Marc Jacobs
Professor, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Every year there is much ado about inscribing items on UNESCO’s Representative List. When the dust of that spectacle settles down, it is possible to discern what was distinctive and important in a meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee, in the long run and on the ground (everywhere). In 2015, in Windhoek (10.COM), it was, next to the breakthrough of the notion of stakeholders,1 glocal ethics.2 This took the form of, on the one hand, the twelve ethical principles (and the still unfulfilled promise to create a web platform with relevant tools) and, on the other hand a new chapter, of the Operational Directives that partially translated themes of the 2030 Agenda to intangible heritage safeguarding policy.

So, what was interesting on the agenda of the Intergovernmental Committee Meeting on Jeju Island in South Korea in December 2017? Education: formal, non-formal and informal.

The three forms of education were topic of two food-for-thought side events that tried to seduce the members of delegations and accredited NGOs during their lunch breaks between Committee meetings. UNESCO organized an information session about ICH and education, and, with ICHCAP, a roundtable event about tertiary education. Formal and non-formal education were also at the heart of the official meetings. Let us use a quick-and-dirty method to examine the important Decisions documents produced at the Intergovernmental Committee meetings since 2012: “Education” appears twenty-six times in 2012 (Paris, 7.COM),3 twenty-one times in 2013 (Baku, 8.COM),4 forty-three times in 2014 (Paris, 9 COM),5 thirty-four times in 2015 (Windhoek 10.COM),6 and seventy-two times in 2016 (Addis Ababa, 11.COM).7 In the Decisions of the Jeju Island meeting (12COM, 2017), the word count for education is 106. In several decisions related to the periodic reports about elements on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, we find encouragement and recommendations like those addressed to China, “to further develop formal, vocational, and extracurricular education on the element and its traditional knowledge” in building junks or, for instance, to include “Yimakan storytelling in formal and non-formal education so as to promote the element among youth and facilitate their engagement in its transmission.” In motivating decisions to inscribe elements on the international lists or emphasizing the importance of or for educational measures, institutions, projects, and programs are frequently mentioned.

The 12.COM 9 Decision in Jeju will have a high impact and effect in the next decade. It is a recommendation to the General Assembly to approve the overall results framework that was prepared by the Secretariat and an expert working group in Beijing in 2016 and fine-tuned during the Chengdu meeting, also in (and financed by) China from 11 to 13 June 2017. In the meeting, the short-, mid-, and long-term outcomes and the general impact of the 2003 Convention were identified. In the Chengdu meeting eight thematic areas overarching twenty-five core indicators were identified. There were discussions about the order of the themes, because several delegates questioned the sudden and surprisingly strong emphasis on education in the first draft document. Safeguarding in general and transmitting intangible heritage is not just, or perhaps not even in first place an educational or pedagogical endeavor. The 2003 Convention is important for education and vice versa but more than that. This is why the expert group decided to change the order of the words of the first theme and then to put that thematic area “Transmission and education” in second place. Questions were raised in Chengdu about UNESCO’s new education prioritization in the safeguarding paradigm but a compromise that still reflected the priority shift wanted by the UNESCO Secretariat was found. The core indicators in the second thematic area are: 4) education, both formal and non-formal, strengthens transmission and promotes respect; 5) ICH integrated into primary and secondary education and 3) post-secondary education supports safeguarding and study of ICH. The items clustered under this trio are preceded by five other items on training under the new first thematic area “human and institutional capacities.”

Under the second thematic cluster “transmission and education,” there are ten subitems, each constituting a huge program and challenge for policymakers in every country and in UNESCO. It is clear how for instance the following proposition can have important leverage effects: “4.4 Teacher training programs and programs for training providers of non-formal education include approaches to integrating ICH and its safeguarding into education.” Some of the subitems involve politically sensitive issues like “5.3. The diversity of learners’ ICH is reflected through mother tongue or multilingual education and/or the inclusion of ‘local content’ within the educational curriculum.” Or they offer genuine challenges for safeguarding and for what Etienne Wenger called learning in landscapes of practice: “4.1 Modes and methods of transmitting ICH that are recognized by communities, groups and individuals are learned and/or strengthened, and included in educational programs, both formal and non-formal.” If the results-based framework will be accepted by the General Assembly in June 2018, and if it can be further developed, it might be a game-changer in some countries and for the 2003 Convention.8 9

On Jeju Island, the Committee also decided to endorse UNESCO’s request to prioritize calls for voluntary contributions from 2018 to 2021 for projects of ‘Safeguarding intangible cultural heritage in formal and non-formal education’ (Decision 12.COM 6). In the report submitted by the Secretariat to the Committee on its activities (document ITH/17/12.COM/5.b), there was already a statement made about the too-much-neglected provision ‘transmission through formal and non-formal education’ in article 2.3 of the Convention, next to the need to develop the education programs mention in article 14. The main catalyst or motivation for the evolution we are tracing in this essay is, since 2015, the Sustainable Development Goal 4 of the 2030 Agenda, on quality education and lifelong learning, a goal UNESCO has strategically prioritized. The UNESCO Secretariat claims that “the integration of intangible cultural heritage in education can act as a leverage to increase the relevance and quality of multiple subject areas and education for peace and sustainable development.”10 In particular, SDG target 4.7 tries to ensure that, by 2030, among other goals, education for sustainable lifestyles and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development are achieved. According to the section, ICH provides context-relevant content and pedagogy

that can be integrated at all school levels, including for early childhood education (4.2) and for inclusion of the vulnerable, such as persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and children in challenging situations (4.5). Several of the ICH domains in the 2003 Convention are directly linked to post-secondary education such as technical and vocational training (TVET) and many traditional occupations, knowledge and apprentice systems provide effective examples of developing technical and vocational skills.

The aspirations and the strategy are spelled out:

At the global level, UNESCO Headquarters will establish a clearinghouse for integrating intangible cultural heritage in education with input from the Regional Bureaus for Education, Field Offices, and UNESCO Education Institutes. The clearinghouse will consolidate knowledge and tools that are developed through in-country initiatives and policy analysis, and then ensure that information is shared widely within and across countries (…) Drawing on experiences from the field, at the global level UNESCO will be well positioned to provide input and direction to relevant education initiatives, including assistance in monitoring SDG 4.11

If observers in the 2020s wish to understand why, if all goes according to plan, education programs will be high on the Agenda of the paradigm of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage in UNESCO and in many Member States, they should look to what was discussed and decided on Jeju Island in December 2017 and to the motives and instruments different entities of the UNESCO Secretariat developed in the months before and after 12.COM. The seeds have been planted, let us (hope and) see if they will grow.


1.↑Jacobs, Marc. 2015. “Updating: Time for Stakeholders.” ICH Courier. The Intangible Cultural Heritage Courier of Asian and the Pacific. Vol. 12; 1-3.2.↑Jacobs, Marc. 2017. “Glocal Perspectives on Safeguarding. CGIs, ICH, Ethics and Cultural Brokerage.” Glocal Perspectives on Intangible Cultural Heritage: Local Communities, Researchers, States and UNESCO, with the Special Focus on Global and National Perspectives. Uesugi, T. and Shiba, M., eds. Tokyo, Seijo University. pp. 49-71.
3.↑United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. 2012. “ITH/12/7.COM/Decisions.” Accessed 26 February 2018.↑Ibid. 2013. “ITH/13/8.COM/Decisions.” Accessed 26 February 2018.↑Ibid. 2014. “ITH/14/9.COM/Decisions.” Accessed 26 February 2018.↑Ibid. 2015. “ITH/15/10.COM/Decisions.” Accessed 26 February 2018.↑Ibid. 2016. “ITH/16/11.COM/Decisions.” Accessed 26 February 2018.↑Ibid. 2017. “ITH/12/7.COM/Decisions.” pp. 16-27. Accessed 26 February 2018.↑Ibid. 2017. “ITH/17/12.COM/9.” Accessed 26 February 2018.↑Ibid. 2017. “ITH/17/12.COM/6.”p. 5. Accessed 26 February 2018.↑Ibid. 2017. “ITH/17/12.COM/6.” pp. 14-18. Accessed 26 February 2018.