Background and rationale

Young Inuit throat singers
© Art Babych / Shutterstock.com

The creative process of intergenerational transmission is at the centre of intangible cultural heritage safeguarding. It is a dynamic, interactive process through which intangible cultural heritage is constantly recreated. It is in itself a form of informal education that has been and continues to happen within communities. As such, it can provide context-specific content and pedagogy for education programmes and thus act as a leverage to improve the relevance of education and learning outcomes.

Modes and methods of transmission that are recognized by communities can be strengthened in education programmes. In this regard, education institutions can foster respect for intangible cultural heritage and provide new spaces to ensure its transmission to future generations.

Given the valuable role that education can play in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, the Convention recognizes the transmission of intangible cultural heritage ‘through formal and non-formal education’(Article 2.3) as a key safeguarding measure.

The Convention calls on States Parties to ensure recognition of, respect for, and enhancement of intangible cultural heritage through education programmes. These can include: programmes in formal learning environments such as in primary, secondary and post-secondary schools as well as non-formal opportunities such as short courses, community learning and capacity-building activities. Reinforcing the transmission of intangible cultural heritage through education programmes represents a broad, social approach to safeguarding that can have many positive mutual benefits.

Since 2017, the Living Heritage Entity at UNESCO has been working together with the UNESCO Education Sector, Field Offices and Education Institutes to implement projects, activities and other initiatives under the priority on ‘Safeguarding intangible cultural heritage in formal and non-formal education’.

Fostering new approaches and mutual benefits

Education programmes can be designed to teach students about or with intangible cultural heritage.

When teaching about living heritage, the focus is on introducing intangible cultural heritage as the subject of instruction. The content of the lesson is thus the intangible cultural heritage itself — with students learning to respect and reflect on their own living heritage as well as the living heritage of others.

Alternatively, education programmes can teach students with intangible cultural heritage to achieve other learning outcomes. The focus is on the learning opportunities offered by integrating living cultural heritage in the teaching and learning process of the subjects included in the school curriculum — such as math, life sciences, music and history. It can make the learning content more relevant and meaningful to the learners, because it ties in with their worldviews, knowledge systems and imagination. Thus, intangible cultural heritage offers a wide range of learning content and methods for teachers to draw on.

Strategy for training coming generations of Fujian puppetry practitioners Read more on the element
© Fujian Provincial Intangible Cultural Heritage Safeguarding Center

While all approaches have the potential to strengthen the transmission of intangible cultural heritage in general, in some cases, the focus may explicitly be on transmission. All approaches can help States meet the Convention’s mandate of intangible cultural heritage safeguarding, while simultaneously improving education quality.

The new learning context, characterized by increasing global interdependency and interconnectedness amid growing social tensions and economic uncertainty, calls for a renewed appreciation of the diversity of worldviews. The integration of different knowledge systems into education can help sustain and enhance the dignity, creativity and wellbeing of individuals all over the world, in relation to society and to the environment. Integrating intangible cultural heritage into education can then help meet the humanistic goals of quality education in the 21st century (see the 2015 UNESCO publication Rethinking Education: towards a common goal). These goals include respect for life and human dignity, equal rights and social justice, cultural and social diversity, and a sense of human solidarity and shared responsibility for our common future. Incorporating intangible cultural heritage in learning activities helps teachers to increase the relevance for their students and potential for their emotional engagement with learning materials. Additionally, when intangible cultural heritage enters the learning space, its valorization can build students’ self-esteem, pride and sense of belonging to their local community while underscoring the value of cultural diversity. These outcomes can help educators to reach students in vulnerable or marginalized populations and help students to build social resilience in the face of adversity and establish bridges of dialogue to build more just, inclusive, diverse and peaceful societies.

In addition to meeting humanistic educational goals, integrating intangible cultural heritage into education can bring benefits beyond the classroom by strengthening connections between schools and local communities. Intangible cultural heritage is community-based; communities, not outside experts, decide whether an expression constitutes part of their living heritage or not as they are responsible for its creation, maintenance, and transmission. The will and commitment of the community to give continuity to their living heritage is vital to ensure safeguarding. In fact, the Convention encourages the active participation of communities in safeguarding measures.

Incorporating intangible cultural heritage into learning spaces can offer new opportunities to engage community members, especially intangible cultural heritage bearers, in formal and non-formal educational settings, valorizing local knowledge and skills and raising the profile of community-based intangible cultural heritage. This valorization can have a ripple effect: building pride among students and community members while re-engaging community members in the educational system on shared terms of trust and cultural respect.

For educators, mentors and students…For heritage professionals and culture bearers…For policymakers and political stakeholders…
Incorporating ICH in learning activities increases the personal relevance and potential for students’ emotional engagement, builds students’ pride and sense of belonging, contributes to humanistic educational goals such as valuing cultural diversity and building resilience in the face of adversity, and also strengthens connections between schools and their local communities.Recognizing that intergenerational transmission of ICH is a form of informal education, collaboration with education sector colleagues is essential since educators are increasingly positioned to play a significant role in ICH safeguarding. Developing innovative initiatives and good practices can facilitate transmission and improve safeguarding measures as well as education quality.Integrating ICH in national education policy, curricula, and/or teacher education can help a country meet the mandate of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage while contributing to achieve the UN Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goal 4, to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

Meeting Sustainable Development Goal 4 on inclusive and equitable quality education

© UNESCO

By contributing to safeguarding under the Convention, improving educational outcomes at the local level, and strengthening connections between the educational system and communities, integrating intangible cultural heritage in formal and non/formal education can help States achieve the UN Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.’

More specifically, integrating intangible cultural heritage into education can help States meet the following targets:

  • 4.2. By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education. Intangible cultural heritage can be integrated at every educational level, including early childhood, providing context-relevant content and pedagogy that resonates with students even at an early age.
  • 4.3. By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university. Intangible cultural heritage, especially in the domains of knowledge about nature and the universe, performing arts, and traditional crafts, are well-suited for integration into technical and vocational education and training (TVET) programmes, having the potential to support livelihoods and improving the well-being of craftspeople and performers.
  • 4.4. By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship. Integrating intangible cultural heritage into TVET programmes and non-formal learning spaces such as workplaces, internships, and apprenticeships can build relevant skills, improve employment and entrepreneurial opportunities, and raise the profile of vocations related to intangible cultural heritage among the broader community and consumers.
  • 4.5. By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations. Integrating intangible cultural heritage into education can increase the personal relevance of what is being taught, enabling students to emotionally engage in the subject matter, build a sense of pride and self-worth, and strengthen their sense of belonging to their community. These impacts are especially important for students from marginalized groups, indigenous communities, and vulnerable situations. Furthermore, schools that integrate intangible cultural heritage into their curricula can strengthen connections with these communities, lessening their marginalization from society.
  • 4.7. By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and nonviolence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development. UNESCO projects such as ‘Promoting intangible cultural heritage for educators to reinforce education for sustainable development in the Asia-Pacific region’ and Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) projects on indigenous education have demonstrated ways in which intangible cultural heritage can provide entry points in existing curricula for teaching sustainable development values and skills in ways that foreground culture’s contribution while promoting cultural diversity.
Top