back in 1930s. He says that “education in order to accomplish its ends both for the individual learner and for society must be based upon experience – which is always the life-experience of some individual” (Dewey, 1938). Increasing collaborations between various disciplines and between theory and practice can pave the way for a new dialogue between teachers, students and practitioners, thereby benefitting everyone. In this process, heritage will also benefit as it will have better visibility, role and relevance engendered through increased awareness and appreciation. It is to be hoped that this engagement will lead to a creation of sustainable initiatives towards heritage preservation. The participatory approach promoted through this consciousness will help achieve better conservation and management results. This way, heritage will be integrated with people’s lives and will have a definite role in the present society, its aspirations and socio-economic goals. This is an important step towards linking heritage to sustainable development goals that will ensure survival and sustenance of cultural heritage and use of heritage towards sustainable development of the society as well.
Questions for further discussion
These questions can be used while discussing about heritage, be it through pictures, objects, or buildings and places; and be it in the classroom, museums or at heritage sites. These questions can help trigger visual thinking and open ended inquiry.
- What’s going on here? What do you notice?
- What do you see that makes you say that?
- What more can we find?
- Does it tell you anything about the time and place it was made in?
- Does it remind you of anything about your time?
BHATAWADEKAR, S. and YEDURKAR, C. (2016) Role of Heritage Education in Cultural Heritage Conservation. In Macchia, A.; Prestileo, F.; Cagno, S.; Khalilli, F. (eds.). YOCOCU 2014: Professionals’ Experiences in Cultural Heritage Conservation in America, Europe, and Asia (pp. 9-18). UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
DEWEY, J. (1938) Experience and Education. New York: Kappa Delta Pi. Available at: https://archive.org/details/ExperienceAndEducation (accessed 8 February 2017).
JABAREEN, Y. (2015) The Risk City Cities Countering Climate Change: Emerging Planning Theories and Practices around the World. Available at: http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-94-017-9768-9_2#page-1 (accessed 10 February 2017).
 The questions mentioned here are used in Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) and Inquiry based strategies to facilitate learning and skill development among learners. The questions are derived from VTS webpage and from an online course (MOOC) in Art and Inquiry run by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.
Shraddha Bhatawadekar is a recipient of Alexander von Humboldt German Chancellor Fellowship and currently affiliated with the Department of Architectural Conservation at Brandenburg University of Technology, Cottbus-Senftenberg. Passionate about heritage education, her work is primarily dedicated to exploring various approaches and methods in increasing peoples’ awareness and engagement in the task of heritage conservation. In her current work, she focuses on people-centered approaches to cultural heritage conservation as a strategy contributing towards sustainable future. She also spent a year in the United States in 2015-2016 as part of Nehru-Fulbright Academic and Professional Excellence Fellowship during which she was affiliated with University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and studied various approaches to museum education. An archaeologist by training, Shraddha has worked in the field of heritage management and conservation in India for over 6 years and has been involved in numerous projects such as site management plans, conservation reports, visitor management plans, nomination dossiers for World Heritage Sites, etc. She has also been organising and conducting heritage walks and activities in Mumbai for schools, colleges, citizens and tourists for over a decade. These initiatives are aimed at engendering interest and appreciation of heritage among people, thereby promoting participation in its preservation.
Header image: Heritage Walk at Elephanta Caves, World Heritage Site, by Asit Kulkarni.