Asia-Pacific teachers embrace UNESCO challenge to bring local living heritage into their classrooms
By Montakarn Suvanatap Kittipaisalsilp,Programme Officer, Culture Unit, UNESCO Bangkok
28 October 2022 – Since 2019, UNESCO, with support from International Information and Networking Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region (UNESCO-ICHCAP), Asia-Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding (APCEIU), and Chengdu Culture and Tourism Development Group L.L.C., has run a project, Safeguarding intangible cultural heritage (ICH) in formal education in Asia and the Pacific.
The project aims to develop and pilot innovative activities with teachers, students and heritage bearers in schools, encourage experience-sharing among teachers in different countries, and engage local education sectors in achieving quality education for all through the safeguarding of the living heritage of local communities.
Recently commenting on the project’s success, to date, Mr Seng Song, a coordinator of culture and arts education of Cambodian Living Arts, a non-governmental educational organization in Phnom Penh, noted, ‘The school directors were really excited and showed us very positive responses, especially given the fact that since they started using ICH, or living heritage, in their local subjects, they observed changes in the way students learn. (The students] have become more active and creative.’ Mr Song added, ‘ICH Education, as [teachers] call it, has become a method to unleash the talents of their students, such as their teamwork ability, critical thinking and idea presentation. It creates an environment that makes students happy and curious; hence, the become more interactive with teachers.’
While many observers might think that living heritage can only possibly be integrated in arts and religion classes, many teachers have revealed that this approach is applicable to other subjects, from social studies to geography, and even to mathematics and the sciences.
‘The goals of my lessons in social studies are [for students] to achieve an awareness of the importance of human rights, and to internalize a positive attitude toward human rights protection. I want the students to realize that the process by which injustice is felt by ordinary people could come to a critical point to form public opinions across the society, [which signals] the progress of human rights’, said Mr Hojeong Kim, a teacher at Shingal Elemenary School, in Yongin, the Republic of Korea. ‘My favourite part is that I can provide educational experiences while keeping the students engaged. We did fun physical and expressive activities, learning about the philosophical ideas instilled in the choreography of the namsadang nori performing art, and applying these ideas to the student’s lives. We look at elements of social critique in Korean pop songs, then find such critique in the performance script of the troupes.’
Mr Kim also commented that intangible cultural heritage is ‘an accumulation of experiences, lifestyles and cultures of people in certain areas. It is a great example of human adaptation to the environment, and their efforts to sustain communities and solve problems; thus, it is closely related to education. We expand the student’s temporal horizons by getting them to learn about past culture through the intangible heritage of the present day and predicting cultural changes in the future.’
In 2021, the project produced several guiding and outreach materials with lesson plans on how to integrate intangible heritage in schools, so that more schools across the region might enjoy such positive learning experience. These materials were transformed into a self-learning course for teachers and educators on GCED Online Campus, and a resource kit available in several languages. The project also produced a cohort of interdisciplinary educators in six pilot countries, namely Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan, Nepal, Republic of Korea and Thailand.
‘I have found that integrating living heritage into educational curricula is very useful for learners’, Mr Manit Ta-ai, Director of Ton Kaew Phadung Pitayalai School, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, commented on the subject of methodology. ‘The important thing is to provide our students with opportunities to think and analyze, so that it will reflect on their abilities to build their future upon various cultural assets they were born with, such as incorporating traditional knowledge to creative production of their own. Proving platforms and ways for students to learn directly from local masters can maximize the benefits of local cultural resources – both tangible and intangible heritage – to achieve inclusive and affordable education.’
This year, UNESCO is running quarterly challenges to teachers across Asia-Pacific, through UNESCO Associated Schools Network (ASPnet) and SEAMEO Schools’ Network. The three-step challenge calls for teachers to complete the GCED Online Campus course ‘Bringing Living Heritage to the Classroom in Asia-Pacific’, then to sign up for a regional webinar to wrap up their knowledge with the course developers, and finally to share with UNESCO their newly-developed lesson plans that integrate their local living heritage with the teaching of existing subjects.
The first quarterly webinar, which took place on 30 September 2022, was attended by over 150 teachers across the region, with numerous lesson plans submitted by participants after its conclusion. The second quarterly webinar will take place on 1 December 2022, via Zoom conferencing.
Teachers and educators interested in joining this growing community and taking up UNESCO’s challenge, thereby becoming eligible to earn up to three professional development certificates, can find further information at https://bangkok.unesco.org/content/teachers-living-heritage-online-course-engaging-class-culture
The last step of the challenge – sharing your lesson plan with UNESCO – will end on 31 December 2022, after which UNESCO will respond directly to all submitters with comments for improving and actualizing their aspiring lesson plans.
Montakarn Suvanatap Kittipaisalsilp is currently a programme officer for the Culture unit at UNESCO Bangkok. With education background in linguistics, museology and cultural project development, she is responsible for implementing national and regional capacity-building projects on intangible heritage safeguarding, sustainable heritage management, professionalization of heritage-related careers and prevention of illicit trafficking of cultural properties. Her interest has been on interdisciplinary and participatory approaches to heritage safeguarding and sustainable tourism, with a focus on ensuring ethics in working alongside local communities and indigenous peoples.