Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Teacher and students are dancing Bongsan Talchum. © ICHCAP / Cheon Youngteak

ICH Education for Homo Ludens

In 2015, the UNESCO Bangkok Office published Learning with Intangible Heritage for a Sustainable Future: Guidelines for Educators in the Asia-Pacific Region, which included the results of a pilot projects conducted in four countries—Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Palau—with the aim of integrating intangible cultural heritage and education for sustainable development. The introduction of this handbook begins with the quote from Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

Whether positive or negative, it is a clear proposition that can bring all the consequences for both sides. This is probably why UNESCO put their efforts on education. Recently, there has been an active trend of interdisciplinary approaches between cultural heritage and education. Therefore, in the field of intangible cultural heritage, the view of heritage education has changed from learning about intangible cultural heritage to learning with and through intangible cultural heritage.

Students are practicing their lines they made for play. © ICHCAP / Cheon Youngteak
In Korea, there has been a growing discussion that the methods of cultural heritage education should be changed (Yongkyu Choi et al, 2006, p.5-6). According to Yong-Goo Kim (2018), former cultural heritage education and new cultural heritage education show differences in key areas such as the subject and purpose of education, which are compared as shown in the table below (Kim, 2018, p.162).

Classification Former Cultural heritage Education New Cultural Heritage Education
Relationship with the Past Expansion of knowledge about the past Connectivity of Past and Present
Subject Teacher-centered Learner-centered
Purpose Reinforcement of knowledge about cultural heritage Identification of social context
Major Learner Visitor Resident
Boundary of Space Historic sites, areas Local living space
Interpretation Nationalistic interpretation, monopolized by experts Individual and common interpretation democratization of interpretation

Under such circumstance, ICHCAP (the Centre), a UNESCO category 2 center in the field of intangible cultural heritage, proceeded the ‘Building Primary/Secondary Education Network’ project: to create a sustainable environment for transmission of intangible cultural heritage through collaboration with the education sector and to provide contents to educational fields through the development of integrated elementary school curriculum. This project was developed based on a cooperative relationship with the UNESCO Bangkok Office, a regional office in charge of education in the Asia-Pacific region, and Jeonju National University of Education, which led the project in 2019 to conduct analysis and development of the elementary curriculum in Korea. Based on developed materials, the pilot class was held in a fourth-grade classroom at Geomsan Elementary School in Gimje, Jeollabuk Province.

According to the Article 2 of 2003 Convention for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, intangible cultural heritage is

constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.

How to reinforce the interaction? How to change the fixed transmission atmosphere to promote creativity?

Voluntary participation and interest are important to ensure that intangible cultural heritage is alive and that future generations can accept it as their own. To do so, the priority is content should be fun. Intangible cultural heritage, which must be memorized for the test, cannot be accepted as part of life. Recalling Johann Huizinga, who emphasized that ‘culture itself bears the character of play’ (Huizinga, 1938, ix), there is a Homo Ludens at the base of our intangible cultural heritage. However, in front of the crisis for transmission and discontinuity, it is true that the intangible cultural heritage came into the textbook with the power of compulsory education,brought students’ involuntary learning. There was no more Homo Ludens. The pilot class was a small spark to resonate sensation against the situation so far. The English word curriculum, coined from the Latin word currer, meaning ‘run,’ signifies race, racetrack itself. If the ultimate direction of intangible cultural heritage education is sustainability represented by transmission and safeguarding, teachers should not tell students the first way to arrive, but should teach them the various ways by applying the broad meaning of the curriculum: all the experiences students experience both inside and outside the school. The pilot class was not conducted per subject, but through subject-integration. If the previous teaching methods showed divided education methods centered on individual subjects, the thematic inter-subject classes, which are the goal of enhancing the relationship between knowledge and life, have been actively applied recently starting from the elementary school. Five subjects of Korean language, society, music, art and physical education were integrated and taught under the theme of mask culture. Students made their own masks, the teacher delivered the meaning of social satire of the mask dance, learned the rhythm and dance together, made their own lines and performed the play. Particularly, in music and physical education, Bongsan Talchum’s (Mask Dance Drama of Bongsan) Assistant Instructor for Successor Training taught students directly and emphasized “together” instead of superficial “following.”

Mr. Yongil Jang, Assistant Instructor for Successor Training of Bolsan Talchum (National Intangible Cultural Heritage No.17), teaches dance movements in the class © ICHCAP / Cheon Youngteak
One student said after the class: “I went somewhere with my parents, and I saw something weird in the yard, wearing a mask and swishing hands. And now, I think I can confidently say that it’s a Talchum.” There is no doubt that the school is the place where future generations can spend the most time. Since it is not easy to go to the place of practice and meet real practitioners, intangible cultural heritage must enter the school. However, it should be considered that if intangible cultural heritage is taught in a standardized manner, it becomes the standard of assessment or ranking and cannot attract students’ interest. It is time for raising awareness and a changing point of view for education among policymakers, schools, successors, and communities alike.

Music class to learn rhythm with Janggu Korean traditional musical instrument © ICHCAP / Cheon Youngteak
As a medium-term project of the Centre, there will be a pilot project and workshop for teachers collaborated with APCIEU (Asia-Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding under the auspices of UNESCO) in 2020. In addition, the Centre is planning to share the results of the pilot project at the experts meeting on intangible cultural heritage education with UNESCO headquarters and supplement the guidelines for further application.

References:

1. Choi, Yongkyu, et al. (2006). Research on Elementary and Middle School Cultural Heritage Education Vitalization. Cheongju: Institute for Social Sciences of Korea National University of Education.
2. Kim, Yong-Goo. (2018). Developments of Cultural Heritage Education and the Raising of Local Cultural Heritage Education. MUNHWAJAE Korean Journal of Cultural Heritage Studies Vol. 51 No. 2, 154-169.

Interview

Ms. Ja Kyung Kwon
Teacher, Geomsan Elementary School

Q: How can you evaluate the project in general?

A : Unfortunately, children’s interest in mask dance, our intangible heritage, is very low. It is introduced as a folk game of ordinary people in the social subject, and it is taught in the physical education in a piecemeal. Through this class, I believe that the understanding and expression process of mask dance were integrated well by searching for meaning of mask dance, becoming a character with wearing a mask, decorating their own masks, learning mask dance from experts, and expressing it with friends in the group.

Q: What was the most difficult parts in preparing the class?

A: The most difficult thing in preparing class was that the teacher must learn the dance steps and rhythm. In my case, I learned it from an assistant instructor and guided children. For such integrated class, teachers must have basic capacity through a teachers’ workshop or training. Also, there was a time limit for the open class, but if the class is reorganized, I think the class will be more relaxed and more substantial in time.

Q: After the pilot project, have you ever tried similar types of classes? As a teacher, how can you evaluate student participation and interest on intangible cultural heritage? Are there any points changed before and after the class?

A: Unlike learning intangible cultural heritage through textbooks and videos, this pilot class focused on student participation. Therefore, I think it helped children to participate more actively and to arouse interest. After the class, we had time for talent show, and I laughed a lot because the kids danced Bongsan Talchum. I truly believe that it was an opportunity to become more familiar and interested in mask dance after this class.

Q: What should be improved for proceeding further?

A: First, teachers’ interest and awareness on recognition of importance of our cultural heritage and its spread are crucial. To expand this project, all stakeholders such as the Centre, the Office of Education, and universities of education should work together to train teachers, share case studies to promote the project. Also, if we find intangible cultural heritage elements such as Nongak (Farmers’ Performances) and traditional dance with characteristics of each region and help students to learn with them, we could have a living class locally, rather than a standardized cultural heritage class in a textbook.