Learn to connect and reflect with cultural heritage

Image: Monika Kozub / Unsplash.com

Teachers are eager to talk about cultural heritage with their students, but there is strikingly little theoretical knowledge about what culture means and how it relates to children’s development. This tutorial highlights some resources and approaches that will put the subject in context.

Cultural heritage: might not be what you think

Knowledge of history, of languages, and appreciation of art: these are clear benefits of learning about cultural heritage, but they are joined by another, less obvious takeaway – capacity for reflection. Pupils should learn to interact with the world not as “bewildered travellers on a frenetic journey, constantly on the move in search of multiple selfies,” but as citizens who engage with their environment. By reflecting on their own and others’ culture, pupils can learn to function in a society that has no easy answers for them: where information abounds, where sources may contradict one another, and where identity is hard to develop or define.

Cultural heritage is relevant to more subjects than art and history: Röntgen’s first X-rays are of interest to Biology, and  the Wall Street Crash of 1929 is crucial to understanding Economics.

Cultural heritage comes in many forms:

  • tangible – for example, buildings, monuments, artefacts, clothing, artwork, books, machines, historic towns, archaeological sites;
  • intangible – for example, language and oral traditions, sports and games, performing arts, social practices and traditional craftsmanship;
  • natural – landscapes, flora and fauna;
  • digital – resources that were created in digital form (like digital art or animation) or that have been digitalised for preservation.

This is why Cultural Awareness and Expression – one of the eight Key Competences for Lifelong Learning – has a similarly broad definition.

How does this translate into classroom practice? To find out more, check out the following resources, many of which were generated in 2018, the European Year of Cultural Heritage.

Heritage through museum visits

In the past decades, museums have gone from being “research libraries” for specialists to community centres for intellectual growth. This latter function is especially important for young visitors, because a museum visit can easily produce an “aha!” effect, allowing previously unfocused information to congeal. For example, the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam features programmes where children can go on a bus ride through Morocco, or travel through Bombay, or dance to Iranian music and drink tea:

And in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, children play a computer game in which they match their personalities to various 17th-century characters, in order to stage an impromptu theatre play where they act out these parts:

Nowadays, museums may also allow for virtual visits, as in this 360-degree virtual reality video from the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, which you can watch with VR glasses or by using your mouse to move around.

Many more ideas and resources await you in the Teacher Academy MOOC Learning in a Museum!

Heritage through activism

Pupils can also get in touch with their cultural heritage through active citizenship programmes. Paramount among these are UNESCO’s ASPnet and the World Heritage Education Programme, which transmit people’s cultural heritage in schools worldwide, in order to promote peace and tolerance.

Another such initiative is the award-winning Apprendisti Ciceroni in Italy. Within its framework, pupils act as guides for a landmark in their territory, welcoming the public and introducing the project’s history.

Large-scale events like the World Cultural Heritage Youth Symposium also play an important role, facilitating cross-border collaboration among pupils and amplifying their voice.

Heritage through professional development

Teachers cannot overlook the importance of cultural heritage to pupils and communities – and there are several tools they can use to integrate it into their lessons. Europeana, Europe’s digital platform for cultural and scientific heritage, offers more than 50 million items in 27 languages, as well as learning scenarios in which they’re used.

EuroClio, the European Association of History Educators, aims to reform education by building international networks and sharing resources, with an emphasis on critical thinking, mutual respect and the inclusion of controversial issues.

These two organisations also joined forces for the Historiana project, winner of the Lifelong Learning Award 2017, which offers history educators supplementary and comparative sources to accompany their national textbooks.

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