Integrating ICH and education: A review of converging theories and methods

Writer : Angela M. Labrador
Year : 2022

The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, especially Articles 2 and 14, foregrounds the integral role that formal and non-formal education can play in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage (ICH). While the Convention’s Operational Directives enumerate a number of educational policies that countries may implement, the highly contextual nature of ICH and the complex politics of developing national curricula mean there is no one-size-fits-all solution for integrating ICH in education. A number of experiments in ICH and education can be found scattered among grey literature and academic journals, and a recent collaborative initiative between the Culture and Education sectors of UNESCO promises further growth in this area. Thus, it is an opportune time to survey the literature to document what has been accomplished and what new opportunities have emerged. This paper outlines four trends that are now converging: 1) understanding intergenerational transmission as a form of education, 2) promoting culturally responsive pedagogies, 3) linking ICH safeguarding to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and 4) shifting away from didactically teaching about heritage to teaching through heritage. This convergence offers benefits to practitioners both in the fields of ICH and education as well as to policymakers. In addition to the literature survey, this paper identifies present research gaps and suggests additional research questions that educators and heritage professionals could focus on in the future.

education, cultural transmission, culturally relevant pedagogy, education for sustainable development, literature review, intergenerational learning, vocational education and training


The Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, especially Articles 2 and 14, foregrounds the integral role that formal and non-formal education can play in safeguarding intangible cultural heritage (ICH) (UNESCO 2003a). The Convention’s Operational Directives provide further detail to the type of educational interventions that States Parties should prioritise, such as promoting multilingual education, developing curricular resources, training teachers in ICH, providing participatory or place-based pedagogical experiences and integrating ICH into vocational training (UNESCO 2008).

Such guidance is a response to the repercussions of globalisation on the social contexts that have enabled intergenerational transmission of ICH knowledge in the past (Alivizatou 2011; Deacon et al. 2004; Rusalic 2009;
UNESCO 2003a). In an oft-romanticised pre-modern time, ICH was transmitted informally via family and community members or non-formally through apprenticeships and practical training. Now that these informal and non-formal educational contexts have been interrupted or constrained, the formal education system is being conscripted to fill the gaps. For instance, countries such as Malaysia (Barghi et al. 2017) and Indonesia (UNESCO 2013; Wang 2019) have integrated ICH into national curricula, and a number of projects have been undertaken to bring ICH education into classrooms around the world.

Ironically, the institutionalisation of compulsory education has been a contributing factor to the erosion of informal and non-formal ICH education, as youth must spend the majority of time in school and away from other community members (Bhola 2002; UNESCO 2013). Furthermore, formal education programmes have been used to overtly interrupt the chain of cultural transmission and assimilate Indigenous and marginalised populations. Thus, an uneasy relationship may exist between cultural communities and the educational system, especially in postcolonial societies, complicating attempts to formalise ICH education. Nevertheless, the educational field has become increasingly self-aware of this tension, with some advocating for critical pedagogical approaches that respect local cultures rather than obliterate them. Additionally, education scholars have championed the need to provide more space for non-formal educational contexts across the life cycle – from early childhood to lifelong learning.

The highly contextual nature of ICH, the complex politics of developing national curricula and the turn towards non-didactic pedagogies mean there is no onesize-fits-all solution for integrating ICH in education. A plethora of experiments in ICH and education can be found scattered among grey literature, journals and edited volumes, a sample of which can be found in this review. Additionally, a recent collaborative initiative between the Culture and Education sectors of UNESCO to launch a clearinghouse on living heritage and education promises further growth in this area (UNESCO 2021). Thus, it is an opportune time to survey the literature to document what has been accomplished and what new opportunities have emerged.

Collapsing binaries: An overarching context

This paper details four main trends that appear to be converging and that reveal a fertile, interdisciplinary and complex ground for integrating ICH in formal and nonformal education. While each trend has its own evolutionary trajectory, their convergence is taking place against the backdrop of the collapse of traditional epistemological binaries. Indeed, even the binary of traditional/modern, which has long been at the root of much ICH theory and practice (Alivizatou 2011), has been critiqued to the point that UNESCO’s website ( has jettisoned the use of the word ‘traditional’ so as to avoid the implication that communities who safeguard their ICH are anti-modern, backwards or primitive.

Other notable binaries being deconstructed in the heritage field are nature/culture and tangible/intangible, complicating typologies that have long divided material culture and associated cultural practices. For instance, a programme aimed at safeguarding boatbuilding in a Croatian community models how educational programmes must engage with ‘the interplay between material vessels and immaterial skills’ and recognise that, as ICH is transmitted, the material form may transform as well (Bender 2014). Thus, thinking through or beyond such binaries calls for a different approach to heritage ‘preservation’ that acknowledges change as part and parcel of a healthy heritage ecosystem.

Simultaneously, the education field has been questioning the relationship between formal and nonformal education (e.g. Honwad 2018; Torres 2001; UNESCO 2006). Educational philosophies such as placebased education and culturally responsive education have decried essentialising, nationalistic curricula that have dominated educational policy. Instead, a growing interest in local and cultural contexts of diverse student bodies has translated into teaching approaches that blur the boundaries between classroom and the world beyond. Thus, for those seeking to integrate ICH into education, new terrain is being uncovered by those who seek to experiment with alternative ways of being, knowing and teaching.

Trends in ICH and education-related literature

Trend 1. Understanding intergenerational transmission as a form of education

Central to ICH safeguarding is the process of passing knowledge from one generation to another, commonly referred to as intergenerational transmission. Social scientists have theorised this subject in terms of socialisation, enculturation or cultural evolution and have identified formal education systems as one context in which this process may take place. Researchers may differentiate between the processes of ‘social learning’, how knowledge is exchanged, and the modes of ‘cultural transmission’, who is exchanging knowledge (Calvet-Mir et al. 2016; Hewlett et al. 2011).2

Early social scientists and educators assumed that cultural knowledge was copied or ‘poured’ into the empty vessel of the recipient’s mind (Aunger 2000; Maxwell and Chmiel 2010; Rodriguez 2012). Transmission was inferred to be unidirectional, from an older generation to a passive member of a younger generation. As theorists began to ponder the dynamics of cultural change, especially in modern society, they began to recognise the student as a more active agent, who, rather than passively receiving information, filtered the information through a process of internalisation (Aunger 2000; Vaisey and Lizardo 2016). Transmission was still unidirectional, but the process became contingent upon the subjectivity of the recipient, as well as their social context.

For instance, a series of pioneering experiments conducted in 1932 modelled the process of linear transmission by asking a participant to memorise something and then recall the information to another participant, repeating the process through a chain of participants (Bartlett and Kintsch 1967; Mesoudi and Whiten 2008). The results indicated that, as the information passed down the chain, details were increasingly omitted and material was reframed in terms consistent with individuals’ pre-existing knowledge3 (Bartlett and Kintsch 1967; Mesoudi and Whiten 2008). In other words, information recall is a ‘reconstructive’ process that may introduce cultural change, even when the social learning process is rote memorisation (Mesoudi and Whiten 2008). Furthermore, the perennial parental ‘do as I say, not as I do’ directive should remind us that information transmitters may consciously introduce change into the chain of transmission (e.g. Tam 2015).

The post-WWII elaboration of internalisation theories focused more upon the transmission of cultural values and meanings rather than ICH practices (Vaisey and Lizardo 2016). As theorists placed more emphasis upon the impact of the social context of transmission, theories broadened to recognise transmission as a dynamic, dialogical and constructive act. Information isn’t just given and received, it is constructed through socially situated dialogue between actors (Aunger 2000; Maxwell and Chmiel 2010). Thus, ‘transmission’ may soon become an outdated term, as it implies a unidirectional broadcasting of information rather than a relational engagement with knowledge (Rodriguez 2012); perhaps ‘intergenerational learning’ is a better fit (Cortellesi, Harpley and Kernan 2018).

Increased theoretical interest in the social context of intergenerational transmission gave way to identifying modes whereby social status and power enter the mix (Mesoudi and Whiten 2008; Soldati 2016). Researchers suspected that too much emphasis had been placed on vertical transmission and that other modes were equally influential, such as retroactive transmission, in which information flows from younger generations to older (Calvet-Mir et al. 2016; UNESCO 2013). Indeed, constructivist theories opened the door to realising that learning continues throughout the life cycle. For instance, as children age, horizontal (peer-to-peer) and oblique (a member of an older generation who is not related by kinship) transmission increases (Eyssartier, Ladio and Lozada 2008; Kline, Boyd and Henrich 2013). While older generations are often treated as fonts of wisdom, some researchers have cautioned against assuming that all elders are experts; one shouldn’t assume that, just because one ages, they absorb cultural knowledge as a sponge, but that ICH expertise comes from a life history of active learning and specialisation (Demps et al. 2012).

Research into social learning processes has covered parallel ground. As learners were recognised as active participants, passive ‘empty vessel’ methods such as rote memorisation or didactic lecture fell out of favour in preference for active, collaborative, experiential and multisensory learning. Many studies conducted since the 1990s have concluded that knowledge acquisition and retention were improved through the use of active learning (Baines 2008; Bernstein 2018). Indeed, UNESCO’s Education 2030 Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action (2016) identifies ‘learner-centred, active, and collaborative pedagogical approaches’ as indicative of quality education.

As teachers adopt non-didactic learning methods, institutions of formal education are more likely to become sites that enable the intergenerational transmission of ICH. For instance, hands-on learning provides students with experiences akin to what apprentices may have received in years past (Cominelli and Greffe 2012). Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) programmes are obvious providers of such pedagogical experiences, and examples abound. The Turquoise Mountain Institute for Afghan Arts and Architecture in Kabul models their training programme on the historic karkhane educational system (Kennedy 2010). Several adult education programmes in Cyprus that provide training in Lefkara embroidery serve as evidence that the transmission of highly specialised ICH knowledge can be effective among older learners (Ktori 2017). A survey of central Asian TVET institutions uncovered a number of promising programmes, including two that catered to people with visual, hearing or learning disabilities, indicating the potential for inclusive ICH education (UNESCO Almaty Office 2018). An Indonesian municipality’s adoption of an active learning curriculum that engages children in batik craftsmanship was spearheaded by the Batik Museum in Pekalongan when it decided to become proactive about its dismal visitor numbers (UNESCO 2013).

Inquiry-based programmes in which students become ICH researchers not only teach competencies included in curricular standards but also build students’ social skills to engage in intergenerational learning opportunities. For instance, a project in Massachusetts that built upon an existing hands-on gardening programme positioned sixth graders as oral historians (Labrador 2011;see also Barter 2014). In crafting their own interview questions about local customs related to foodways, farming and the environment, students learned how to engage their elders with curiosity and respect. For the elders, who had been feeling socially isolated, the opportunity to participate in educational programmes related to ICH offers a way to feel connected and of value to their community (Zipsane 2011).

number of educational programmes, such as the early childhood education and care project, Together Young and Old (TOY), whose ‘Play Hubs’ can be found across several European countries (Cortellesi et al. n.d.; Cortellesi, Harpley and Kernan 2018). These community spaces are designed to facilitate creative social learning among children and elders of diverse cultural backgrounds. Recognising the reciprocity of intergenerational transmission is a hallmark of contemporary theoretical approaches to education and social cohesion (Mannion and Adey 2011).

ICH education programmes may also aim for cross-cultural respect and understanding, which can be particularly fruitful in conflict areas. For example, the Centre for Creativity in Education and Cultural Heritage implemented a programme in Israel and Palestine in which Arab and Jewish elementary classes are paired for two years during which they focus on the game of hopscotch (Lichman 2015). Rather than researching ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ versions of the game, they document the multiple versions that their peers practice and then engage their elders to learn how the game has changed over time (Lichman 2015). The programme culminates in a multicultural, multigenerational play session of the different versions (Lichman 2015).

This trend of framing the intergenerational transmission of ICH as a form of knowledge exchange and thus, of education, can be traced back to the roots of ICH-related fields, such as folklore studies and anthropology. As social scientists and educators developed theories related to the processes of social learning and modes of cultural transmission, the ‘what, who, when and how’ of ICH knowledge exchange has grown more complex (Mesoudi and Whiten 2008, 3489). ICH knowledge is thus increasingly understood as constructed in a series of social, cultural and temporal contexts by multiple actors in a dynamic and dialogic exchange that continues throughout one’s life.

Trend 2. Promoting culturally responsive pedagogies

The second trend, an increase in pedagogical approaches that attempt to respect, celebrate or sustain the cultural practices of marginalised communities, can be traced to scholars and activists who identified formal educational systems as a tool for oppression (Althusser 1970; KiZerbo et al. 1997). These liberatory pedagogies often feature active, collaborative and experiential learning as an antidote to the disempowering relationships fostered by didactic learning philosophies. Forerunners include Gandhi’s work towards ‘basic education for all’, which promised free education in the mother tongue centred around handicrafts (Skyes 1987; Singh 2013), and Nyerere’s policy of ‘Education for Self-Reliance’, which emphasised the role of ‘traditional’ know-how related to the environment in achieving self-reliance (Nyerere 1967; Semali 1999; Singh 2013). Nations with histories of colonial and postcolonial administration of Indigenous populations have been sites of similar pedagogical struggle. In 1928, a scathing study of the effects of government policies on American Indians recommended a paradigm shift: returning students to their homes and rejecting universal curricula in favour of programmes that drew upon local Indigenous knowledge (IK) (Meriam 1928, 372–373). While the report did not succeed in ending assimilationist policies at the time, it did provide fodder for activists to advance the centrality of Indigenous epistemology within education as a means for achieving self-determination.

Anti-colonial educators around the world were faced with a tricky problem: how could their students both learn new knowledge to build a better world and unlearn the colonialist knowledge in which they had been inculcated? In his experience conducting adult literacy education in Brazil, Paulo Freire found that his students had a ‘fear of freedom’ (Freire 1967, 47). His antidote was a ‘critical pedagogy’, a problem-posing method whereby students identify and solve real-world problems relating to their own experience and in which students become ‘critical co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher’ (Freire 1967, 81). Freire’s work informed liberation struggles around the world and has remained a foundational text for educators, especially those working with marginalised populations.

In 1960, UNESCO expanded upon the universal right to education in its Convention against Discrimination in Education, the first international legal instrument to address equal access. The Convention forbids States Parties from depriving anyone from education, providing education of inferior quality, maintaining separate institutions for groups of people and subjecting pupils to inhumane conditions (UNESCO 1960). Article 5 requires States Parties to ‘recognize the right of members of national minorities to carry on their own educational activities […] and, depending on the educational policy of each State, the use or the teaching of their own language’ (UNESCO 1960).

Among the nations that have never ratified the Convention, the United States has been the site of a civil rights movement still engaged in this struggle. One significant chapter was the 1954–1970s desegregation of US schools, which led to lawsuits testing what equal opportunity to quality education entails. One landmark case concerned the integration of Chinese American students who did not speak fluent English into schools throughout San Francisco (Lau v. Nichols 1974). While some schools provided supplemental instruction to accommodate the language gap, other schools simply placed the students in special education classes or forced them to repeat grades with no language accommodations. The US Supreme Court ruled that, while the schools were providing equal treatment of their students, the disparate outcomes were indicative of the lack of equal opportunity (Lau v. Nichols 1974). In other words, it’s not enough to have all students taught the same curriculum in the same way; they must be taught in ways that enable all students to participate equally, and thus perform successfully.

Thus, education research and policy shifted focus to student performance. Work in the 1980s on school reform affirmed the earlier findings of research such as the Meriam Report and the visionary philosophies of Gandhi, Nyerere and Freire: incorporating everyday aspects of students’ home and community life could lead to better performance (Castagno and Brayboy 2008; Demmert 2001; Ladson-Billings 1995; Lipka and Adams 2004; Somanath et al. 2016). Early experiments to do so were termed ‘culturally appropriate’, ‘culturally responsive’, ‘culturally congruent’ and ‘culturally compatible‘ education (Ladson-Billings 1995). However, many of these approaches located the problem with the marginalised student and sought to integrate cultural content as a means to assimilate the pupil into the dominant culture (Ladson-Billings 1995; 2014). Research and policy reports referring to such students as ‘underachieving’, ‘at-risk’ and ‘culturally disadvantaged’ implied the students’ home culture was a deficit or challenge to be overcome (Ladson-Billings 2014; Paris and Alim 2014; Arvanitis 2018).

In 1995, Ladson-Billings proposed a’ culturally relevant pedagogy’ (CRP) to shift the paradigm from treating cultural difference as a deficit to an asset. Drawing upon her research into what makes for an effective teacher of successful African American students, Ladson-Billings called for an approach that ‘helps students to accept and affirm their cultural identity while developing critical perspectives that challenge inequities that schools […] perpetuate’ (Ladson-Billings 1995, 469). CRP became the basis of multicultural education programmes throughout the 1990s and 2000s around the world (e.g. Gay 2000; Hollins 2008; Taylor and Sobel 2011). Typically, programmes were based on principles that valued culturally respectful classroom environments, students’ prior cultural knowledge and language, instruction that incorporated content relevant to students’ lives, high learning expectations, active learning techniques and trusting relationships between teachers and parents (Arvanitis 2018).

As CRP became more widely adopted, theoretical approaches to culture began emphasising the heterogeneity within cultural groups (Ladson-Billings 2014; Mehta et al. 2013). Responding to these developments as well as the shortfalls of multicultural programmes in which minority culture suffered from tokenism, scholars pushed CRP further (Ladson-Billings 2014, 82). Paris and Alim (2014) laid out a ‘loving critique’ of CRP in their call for a ‘culturally sustaining pedagogy’ (CSP) in which education fosters and sustains the cultural pluralism inherent in society. They distinguish between past-oriented ‘heritage practices’ and present-oriented ‘community practices’ that together comprise the ‘dynamic, shifting, and encompassing’ cultural ecosystems within which students and teachers live (Paris and Alim 2014, 90). This point is particularly relevant to the role of ICH in education. Rather than using culture to ensure the same educational outcomes for all students, CSP requires that pedagogical goals and evaluative standards must be pluralistic (Paris and Alim 2014). Extending CSP to Indigenous contexts, McCarty and Lee propose culturally sustaining/revitalising pedagogy (CSRP) to stress the importance of students to ‘reclaim and revitalise what has been disrupted and displaced by colonization’ (2014, 103). This echoes an earlier review (Battiste 2002) of Canadian CRP programmes targeting First Nations students in which language education was identified as the primary factor in sustaining IK.

A number of recent international policies have acknowledged the rights of cultural groups to culturally relevant education. In its position paper, Education in a multilingual world, UNESCO outlines three principles that should guide 21st-century education: ‘mother tongue instruction’, ‘bilingual and or/multilingual education’ and ‘language as an essential component of inter-cultural education’ (2003b). The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that ‘Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning’ (2007). More recently, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas provides that ‘all children of peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to education in accordance with their culture’ (2018).

The steady move towards recognising the centrality of cultural knowledge in providing equal opportunity to quality education has meant that local ICH elements are increasingly being used in formal education contexts. A particularly popular domain has been the integration of IK to address achievement gaps and the relative lack of Indigenous students pursuing careers in science, math and engineering fields (Cajete 1999; 1988; Lipka and Adams 2004). For example, the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative undertook a ten-year programme of CRP-based education reform among 20 school districts serving Alaska Native students (Barnhardt and Kawagley 2005). Among its initiatives was the development of a Handbook for Culturally Responsive Science Curriculum (Stephens 2000), which provides an adaptable framework for integrating IK into a standards-based science curriculum. Central to its approach is involving local culture bearers in developing and teaching the curriculum, in turn enabling intergenerational transmission (Stephens 2000).

Similarly, Hewson (2015) outlines an approach to integrating IK into medical education, recognising the value and efficacy of ‘traditional’ healers throughout Africa. This approach recognises the cultural divide between Western and non-Western medicine and argues for epistemological pluralism to meet the pressing needs of postcolonial society (Hewson 2015) and self-reliance across Africa (Mawere 2015; Shizha 2010). A range of Asian case studies presented in a recent volume highlights accomplishments and challenges in integrating IK in higher education against the backdrop of globalisation (Xing and Ng 2016).

Writing from the context of the Caribbean island of Trinidad, Boiselle (2016) outlines a ‘postcolonial science education’, at the heart of which is the inclusion of IK. However, she notes that, in the Caribbean context, the term ‘Indigenous’ is problematic. Rather, she draws upon an understanding of Indigenous as ‘a situatedness from where one sits, and knows, and does’ to expand the application of the term to peoples that do not fit neatly into the binary of Indigenous/coloniser (Boisselle 2016). Thus, she settles on localisation of science education as a remedy, a combination of emancipatory community service with place-based practice (Boisselle 2016).

Boisselle’s vision is an example of place-based education, which engages in a renewed interest in the local amid globalisation (Bhola 2002; Gruenewald and Smith 2014). Like CRP, place-based education draws upon the local to facilitate more meaningful learning experiences for students (Gruenewald 2003). However, it also engages students in how their personal welfare is interdependent with the welfare of ‘everyone and everything around them’, how the local is not culturally homogenous and how they have an ethical obligation to place (Gruenewald 2003; Gruenewald and Smith 2014).

For instance, music history classes in Spain typically focus on the great composers of Germany, Vienna and Italy, and ethnomusicology courses would study foreign, ‘exotic’ cultures (Barrios Manzano 2016). A teacher-training research project at the University of Extremadura adopted a place-based approach, asking instead, ‘Was Music History made here?’ (Barrios Manzano 2016, 380). Their work uncovered a range of ICH, communities and history that had been neglected in the curriculum, such as shared musical traditions among Portuguese and Latin American countries and the historical contributions of Jews and Muslims (Barrios Manzano 2016). The resulting place-based curricula isn’t parochial; instead, it engages with the global, using the local as an entry point. An instrument no longer played in a village in Spain but found in the hands of a farmer in the Andes opens opportunities to learn about one’s heritage in relation to cultural transmission and political history. Other place-based examples featuring ICH include the Fourth International Polar Year effort to reform science education (Duffy et al. 2011), the Himalayan Our Land Our Life curriculum (Honwad 2018), an Australian study of effective place-based learning strategies (Packer 2009) and the use of creation legends in place-based literacy learning (Scheuerman et al. 2010).

However, there are cautionary tales among the case studies of CRP/CSP/CSRP and place-based education. A study of music educators in post-conflict Cambodia concluded that children’s arts education may not be the best context to safeguard ICH when a country is undertaking an active ‘(re)construction of national cultural heritage’ while promoting a cosmopolitan ethic of cultural plurality (Kallio and Westerlund 2016). Some scholars criticise approaches that utilise IK as reinforcing a false binary between Indigenous and Western epistemologies (O’Hern and Nozaki 2014) or relying upon Western interpretations of what should be of local importance (Semali 1999). Others argue that programmes may simplistically assume that students have positive relationships with cultures identified as their home cultures. Reflecting on a CSP experiment aimed at using hip-hop to engage youth in civic education in Philadelphia, Kuttner (2016) found that such work, may bring up negative or conflicted feelings toward their various cultural roots’, suggesting that educators need to provide spaces where this can be carried out in a safe manner, a skill that many educators may lack.

In summary, emphases upon active learning techniques, native language education and critical consciousness have endured, albeit to different extents. The turn toward multiculturalism in the 1980s–1990s tied culture-based learning to educational performance, leading to the reframing of minority cultures as potential educational assets rather than deficits. Indigenous and postcolonial scholars have further explored how critical pedagogy can help sustain and revitalise historically marginalised cultures. More recent engagement with the interdependence of local communities, ecosystems and global forces has informed the emergence of place-based education. Educators using such pedagogies are engaged in emancipatory projects and position local ICH elements as alternatives to ‘the master’s tools’ in order to build new worlds.

Trend 3. Linking ICH safeguarding to sustainable development

The increasing attention paid to the dimension of culture within the development agenda has seen the rise of programmes, policies and scholarship linking heritage to sustainable development. For ICH in particular, the seismic shift from an etic to an emic approach in development theory and method has been key. This shift was due in part to the activism and critical scholarship that undergirds the second trend, as well as the overall epistemological turn towards culture summarised in the first.

1948 Marshall Plan, and later refined by the fiscal policies known as the Washington Consensus, assumed that development would generally look the same everywhere (Currie-Alder et al. 2013; Williamson 2008). The solution to aiding any country in crisis, whether from the after-effects of conflict or decolonisation, would be the administration of a standard series of financial and legal reforms to guide economic growth. The intended result would be the transformation of a ‘developing’ country into a ‘developed’ one. This development blueprint was modelled on Western values of modernity, with the anticipated outcome being a developed state whose economy, at the very least, would be Western, for all intents and purposes (Cowen and Shenton 1996; Gilman 2003; Rostow 1960).

However, the rise of concern over the environmental impacts of unfettered economic growth, the critique of failed development projects and the persistence of socio-economic inequalities in so-called developed countries created discursive space to complicate development’s traditional, universalising model. Within this discursive space, a definite turn towards the concept of ‘sustainable development’ emerged.4 Conserving natural resources for the future was a foremost concern; the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (United Nations 1992b) and Agenda 21 (United Nations 1992a)outline the principles and action plan that would guide the balancing of economic growth and environmental health into the 21st century. IK emerged as critical to accomplishing the new global agenda:

Indigenous people and their communities and other local communities have a vital role in environmental management and development because of their knowledge and traditional practices. States should recognize and duly support their identity, culture and interests and enable their effective participation in the achievement of sustainable development. (United Nations 1992b)
At the same time, critiques of the negative impacts and unintended consequences of the history of development aid mounted. On one hand was a growing body of ‘post-development’ activists and researchers who deemed the mainstream development agenda as a Western hegemonic force, which ravages local heritage (Escobar 1995; McGregor 2009). On the other hand were economists and development practitioners who had grown dissatisfied with the failings of foreign aid to prevent financial crises, sustain economic growth and lessen economic inequalities (2004 Universal Forum of Cultures 2008; Serra and Stiglitz 2008; Stiglitz 2006). While these two sides would disagree upon how to move forwards, both would agree that a mismatch of local cultural values and the imposed development framework was a recipe for failure (Ezeanya-Esiobu 2019; McGregor 2009; 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures 2008). Among development reformists, the integration of local participation and cultural values appeared to be a possible corrective. For example, Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom (1999) calls for centring personal freedom as both the goal and method of development, necessarily foregrounding participatory practices and local understandings of freedom. This emic turn culminated in the proclamation of culture as The Fourth Pillar of Sustainability, which recognises that ‘[a]sustainable society depends upon a sustainable culture’ and that ‘[c]ulturalaction is required in order to lay the groundwork for a sustainable future’ (Hawkes 2001, 12). In other words, safeguarding ICH could not only become a goal of sustainable development, but it could become a medium as well (Meissner 2021).

Within the education sphere, the move towards culture’s role in sustainable development came more from an interest in environmentalism than in economics. A 1970 working meeting of the International Union for Conservation of Nature outlined a pedagogy of ‘environmental education […] the process of recognizing values and clarifying concepts in order to develop skills and attitudes necessary to understand and appreciate the interrelatedness among man, his culture and his biophysical surroundings’ (IUCN 1970, 11; Eten 2015). As environmental educators delved into this interrelatedness, topics related to social welfare and ICH become more salient. Eventually, a new ‘big tent’ field emerged: in 2005, the UN declared a Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) (Eten 2015; Tilbury 2011). ESD typically featured active and collaborative learning techniques, emphasised social change and engaged in local or place-based knowledge and practices related to the environment (UNESCO 2020; 2012; Tilbury 2011). ICH was a key pedagogical concern.

When over 1,600 participants convened in Korea at the World Education Forum in 2015 to formulate an action plan for achieving the UN’s Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goal 4, ‘[e]nsure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’, they drew upon the decade of experiences developing and implementing ESD pedagogy (UNESCO 2016). Thus, it was no surprise that the participants focused on the integral role of ICH in achieving target 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 non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development. (United Nations 2015) Namely, the action plan recognises strategies that [e]nsure that education acknowledges the key role that culture plays in achieving sustainability, taking into account local conditions and culture as well as building awareness of cultural expressions and heritage, and their diversity, while emphasizing the importance of respect for human rights. (UNESCO 2016)
In other words, quality education requires an emic approach in which ICH may become both medium and message (Amponsah et al. 2018; East and Mare 2018; Kohsaka and Rogel 2019). An example of such an approach can be found in an adult education project coordinated by Gaia Education in Senegal, which aimed to correct decades of industrial agriculture and the resulting barren soil (East and Mare 2018). The project recognised the value of multiple scientific epistemologies (i.e. Indigenous and non-Indigenous) to develop a permaculture gardening system that revives ‘traditional’ practices with impressive results:
120 beneficiaries were surveyed […]: 100% said they no longer spend anything on chemicals, 97% said they consume a more diverse diet, 100% said they buy less from the market, while 82% reported an increase in food production. (East and Mare 2018, 36)

Other projects have focused on producing ESD curricular resources featuring ICH for formal education contexts. Academ IK Connections, for example, aims to bring IK into university classrooms through learning modules that faculty can incorporate in their curricula (Mehta et al. 2013). Twelve videos, with accompanying lesson plans, present a range of ways in which IK can be used to meet Sustainable Development Goals around the world (Mehta et al. 2013). A UNESCO project in Pakistan, Palau, Uzbekistan and Vietnam developed a guide for teachers to integrate ICH into ESD (UNESCO 2015).

However, some scholars and educators remain wary of ESD (Stein et al. 2022; Prakash and Esteva 2008). Some note that attempts to integrate IK into ESD runs the risk of further entrenching the binary of traditional/modern (Bhola 2002; O’Hern and Nozaki 2014). Research into Kenya’s curricular reform, in which such integration was attempted, found that it

has done little in the way of problematizing or overcoming the dichotomy between indigenous and Western bodies of knowledge. As such, it has turned out to be insufficient in meeting the contemporary challenges presented by the natural resource degradation and unsustainable growth and development. (O’Hern and Nozaki 2014, 135)

The researchers found that the binary was so entrenched that Kenyan teachers and students failed to find value in IK or relate to it as part of their cultural heritage (O’Hern and Nozaki 2014). The foregrounding of IK in ESD may also result in decontextualising IK from its local environment and broader cultural ecosystem (e.g. rituals, oral expressions, language, dance), leading to further misunderstanding (Ezeanya-Esiobu 2019). Rather, a reconstruction of ESD curriculum based in a ‘critical postcolonial pedagogy’ that applies Edward Said’s notion of ‘contrapuntal’ analysis to Freire’s critical pedagogy may be more effective (O’Hern and Nozaki 2014, 147).

A programme that appears to fit this pedagogical agenda is found at the Intercultural University of Veracruz, part of Mexico’s intercultural university system. This system was established in response to Indigenous demands for pedagogical autonomy, education that met their cultural needs and an increase in national knowledge and respect for their cultures (Perales Franco and McCowan 2020). Most students pursue a BA in Intercultural Management for Development, concentrating on communication, sustainability, language, law or health. Yet even programmes that seem to effectively mainstream IK for ESD experience their share of challenges. A student who flourishes within critical pedagogy may find it hard to obtain gainful employment or reconcile with their families’ ‘notions of social mobility or success’ (Perales Franco and McCowan 2020; Honwad 2018). While post-development critics remain cautious about ESD, reformists argue that an ESD that fully embraces a ‘critical postcolonial pedagogy’ may provide an imperfect but still valuable way forwards.

Trend 4. From teaching about heritage to teaching through and for heritage

The fourth trend relates to an overall shift in how heritage is taught, a result of evolving conceptualisations of heritage and changing frameworks for educational standards. As heritage is theorised in increasingly dynamic terms in which significance, interpretation and values are ascribed by multiple stakeholders, didactic approaches that present heritage in authoritative, objective or extrinsic manners have fallen out of favour. At the same time, educational standards have shifted away from strict content-based requirements to skills, competencies and proficiency-based standards in which teachers have greater freedom to adapt a wider variety of content to facilitate learning. This has opened new doors for using heritage to teach different subjects beyond the typical history, social studies and arts.

Heritage is rarely, if ever, a stand-alone subject in schools. Traditionally, heritage found itself in history and civics classrooms in an effort to equip students to become ‘good’ citizens (Copeland 2002). In post-WWII United States, United Kingdom and Europe, these classes were typically content-based, didactic and steeped in a strong sense of national identity (Copeland 2002). This shifted during the rise of multiculturalism, in which civics was recast as learning to live with the diversity inherent in communities (Copeland 2002; Kymlicka 2010). This new ‘citizenship education’ moved beyond teaching laws and national identity to approaching citizenship as a contextual process with personal, social, spatial and temporal dimensions (Cogan and Kubow 1997).

In response, active learning using heritage elements bolstered citizenship education programmes (Hunter 1988; Copeland 2002; Barghi et al. 2017; Copeland 2009). Curricular resources such as ‘Europe: From One Street to the Other’ (Council of Europe 2001) position heritage as a milieu for personal and intercultural discovery of ‘tomorrow’s citizens’, and the handbook Bermuda Connections (Falk n.d.) presents nine aspects of Bermudian ICH to deepen students’ appreciation of their cultural roots. Such education can have a feedback loop whereby students learn that being an active citizen requires their participation in stewarding heritage (Copeland 2009; Barghi et al. 2017).

Heritage has also been integrated into other subjects whose curricular standards have been evolving. The development and increasing support for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education has created new opportunities for teaching heritage-related methodologies (see Liritzis 2018). For instance, the Hilali Toolkit (2018) uses ICH documentation methods to teach Middle Eastern students qualitative research and user experience design for digital applications. Students learn core STEM competencies and the contemporary values of heritage resources.

Drawing upon previous typologies of citizenship education, Copeland (2006) distinguished between education about heritage, education through heritage and education for heritage (Table 1). Just as citizenship education transformed civics from teaching about citizenship to teaching for active citizens, heritage education is making a similar transformation. As outlined above, opportunities for teaching about and teaching through heritage have increased, as educators turn toward non-didactic methods in a broader epistemological context that positions culture as an undercurrent flowing through all subjects.

Reaching the education for heritage stage is likely a harder ask but not impossible; indeed, such a typology may be helpful for those wishing to evaluate programmes to identify where the action-oriented competency may be included. For instance, the Project Archaeology (2020) curriculum, Investigating Nutrition: The Advent of Agriculture in Mesopotamia, introduces students to the concepts of archaeology and gastronomic culture (i.e. teaching about heritage); uses archaeological methods and data to teach science, health and math skills (i.e. teaching through heritage); and engages students to design 1) a presentation to teach adults the importance of protecting archaeological sites and 2) a healthy eating plan to increase the diversity of foods eaten at their school, drawing upon local sources and archaeological data (i.e. teaching for heritage). These activities place students in an active role of articulating their own ethical obligation towards heritage and applying heritage knowledge to solve a contemporary problem. Such education isn’t safeguarding ICH in the strict sense (Kurin 2007) but does prepare students to become active heritage stewards in a broad sense, preparing global ‘heritage citizens’ who are more apt to value and support a vibrant and vital heritage ecosystem. Distinguishing between education about, through and for heritage may provide a useful analytical framework for evaluating heritage education curricula.

Future directions

The four trends surveyed above, each originating in different domains, have followed increasingly multidisciplinary paths, often intersecting and cross-pollinating. Projects featuring ICH in formal and non-formal education contexts from all over the world abound, presenting a dizzying array of research results and case studies to consult. Such abundance is heartening, but there are still open research questions to explore.

Most research related to cultural transmission has been conducted with Indigenous or rural communities that operate outside of formal education systems. With formal education stepping in to enable ICH safeguarding, what can we learn about the relationship between formal education and cultural transmission? What variables within formal education systems facilitate the effective safeguarding of ICH? Of course, knowing what progress has been made within the ICH domain, to answer Kurin’s (2007) call to identify the practices and parameters that contribute to successful safeguarding in general, is also necessary.

Additionally, much attention has been paid to transmitting cultural values, but not to other cultural practices (Tam 2015), and there has been a general lack of experimental research and longitudinal studies (Mesoudi and Whiten 2008; Reyes-García et al. 2009). How can contributions in these areas deepen our understanding of the knowledge exchange that lies at the heart of ICH safeguarding? Can these findings help identify new learning processes and pathways? Anthropologists, social psychologists, education researchers, neuroscientists and ICH experts can all contribute to this research trend.

Among the research reviewed relating to IK and Indigenous rights, language education and revitalisation are identified as the critical success factors. While language has been recognised as the vehicle for ICH, the current configuration of the ICH domain favours interventions that safeguard specific ICH elements that may contribute to language protection (Bernini 2014; Smeets 2004). The research and activism regarding IK and Indigenous rights would have it the other way around. Furthermore, language is fundamental to epistemology; sustaining linguistic diversity in turn sustains epistemological diversity, a growing interest among educators, scholars and activists. Should ICH experts re-evaluate their theoretical and methodological relationship towards language? How has ICH been successfully integrated into language education programmes? How has heritage language pedagogy evolved, and can its lessons be transferred to ICH education (e.g. Valdés 2017)?

More pedagogical evaluation is always needed. When the Spanish Heritage Education Observatory (SHEO) reviewed ICH-related educational programmes across Spain, they found that less than 15 per cent had an evaluative framework (Merillas and Rodriguez 2018). In response, they developed an assessment framework including 14 quality indicators to help identify programmes of potential high quality (Merillas et al. 2019). A project, funded by the Flemish Minister of Culture, Youth, Sport and Media, developed a rubric to assess ‘multi perspectivity’ in heritage education programmes (Janssenswillen et al. 2019). Another Spanish project, Heritage Education for the Territorial and Emotional Intelligence of Citizens, evaluated the effectiveness of heritage education in an existing citizenship education programme (Trabajo-Rite and Cuenca-López 2020). Such experiments in evaluation should be expanded and adapted in concert with the aforementioned need to better articulate indicators of successful ICH safeguarding in the 21st century without falling back on the tired binary of traditional/modern.

Another finding from the SHEO review was that heritage education programmes were falling short of ‘education for all’, especially when it came to serving people with disabilities (Merillas and Rodriguez 2018; Merillas and Cepeda 2016). When accessibility is discussed in the heritage domain, physical accessibility is foregrounded; however, heritage education should also be accessible in intellectual, sensory and cognitive terms (Merillas and Cepeda 2016). How can the ICH field collaborate with the disability rights and education fields in this regard?

An area not explored in this review is the integration of ICT or technology-enhanced learning and ICH. For example, the EU project Treasures used 3D technology to model ICH elements in order to construct a ‘serious game’ to learn the practical know-how that is often taught in vocational contexts (Cozzani et al. 2017; Dagnino, Ott and Pozzi 2015; Dagnino, Ott, Michela and Pozzi 2015; Dagnino et al. 2015; Ott, Dagnino and Pozzi 2015; Pozzi et al. 2013). The Spanish Patrimonialize arte programme utilised a number of ICT techniques to engage students in active learning, such as creating a video documentary about local cultural changes and continuities or creating geolocational augmented-reality tours of their community (Castro-Calviño et al. 2020). The programme then outlined an evaluative framework for assessing the effectiveness of ICT in heritage education. Such projects offer fruitful lines of inquiry, especially as STEM education continues to enjoy policy and budgetary support.

evaluation that is seldom discussed: psychological impacts on students. On one hand, ICH education that engages with cultural knowledge of marginalised communities may bring participants into contact with their own or others’ collective trauma (Kuttner 2016). How can fields such as trauma studies, social violence and psychology shed light on how to approach this? On the other hand, when is discomfort warranted? For instance, when a Brazilian museum of astronomy staged an exhibit to challenge Western epistemologies related to the cosmos, visitors reported unsettling and discomforting experiences (Borges and Borges 2008). From a pedagogical point of view, this may be a success, but from a visitor experience point of view, this would likely be seen as a failing. If we are to engage in multiple epistemologies, ontologies and pedagogies, when is discomfort desirable – and how much and what kind?

In conclusion, this survey has demonstrated that the extensive theoretical developments and practical experiments in the confluence of education and ICH offer great opportunities for the integration of ICH into both formal and non-formal educational settings. The confluence of ICH and education in four distinct trends – 1) understanding intergenerational transmission as a form of education, 2) promoting culturally responsive pedagogies, 3) linking ICH safeguarding to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and 4) shifting away from didactically teaching about heritage to teaching through and for heritage – offers a wealth of new approaches and benefits to practitioners in the fields of ICH and education. Much has been accomplished in recognising the value of ICH as an educational resource, and gaps still remain with exciting research possibilities to further develop these themes in the coming decades.