Living heritage in formal education: students and teachers share experiences in three short videos

Under the joint UNESCO-EU pilot project Engaging Youth for an Inclusive and Sustainable Europe, teachers and students from 10 UNESCO ASPnet schools across the European Union have developed and implemented innovative school projects integrating living heritage in school-based education. Through adapted lesson plans or extracurricular activities, intangible cultural heritage (ICH) was included in different school subjects.

Although this approach was new for many of the educators and their students (12 to 17 years old), it sparked curiosity, creativity and enthusiasm as it proposed learning subjects, such as mathematics, physics, computer-aided design (CAD), languages, geography, music, physical education or visual arts in different, more engaging ways.

Teaching and learning with living heritage

Exploring the students’ living heritage through thematic exhibitions or field trips permitted them to reflect on ICH and gain respect and appreciation for cultural diversity.
Teaching and learning with ICH created a space for everyone to participate, including students with diverse cultural backgrounds, students with special learning needs or with physical disabilities.

Making living heritage part of the educational content and pedagogy contributes to achieving quality education (SDG 4), while raising awareness about the importance of ICH and its safeguarding. During this exercise, teachers have noticed an improvement of learning outcomes as living heritage helped connect theoretical knowledge with students’ everyday life, while motivating them to be more active.

It also stimulated multidisciplinary approaches and cooperation among teachers, which resulted in the use of more active and diversified teaching methods and tools. Learning with living heritage strengthened the connections between schools, families and communities and encouraged dialogue between generations.
It contributed to the learners’ wellbeing, helping them to explore their identities and build self-respect, socio-emotional skills and positive worldviews.

For their school projects, the 10 teachers and their pupils have selected living heritage elements that are relevant for them and their communities. Three of these projects have been documented in short films (five to seven minutes) that show how living heritage was integrated in lesson plans and extracurricular activities. ICH bearers and practitioners were involved at different stages through online surveys, interviews, visits to their workshops or presentations where they shared their craft, knowledge and passion with the young.

Three ICH elements, three projects, three films

1.Teaching with living heritage in a culturally diverse classroom: Hanga printing in art and math classes


Campus Comenius in Brussels, Belgium, is a young school striving for innovation in education, where traditional teaching methods are combined with self-regulated learning. Cultural diversity is a daily reality for the school. Therefore Rembert, the project’s leading teacher, proposed to first conduct an online survey with his students to get a better understanding of their cultural backgrounds. The result was surprising: the school’s 140 students have identified having their roots in 37 countries around the globe and speak 35 different languages at home.
The next step was to organize a school exhibition for which students were asked to bring objects reflecting, in their view, the living heritage of their families – objects related to practices, customs and know-how passed down from generation to generation, close to their hearts. From this exhibition, the Japanese Hanga printing presented by Maori (12) was selected to be part of the school project.

Children with a migration background often feel that there is no space for them to express themselves, to share where they come from. By integrating living heritage into our teaching, students were so happy that the school provided a space for their culture.
Rembert Jonckheere (Belgium), pilot project teacher

Arts and math teachers worked closely with a UNESCO-trained facilitator and Maori’s grandfather – a practitioner of Hanga printing, living in Japan – to find the best ways to integrate this practice in their lessons. As a result, students learnt this traditional printing technique in art classes, where they created prints integrating their own cultural references. In mathematics, they used the prints to learn about geometric transformation, reflection, translation and rotation.

2. Using new technologies to teach with living heritage: “Glöcklerlauf” in physics and computer-aided design classes


Welterbe Mittelschule in Bad Goisern, Austria. is a small school where students come from different villages in the Hallstättersee region in Salzkammergut. The school project on teaching and learning with living heritage was inspired by the Glöcklerlauf celebration, which takes place every year on the eve of the Epiphany, on 5 January.

I never thought I would be interested in living heritage or that I could integrate it in my teaching. After this experience, as teachers, we understood that living heritage can be combined with any school subject.
Florian Englbretch (Austria), pilot project teacher
Designing the traditional Glöcklerlauf caps during the CAD lesson was much more complex and challenging than drawing the simple geometric patterns we usually do, but students found it more interesting and meaningful, as it was related to a practice they all knew.
Martin, student

Martin (14), a young Glöckler, worked with his teacher, Florian, to develop the project. Martin and other more experienced Glöcklerlauf practitioners helped teachers and students to better understand the tradition, its meaning, and the craft that goes into its costumes. Visiting the workshop of an experienced practitioner showed everyone how the paper and lights decorating the caps are prepared, how the wood structures are built or the way in which the cow bells are used. The Glöcklerlauf practice was integrated in different subjects and school grades: Handicraft (7th grade), computer-aided design (CAD; 8th grade), German language (5th grade), physics (6th grade) and an extra-curricular talent course (5th – 8th grade).

3. Teaching about environment and economy with living heritage: O Merdeiro in geography, music and art classes


Colexio Eduardo Pondal in Cangas, Spain, is a school on the Galician coast, a region with strong agricultural and fishing traditions and a language of its own. The Carnival in Galicia is celebrated every February across the region. People dress up and get together to celebrate the end of winter. Although the main characteristics of the celebration are common, there are particularities in customs and costumes that each community takes pride in. “O Merdeiro” is one of them, as the most expressive character in Vigo, a city on the Galician seashore.

By having to first understand living heritage, everyone spoke to their grandparents, teachers, associations and then shared with the group. These activities provided us with a point of view from different perspectives and we liked it.
Sara, student
With living heritage, learning becomes more interesting, meaningful and motivating for students. And, as teachers, we know that when students are motivated, they achieve better results.
María Isabel Bión Caíño (Spain), pilot project teacher

Sabela together with her student Sara (15) decided to integrate the carnival figure O Merdeiro and connected traditions in different subjects. O Merdeiro was thus integrated in art classes (masks), Galician language and literature (traditional sayings and oral poetry “regueifas”), music (songs), but also geography for its connection to the environment and the local traditional economy based on fishing and farming.
To learn more about the history of the carnival, O Merdeiro and the fishing- and farming-led economy, students interviewed parents and grandparents, attended a lecture given by the Ethnographic association “A Merdeira”, visited an association of women fish net-makers and took part in a music workshop held by the local association “Peisd´hos”.

The safeguarding of living heritage through school-based education

The videos are part of a set of resource materials for teachers about the integration of ICH in school-based education. The materials will be made available online in the first part of 2021 and will include a handbook with a step-by-step approach to incorporating ICH in lesson plans and extracurricular activities,10 case-studies and additional practical tools for educators.

The UNESCO – EU project “Engaging Youth for an Inclusive and Sustainable Europe” is a joint effort of UNESCO and the European Commission to address shared priorities in the fields of cultural heritage and education. Developed under the European Year of Cultural Heritage, the project was launched in 2019 with the objective to encourage and support young people’s engagement in the protection and safeguarding of their cultural heritage.

Education plays an important role in guiding young people to take interest in the safeguarding of their living heritage. The 2003 Convention recognizes the “transmission of intangible cultural heritage through formal and non-formal education” as one of the safeguarding measures (Article 2.3) and it also mentions the important role of promoting awareness and respect for intangible cultural heritage (Article 14). Since 2017, UNESCO has been working to implement initiatives contributing to safeguarding intangible cultural heritage through formal and non-formal education and activities are currently being implemented in more than 30 countries around the world.