School should be a happy place where students are willing to engage in activities, learn, share, and develop into citizens who make a useful contribution to society. Most people spend a significant proportion of their youth, and sometimes some of their adult years, in the education system. It is, therefore, not a surprise that quality education is one of the goals identified as part of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Interestingly, this objective—Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4)—focuses not only on quantitative indicators (e.g., ensuring that all girls and boys complete free, equitable, and quality primary and secondary education) but also on qualitative aspects of education. It is essential to give a central place to strengthening education’s contribution to the fulfillment of human rights, peace, and responsible citizenship; this can be achieved through, among other aspects, the acceptance and appreciation of the cultural diversity of the world.
Bringing Culture to School: Teaching and Learning with Living Heritage
Over time, numerous initiatives and pedagogical approaches have been promoted, with Global Citizenship Education (GCED) or Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) leading this movement. Bringing culture to schools is one way to advance this objective, while safeguarding and promoting the culture itself. From world heritage education to arts education, UNESCO has been spearheading these initiatives for over four decades.
Teaching with or about living heritage, or ICH, is one approach to enrich the learning process. Living heritage includes knowledge and skills that are practiced and passed on to younger generations. They include music, dances, rituals, local health practices, drama, cuisine, craft skills, and festivals. All students and their families, all teachers and people living in communities near schools have a living heritage that is part of their identity. These practices, whether shared among different communities or found in just one, constitute a vast reservoir of knowledge and skills available locally.
ICH is often transmitted informally within families or communities, but some elements can be taught through the formal education system. Some schools offer classes in traditional music, dances, and crafts, or use local literature in language classes. Innovative pedagogical approaches have also explored how to teach with living heritage. In some cases, the living heritage provides examples, content, pedagogic tools, or methods to teach other subjects to enrich the teaching and learning process. This can apply to all curriculum subjects as well as extracurricular activities. For instance, in math and sciences, students can calculate proportions for cooking ingredients. They can visualize geometric concepts through textile patterns. With musical instruments, they can experiment with sound, vibration, oscillation. In biology they can look at seasons and the life cycles of local plants and animals. In social studies or history, they can analyze and compare the historical, social, and political context of a living heritage element in the past and the modern day. They can reflect on the evolution of gender roles and social structures through a practice. The list is endless.
This approach has numerous benefits for the students, the school, and communities. Bringing ICH with which students are familiar into lessons will give them more context. Some lessons can be very hands-on, and help the students understand new information and concepts more easily. Learning with ICH is engaging, practical, and fun. In multicultural classrooms, students can share their respective knowledge, which will foster mutual understanding and enhance inclusion and tolerance. All of this contributes to quality education. Teachers can explore innovative pedagogies. They can also collaborate with colleagues in multidisciplinary projects as ICH elements can often been explored from multiple perspectives. Bringing a living heritage element into school also increases students’ awareness and therefore contributes to its safeguarding, for the benefit of the whole community. This approach also aligns with GCED or ESD principles and objectives; the relationship is mutually beneficial.
Building Up Real Experience
UNESCO developed a six-step methodology that guides educators in developing their own contextualized lessons connected to local living heritage (their own or that of their students). Building on past projects in Asia-Pacific and Europe, the methodology was tested and refined with funding from ICHCAP and the Asia-Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding under the auspices of UNESCO (APCEIU).
In 2021, a pilot phase was conducted in twenty-one schools in six countries: Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, the Republic of Korea, and Thailand. Six teams of facilitators trained and supported teachers in their respective countries. From these pilots came a rich set of experiences and lesson plans that fed into and enriched the methodology. The pilot emphasized the importance of schools collaborating with their surrounding communities, who are the main custodians of local living heritage and an invaluable resource. Local practitioners helped teachers acquire knowledge on some ICH elements, develop lessons, and they even sometimes taught classes. To note just a few examples, mothers in Nepal helped with a cooking class, musicians demonstrated their art in Kazakhstan, and a woodcarver taught a craft class in his Thai village.
The project was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools in many countries were closed. In-person meetings were canceled. Living heritage festivals and events were postponed or the practice disrupted. Facilitators and local partners had to quickly adapt to the ever-changing situation. Despite these challenges, teacher trainings and school activities took place, often online, sometimes in person. Over a hundred lessons were developed. For instance, a Kyrgyz school created an ICH museum to hold their lessons. The Nepalese experience was so successful that a district is now expanding the approach to all its schools. The creative solutions that emerged during this dark period can be applauded. Most of the two thousand participating students wore masks, but it was still possible see the smiles on their faces and the sparkle in their eyes when they attended these innovative lessons. The very positive feedback received from them as well as from the teachers is all the more meaningful.
A Package to Support Teachers, and More
Teachers are best inspired by their fellow teachers. This is why UNESCO compiled their real-life experiences into a comprehensive resources kit. The backbone of this kit is the methodology. It is enriched with numerous examples from the six pilot countries plus examples identified during previous projects.
Visualization of the Steps
As a starting point, a series of video animations introduce the key ideas of the approach and the main actions that different stakeholders can take. To dive deeper, a downloadable and printable guide and an online course detail the concepts and methodology.
The online course targets teachers of all grades and all subjects related to arts and culture, as well as any other discipline, who are interested in testing innovative pedagogies to give their teaching more context and make it more efficient. Most content and examples in the course are from primary and lower secondary levels but the methodology can be applied to all grades.
The course, composed of five modules, was developed by the project facilitators. The first module lays down the concepts: what is living heritage and what is teaching with living heritage in schools. Modules 2–4 guide the participant through the six steps of the methodology, from exploring how to find information about ICH and work with community partners, to developing activities and assessing outcomes. The last module suggests ways to connect the methodology to the reality of different schools for a more sustainable approach. It includes, for instance, suggestions on how to teach with living heritage in a multicultural environment, how to develop partnerships (especially in the community), and how to connect this approach with existing education priorities such as GCED or ESD.
Each module is composed of three to five videos illustrated by numerous real-life examples. At the end of each module, the participants are encouraged to reflect in a short assignment. Throughout the modules, not only do the participants learn new skills, they also develop their own lesson plans or activities connected to living heritage.
The guide and online course are complemented by a set of tools: example lesson plans and suggestions on how to connect different school subjects to living heritage for inspiration, advice on how to collect information on living heritage, and links to additional resources for those who wish to deepen their understanding of specific topics.
Teachers are the main target group for these resources. Yet, as demonstrated by this project, teachers do not work alone. Their work is framed by education policies, curricula, and programs, and by their schools’ missions. Therefore, a guide for school managers and policy-makers proposes ways to support teachers interested in teaching with living heritage. And as communities are the main custodians of their living heritage, another guide suggests how parents and local practitioners can collaborate with schools and teachers to enrich lessons and also to safeguard their practice.
Living heritage is everywhere and the opportunities to bring it into schools to enrich pedagogical activities are unlimited. UNESCO invites teachers and all those interested to discover the resource kit and explore how the methodology could be applied in schools in their area.
This project has been implemented by UNESCO Bangkok, in close collaboration with the UNESCO offices in Almaty, Katmandu, and Phnom Penh, in partnership and with generous funding from ICHCAP and APCEIU, and with additional financial support from Chengdu Culture and Tourism Group.
Watch the animation series: https://bangkok.unesco.org/content/animation-series-teaching-and-learning-intangible-cultural-heritage-asia-and-pacific
The resource kit will be available during the second quarter of 2022.
The guide will be available on the UNESCO Bangkok website: https://bangkok.unesco.org/theme/culture.
The online course will be accessible from the GCED Online Campus platform: www.gcedonlinecampus.org/.
Organizing a Survey about Talaew with Students at Ban Mae Ngon Khilek School, Thailand
In Thailand, a community member teaches students how to weave bamboo talismans. © UNESCO / Linina Phuttitarn (Bottom) Students attend lessons in the ICH
Students attend lessons in the ICH museum set up in their school. © UNESCO / Kamilla Kenzhetayeva
In northern Thailand, students from eight ethnic groups study together in Ban Mae Ngon Khilek school. The teachers wanted to promote the idea that living heritage is part of everyday life. They encouraged their students to observe their surroundings and identify frequent cultural elements. Students noticed that almost every house in their villages, whatever their ethnicity, had talaew.
Talaew are protection charms made of thin bamboo sticks. People hang them on their gates and door frames to protect themselves from evil spirts. Students were curious about the meanings and functions of the bamboo craft, and teachers were keen to encourage them to find out more about this cultural element. With help from the headmaster and local community people, they planned a research activity in two of the villages. Fifteen local people agreed to share their talaew knowledge and skills. Over a hundred children took part in the trip in each village. They prepared questions about the meanings, values, functions, materials, and making processes of talaew. They took photos and videos, and wrote down people’s answers. They also learned to make a talaew.
This simple yet effective fieldwork yielded very interesting information. The teachers integrated this content into eight subjects. In math they looked at talaew shapes and forms, and drew them in art class. In social sciences, they explored religious beliefs and teachings, and social bonds while they looked at the historical background in Thai language. In English and Chinese language, they learnt new words. The focused on the raw material, bamboo, in science class. Finally, they reflected on career development and income generation through the sale of talaew. The teachers shared that using talaew in their lessons had made the classes significantly more appealing and interesting to the students. It also raised awareness about the values of living heritage.
The community members enthusiastically participated in the research and craft demonstrations. After the field survey, their grandchildren kept asking more questions about their heritage. This reassured them that the tradition would continue among the younger generations.
Surveying the living heritage element with the students empowered them to shift from being passive players in the education system to becoming the center of learning. This made them effective cultural intermediaries to safeguard their heritage and bridged the gaps between generations. Their active role made learning about and with living heritage in various subjects much more aligned with their interests and therefore more engaging.
Quote related to this case: “Local wisdom is the foundation of culture which manifests in our ways of life. Its value surpasses monetary value. With its long history in our land, we should learn about it and ensure its future.” — Ms. Puangphet Meema (Teacher)