About living heritage and education

What is intangible cultural heritage or living heritage?

Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) – or ‘living heritage’ – is inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants. It includes oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, and the knowledge and skills related to craftsmanship. It is continuously changing, evolving and being recreated as it is transmitted from generation to generation and evolves in response to our environment. This living heritage provides meaning in the everyday lives of communities, groups and individuals, and a sense of identity, continuity and belonging which contributes to their well-being. The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is shared and the meaning it carries for those involved. It is significant for all communities and groups in society, no matter their size or scale, and can promote social cohesion, respect for cultural diversity and human creativity, as well as help communities build resilient, peaceful and inclusive societies.

To learn more about intangible cultural heritage (ICH) please refer to UNESCO’s website. To discover vibrant intangible cultural heritage practices and expressions, and see how they represent a rich cultural diversity, navigate through the dynamic and interactive tool Dive into intangible cultural heritage.

What is Global Citizenship Education?

Global Citizenship Education (GCED) aims to empower learners of all ages to assume active roles, both locally and globally, in constructing more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive and secure societies. GCED nurtures respect for diversity and solidarity in students in order to build a sense of belonging to a common humanity and is based on the three domains of learning: cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioural. The key learning outcomes, key learner attributes, topics and learning objectives suggested in GCED are based on these three domains and are interlinked and integrated into the learning process.

To learn more about Global Citizenship Education please refer to UNESCO’s website.

About integrating living heritage and education

Why integrate living heritage in education?

Integrating intangible cultural heritage into formal and non-formal education programmes offers multiple opportunities to improve the quality of education and strengthen the safeguarding of this heritage. First, addressing intangible cultural heritage through education contributes to developing a sense of personal and collective identity and belonging, intimately linked to this heritage. Strengthening the recognition of oneself and others, reinforcing personal and cultural esteem, favours both the safeguarding of one’s own living heritage and that of others by establishing channels of dialogue with other cultures, promoting an educational context of respect, appreciation and recognition of cultural diversity. Moreover, framing education in the systems of knowledge and local practices also strengthens the connection between educational programmes and local communities and realities, enhancing the constructive and transforming role of education in building more just, inclusive, diverse and peaceful societies. Finally, all these elements also contribute to contextualize education better, generating more relevant and therefore sustainable learning processes, thus improving educational quality.

How can I get involved?

Integrating intangible cultural heritage into educational programmes is within everyone’s reach. There is no single way to get involved, nor is it necessary to change the curriculum to integrate this heritage. It is a constant learning process that invites us to reflect and reinvent our teaching practice. It is a matter of allowing learners’ living heritage to enter the classroom. Thus, intangible cultural heritage becomes a framework of reference on which the teaching-learning process can be based. Every tool, methodology, material and content that is generated contributes to improving and achieving learning outcomes by making education more culturally relevant. Thus, integrating intangible heritage does not seek to generate additional work, but rather to enrich teachers’ work as well as the curriculum by helping to develop the skills required by addressing, interrelating and deepening in the different disciplines.

What is the best way that I can integrate intangible cultural heritage into my classroom?

Each learning space presents different opportunities, challenges and contexts. This is why there is no one ‘best’ way to integrate intangible cultural heritage into learning activities. Intangible cultural heritage is diverse and highly contextual, making it difficult to develop universal guidelines for the classroom. Educators, researchers and other professionals are encouraged to refer to the projects and resources included in this clearinghouse to adapt or develop frameworks and informed practices that work within your specific learning space. You can share your experiences and lessons learned with the clearinghouse’s growing community. In fact, you may already be using intangible cultural heritage in your classroom and can contribute your research results or teaching tools to the emerging body of work hosted in the clearinghouse.

Browse the Clearinghouse to find projects and tools that can help you integrate ICH into existing curricula.

What is the difference between ‘teaching about intangible cultural heritage’ and ‘teaching with intangible cultural heritage’?

These two approaches for integrating intangible cultural heritage into formal and non-formal education can facilitate intangible cultural heritage safeguarding and improve education relevance and quality. Yet they differ. When teaching about intangible cultural heritage, students’ study a particular living heritage expression, the objective being to get to better knowing and understanding this expression. In this case, the focus may be on the transmission of specific skills or knowledge, such as specific vocational training programme, for example. In contrast, teaching with intangible cultural heritage seeks to nourish the teaching-learning process by ensuring that it is grounded in the learners’ intangible cultural heritage. This enables to recognize the value of related pedagogies and knowledge linked to this heritage and to integrate them into a wide range of subjects, such as languages, chemistry, physical education, social studies, mathematics, etc. In doing so, the content of learning is closely linked to the lives of learners and thus becomes more interesting, meaningful and relevant to them and their families, thus favoring contextualized learning and dialogue between different forms of knowledge. Both perspectives have the potential to strengthen the transmission of intangible cultural heritage in general as in both approaches’ students learn to respect and reflect on their own living heritage as well as the living heritage of others. Indeed, research into quality education suggests that students learn and retain knowledge better when content is linked to prior knowledge or enables a personal connection to be made. Integrating local intangible cultural heritage into the classroom by teaching about living heritage or teaching with living heritage can facilitate both these aspects of effective learning, activating prior knowledge and resonating more deeply with students.

Our school already teaches history, how is intangible cultural heritage different?

History offers students the opportunity to learn about past events, environments, and societies through documentary evidence and secondary research. Although intangible cultural heritage is inherited from the past, it is contemporary as it is a ‘living heritage’ inherent to the lives of community members today. While an historic event has come and gone, a living expression continues to be re-enacted or retold today. Thus, intangible cultural heritage is dynamic and often changes in response to new social contexts and environments through time. Intangible cultural heritage can be related to historical facts. It can then explain, remember, heal, among others, historical events that have marked the communities related to this heritage. Furthermore, integrating intangible cultural heritage into education can offer an effective channel for students to learn about the skills and cultural achievements of earlier generations directly from living culture bearers or by participating in living traditions. Thus, intangible cultural heritage can complement and enrich existing history curricula to better connect present to past and understand its impacts in today’s world.

How can integrating intangible cultural heritage into education help contribute to economic development?

In addition to helping to achieve UN Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goal 4, to provide quality education, integrating intangible cultural heritage into technical and vocational education training (TVET) can help safeguard intangible cultural heritage while fostering employment and promoting sustainable economic growth. TVET programmes that incorporate intangible cultural heritage can potentially support livelihoods, thus empowering communities, especially marginalized groups, women, and those living in rural areas. Such programmes can raise public awareness of intangible cultural heritage while offering new economic opportunities to traditional craftspeople and performers.

About the clearinghouse

Can I recommend or contribute resources to the clearinghouse?

Yes. We welcome contributions of relevant resources such as research papers, policy documents, teaching tools, curricular materials, and teacher training guides that can be freely shared with the public. Please contact us at ICH-capacity@unesco.org