An Analysis of Educational Designs in Intangible Cultural Heritage Programmes: the Case of Spain

Writer : Olaia Fontal Merillas, Marta Martinez Rodriguez
Year : 2018


The goal of this paper is to analyse the approaches and categories that underpin the educational programmes related to intangible heritage in Spain, inventoried by the Spanish Heritage Education Observatory (SHEO). We need to define the question and provide guidelines concerning the main issues to be borne in mind in designing programmes for such a sensitive area as intangible heritage, the ultimate aim being to contribute towards the improvement of future designs. The study shows that the educational programmes under scrutiny belong to a broad range of typologies within intangible heritage and have several shortcomings in their educational design. This is indeed a source of concern in view of the important role played by Heritage Education in raising the awareness of people and guaranteeing unifying processes to ensure that cultural expressions become part of the community’s shared heritage.


The heritage/education dyad began to operate on an institutional level in 1972 following UNESCO’s Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage , which explicitly mentioned the need to make known the importance of heritage and strengthen appreciation and respect for it by means of educational programmes (UNESCO, 1972, Arts. 27 and 28). Since then, cultural heritage has undergone a number of changes involving its conception and development. Within the several spheres responsible for its protection, the seed was planted for an understanding of heritage as connected to the anthropological concept of culture. This resulted in a new mentality fed by several theoretical perspectives which see culture itself as the expression of a people’s identity originating as a result of adaptation to the environment (Carrera: 2009, p. 195). In this way, the concept of cultural heritage that had prevailed in past centuries (one which largely focused on the great monuments of the west) gradually evolved as a new way of thinking that fuelled interest in intangible cultural assets. This process was shaped by charters, recommendations and resolutions adopted by international bodies like UNESCO or ICOMOS (Ahmad: 2006). This new concept, however, was not merely the outcome of introducing the category of intangible heritage, but must rather be seen as a more complex process encouraged by society’s rethinking of the general concept of heritage (Bortolotto: 2007; 2015). This series of developments culminated in 2003 with the adoption of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage , which was an important step towards the formulation of new policies that earned international recognition for this heritage typology and sanctioned the need for education and awareness-raising aimed at achieving the hoped-for appreciation and respect for intangible heritage (UNESCO: 2003, Articles. 14 and 15).

Background and problem statement

The scientific field that studies the relationship between heritage and education is constantly evolving as a result of the proliferation of research. Over the last few decades a large number of studies have produced theoretical constructs and a frame of reference which have no doubt succeeded in bridging the initial gap. In the case of Spain, we may refer to contributions by authors like Cuenca (2003), Fontal (2003) or Calaf (2009). From a more international perspective, the topic has been discussed by scholars like Lobovikov-Katz (2009) or Texeira (2006). Besides this ample theoretical canon, there has also been an increase in the amount of research on heritage and education, including that conducted in the formal sphere which addresses the teaching of heritage-related contents in the classroom (Cuenca and López: 2014; Estepa, Ávila, and Ferreras: 2008; Fontal et al.: 2017; de Troyer et al.: 2005; Vlachaki: 2007). As regards informal education, mention must be made of work conducted in museum settings (Borges and Braz: 2008; Logan and Sutter: 2012; Macdonald: 2011; Musinguzi and Kibirige: 2009). Both groups of authors deal with educational programmes implemented in museums, as well as with the importance of adapting to the new social realities of the 21st century. The use of technological resources in the implementation of research has been the main focus of international publications by numerous authors like Ibáñez et al. (2012), Lobovikov-Katz et al. (2014) and Ott and Pozzi (2011). A more relational approach involving the connections between museum, community, lifelong learning and identity is illustrated by the work of Davis, (2007) and Folk, Dierking and Adams (2006). In order to gain a deeper insight into the research outcomes reached in the field of heritage-related education both at home and abroad, we recommend the study by Martín and Cuenca (2015). Other contributions display a more specific approach and a stronger focus on the didactics of heritage (Calbó, Juanola and Vallés: 2011; Calaf: 2009). We can even find studies which position heritage education as a key discipline in the context of cultural heritage management (Martín and Cuenca: 2011; Fontal and Juanola: 2015) by underscoring its potential for supporting processes like value-enhancement, awareness-raising or community ownership of cultural heritage. Regarding the connection between heritage education and people with disabilities or special educational needs, mention must be made of Fontal and Marín (2016) and Marín et al. (2017), where educational programmes are evaluated which are adapted to several target groups with the purpose of developing a model for inclusion.

All the above-mentioned studies are rooted in the need to position heritage education as a central discipline in the safeguarding and management of cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible. Heritage education is thus understood as a guarantee that has the potential to raise the awareness of the community and to activate new links between culture and society while ensuring the transformation of cultural assets into heritage assets.

In the area of heritage education, major projects are being developed in the international scene which have become reference models in our field of study. A brief comparative overview now follows of the most relevant projects implemented either individually or in collaboration between several countries or universities from across the world. Let us in the first place highlight the project World Heritage in Young Hands , since it takes place within such a major international institution as UNESCO. The purpose of this project is to encourage young people to involve themselves in the protection of our common cultural and natural heritage by using education as a major tool. Again with an international scope, the i-Treasures project, implemented as part of the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme, is being developed in universities around the world. The project has generated an open platform that provides access to intangible cultural heritage resources with the aim of producing an ICT-based framework for the transmission of ICH and its educational treatment. Multiple publications have resulted from this project, including the study by Ott, Dagnino and Pozzi (2014) on the design of innovative educational interventions in the area of ICH.

There are likewise co-operative networks for cultural heritage education like the one developed in Finland, the main goals of which are to strengthen the connection between the Finnish population and their own cultural heritage and to reinforce the latter’s role in education. The Oak of Finland is remarkable for involving co-operation across national, regional and local levels where schools, museums, NGOs and educational administrations work together in order to further heritage education. Within the European sphere, mention must be made of the HEREDUC Project , since it is the first co-operative project involving several countries in Europe. With participation by Germany, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Italy, its main aim is to develop guides in order to help teachers integrate heritage education in their classes, including the possibility of implementing models of transferable action.

Outside Europe, Brazil is host to the project Mais Educação , which conducts an educational inventory of cultural heritage to be used by schools and institutions that work on heritage-related education in that country. With a different approach, yet similar tools, Korea’s ICHPEDIA project aims to produce an inventory that in turn generates two databases operating as a mutually complementary platform. The first one has been designed so as to gather multimedia data, while the second one is meant to be particularly user-friendly. By creating this inventory, networks and active co-operative relationships are generated between the administrations and the citizenry (Cheol: 2014). Both projects share similar traits with our own Spanish Heritage Education Observatory (SHEO) in terms of the tools used in compiling the inventory and the database.

This overview of international research work and benchmark projects, now lets  us focus on the observation and analysis of heritage education in Spain. The subject has been addressed not only by a number of scholars, but also by numerous legislative and regulatory frameworks like the Organic Law for Quality Enhancement in Education (2013), the Spanish Historic Heritage Act (1985), the National Plan for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (2011), and the National Plan for Heritage and Education (Domingo, Fontal and Ballesteros: 2013). Given the need to closely observe educational actions implemented in the sphere of cultural heritage, an R&D&I project named the Spanish Heritage Education Observatory (EDU2009-09679) was started in 2010. Initially meant to span a 3-year period (between January 2010 and December 2012), the project was then extended over a second phase between January 2013 and December 2015 (EDU2012-37212) and is currently in a third phase (EDU2015-65716-C2-2-R). Its goals were set up within the framework of national and international regulations concerning heritage and education, and for over five years now it has been dedicated to tracing, inventorying and analysing heritage education programmes.

The present piece of research has been conducted under the auspices of SHEO. The research problem arose from early analyses (Fontal and Martínez: 2017) claiming that intangible heritage is not prioritised content in educational programmes (only 14% from among 18 heritage typologies specifically include this category), even though there are very interesting proposals in this regard which possess a high educational value. Moreover, among proposals implemented in non-formal settings there is a large variability (and a fair amount of dispersal too), which points to the need to order and classify them appropriately.

The situation described above, on the other hand, takes place in a country that can boast no fewer than 44 properties included in the World Heritage List as well as 11 elements that enjoy the status of intangible heritage inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity . Spain thus ranks as the second country in the world by the number of items inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and the third country in Europe by the number of assets qualifying as intangible heritage. Additionally, and according to Spain’s Cultural Heritage Institute (IPCE), the country’s autonomous regions have thus far ensured protection for 60 cultural manifestations by declaring them ‘Assets of Cultural Interest’.

All of this justifies the need to thoroughly scrutinise educational actions put into practice in Spain over the last few decades regarding intangible cultural heritage. Such is the inspiration for our research, the goal of which is to appraise and shed light on the available education opportunities in the field of intangible cultural heritage in Spain.  In order to achieve this end, the present study collects the results of analyses conducted on approaches and categories informing educational programmes related to intangible heritage, in order to define the state of the question and provide guidelines concerning the main issues to be borne in mind in designing programmes for such a sensitive area as intangible heritage, the ultimate aim being to contribute towards the improvement of programme design in the future. As far as our line of research (intangible cultural heritage education) is concerned, a number of published studies have explored connections with higher education (Jinlong: 2009), language acquisition and development (Asiáin and Aznárez: 2012) or emerging resources in educationoriented museum studies (Yanes: 2007).

SHEO’s analytical method

Besides diagnosing and formulating the state of the question, SHEO has defined a method (Fontal: 2016) in order to inventory, analyse and evaluate educational programmes. Disseminating the results of this method is indeed one of the Observatory’s goals (Fontal and GómezRedondo: 2015; Fontal and Ibáñez: 2015; Marín, et al.: 2017; Fontal and Ibáñez: 2017). To date, SHEO has digitally inventoried 1,686 programmes and proposals in the field of heritage education, both national and international. Regarding the Observatory’s research structure - one supported by two successive and interrelated projects - research can be distinguished. [Figure 1]

The implementation of these phases has generated a large database (the SHEO Database) that lists events, programmes, projects, plans, teaching materials, networks, conferences, courses, competitions, etc. that have been produced in Spain over the last decade. Together with that database, the SHEO Website provides a tool for the dissemination of heritage education initiatives and of the Observatory’s own work.

Sequential procedure for programme evaluation

SHEO’s method starts by searching and tracing programmes by using pre-established search indexes. Later on, findings are inventoried after applying a number of inclusion/exclusion criteria. The data is used to carry out a descriptive-statistical analysis of programmes so as to discern their heritage and educational typologies. It is at this point that programme evaluation proper begins. The latter involves resorting to a system of sequential filters defined by SHEO’s research team as well as by international experts. During the first screening, such programmes are selected as meet the basic quality standards regarding quality of information and specificity of educational design. These programmes are then subjected to a second screening where they are evaluated according to extended quality standards related to the quality of their design, implementation and results (Stake: 2006). The programmes that rank highest in this last phase are next selected for the purpose of conducting single or multiple case studies. (Figure 2)

Sample and sub-sample selection criteria

From SHEO’s digital database we have drawn a sample for the purposes of our research according to the following selection criteria: the sampled programmes should belong to the category Intangible Heritage and should have been implemented in Spain. For the analysis of educational programmes, a sub-sample was drawn according to the following selection criterion: the subsampled programmes should belong to the project type Educational Programme. A record form designed by SHEO and based on a series of descriptors (Figure 2. Phase 3) provides the data-collection tool. The form allows us to conduct searches for relevant data, specific typologies of educational actions, educational stages involved, teachinglearning strategies, possible adaptations and intangible heritage types used by the programmes under scrutiny. Data will be exported from SHEO into the data-analysis tools that enable us to obtain the sought-for frequencies (Figure 3. Phase 4).

Sample description and analysis

The selection of initiatives and programmes revolving around intangible heritage creates a sample of 209 actions classified into several project typologies. What follows is an analysis of the distribution of these actions across the several typologies, the aim being to determine the rate of occurrence of such actions with regard to the type of project involved.

As can be seen in Figure 3, there is an extremely low number of plans (1.0%) or improvement programmes (1.4%) that start from situations usually diagnosed as shortfalls. We likewise observe that isolated experiences or activities that have no continuity and are generally designed for the celebration of a specific event are poorly represented (1.4%). Training actions like courses and workshops represent 4.8%, while research projects only account for 6.7% of the total sample - a percentage that may not seem particularly low by comparison with other typologies, but it is if we consider the need for innovation in this area. Widely represented (14.4%) are didactic designs: these are characterised by the fact that they organise educational actions and teaching-learning processes. Finally, educational programmes prove to have a higher incident rate (20.1%) in our sample, accounting for a total of 42 such actions.


Educational programmes are documents that detail and organise an educational process by systematically collecting a set of activities aimed at achieving well-defined purposes. They involve forecasting and planning ahead for continuity, and they are generally framed within the educational sphere. Our goal, therefore, was to find out the extent to which those 42 educational programmes fulfil those requirements. This we did by analysing the Intangible Cultural Heritage typology used, the targeted educational stages, the teaching-learning strategies involved, the potential for adaptation and the evaluation tools.

Intangible Cultural Heritage used in the programmes

The concept of cultural heritage has evolved and expanded over the last century. Indeed, it has moved from a perspective where the monumental, the artistic and the ancient were the main values deserving protection to another, focused on lifestyles, social practices, knowledge, techniques and beliefs or belief systems shared by the several individuals and groups (National Plan for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage: 2011).  Within the current decade, the use of adjectives like intangible or immaterial has become widespread in order to vindicate recognition of this dual reality and attach the importance they deserve to the so-called intangible assets. This is also reflected within the field of heritage education by the emergence over the last ten years of many different educational programmes relating to intangible cultural heritage.

The latter, in turn, can be divided into several typologies depending on the nature of its manifestations. There are five domains where ICH manifests itself according to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage :

  • a) oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;
  • b) performing arts;
  • c) social practices, rituals and festive events;
  • d) knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;
  • e) traditional craftsmanship (UNESCO: 2003).
Depending on the ICH typology used in each educational programme, the latter’s goals may differ substantially. We therefore asked ourselves: which typologies of intangible cultural heritage are being used and worked on for the most part? In order to answer our question, we carried out an analysis of intangible cultural heritage typologies that are present in our educational programmes (Figure 4), which indicated that the typology that is most often used is social practices, rituals and festive events. Interesting as well as valuable is the fact that all of them are represented in the programmes under scrutiny.

Regardless of the heritage typology involved, we have detected important correlations concerning the transversal values that education related to ICH aims to convey, such as appreciation for diversity, tolerance, respect and interest in both one’s own culture and those of other people. These values are the subject of extensive work in the field of intercultural education, which leads us to consider the great educational potential the dyad has for both disciplines and the relevance and effectiveness of undertaking interdisciplinary projects and research work on this topic.

The school environment and educational stage

Before starting the analysis of didactic designs, we think it appropriate to highlight the environment where these programmes are implemented so as to better understand their real operation. Most programmes analysed (64.3%) are conducted in formal settings. They can be categorised as belonging to two modalities: on the one hand those implemented on the initiative of schools and within their premises; and on the other, those (which constitute the larger part) where schools engage in a collaboration with institutions in their environment like museums, local councils and associations.

Students targeted by these programmes are variously distributed across the several educational stages (Figure 5).

The educational stage indicating the highest concentration of programmes is Primary Education (26.2%), together with the category ‘Various educational stages’, where programmes do not address a specific educational stage but a broader range of students. The least represented stage is Higher Education (2.4%).

Programmes with/without adaptation

Within the several educational stages, we found programmes targeted at people with disabilities or with special educational needs (SEN) like the feature ‘Visits adapted for all’ within the programme Accesible Madrid. We also included programmes which, while not specifically addressing such students, do indeed contemplate their participation in their didactic designs. Even so, their representation is quite low.

Diversity is present in all spheres of contemporary society, since every individual displays differences with regard to others and these must be acknowledged.  According to Fontal and Marín (2016), it is critical to bring a paradigm shift towards the culture of diversity: one that breaks away from uniformity-based education and focuses instead on the potential for the development of all human beings.

Heritage education affords a perfect tool, making it possible to work on diversity within the framework provided by the concept of heritage, the aim being to achieve a normalisation-based heritage education.

Typologies of teaching-learning and their representative programmes

When analysing the kinds of teaching-learning strategies proposed in the programmes, we have classified the latter into four non-mutually exclusive categories: Narration, Workshop, Didactic Resource and Others, which are in turn subdivided into several subcategories (Table 1). The most widely recorded strategy in working on intangible cultural heritage is the use of narratives. Within them, traditional guided tours constitute the most widespread modality, possibly because they can be adapted to audiences with different ages and needs. This is the strategy used by the Autonomous Region of the Canary Islands in designing their programme On the trail of my village: adopting the day labourers’ craft , where many visits are scheduled with the purpose of discovering the ethnographic heritage of the Canary Islands.

Also worth highlighting are didactic guided tours like those organised in the programme Heritage School developed by the Autonomous Region of Castile and Leon. We generally observe that lectures tend to be part of specific designs targeted at an older audience, like for example the proposal named Learning through art: Ceuta and Mythology , which features talks for secondary education and vocational training students.

In the case of workshops, we find proposals in the area of the performing arts, like a programme implemented by primary and secondary schools in Girona named Sardana at school , or Let’s Opera! in Navarre. Also plastic arts workshops, like a proposal developed by a secondary education school in the Basque Country called Building a sailboat made of skins or experiential workshops, such as those scheduled every year as part of the activities organised by the Legado Andalusí foundation. Worth mentioning as well is Lugo’s Museum Network, which provides a wide range of networks for all educational stages. The creation of  educational materials by the students themselves is the approach chosen by the Manuel Peleteiro school in its programme Project 800 . The anniversary of Santiago de Compostela’s cathedral.

The main educational resources used are the so-called didactic units, notably those developed by UNESCO’s Associated Schools Network with an interdisciplinary approach and a special focus on the manifestations of intangible cultural heritage in Asturias. As far as the use of  ICTs is concerned, their presence is scarce according to our observations. There are a few programmes that occasionally employ the resources provided by ICTs, but the only one that uses them consistently as  its main educational resource by means of interactive guides and CDs is the programme called Awareness-raising and the Spanish League of Education and Popular Culture . Exhibitions are likewise seldom used as strategies. The only example that we have traced is the programme Heritage and Memory , which consists of touring exhibitions visiting five museums in Asturias. Under the category ‘Others’ we find initiatives that use heritage for the purposes of occupational training and employment, like the programme Heritage for development developed by the autonomous region of Madrid.

Goals and evaluation

Regarding programme goals, we found that many programmes would require a detailed study of the curriculum and the basic skills involved in the educational stage they target in order to achieve a more balanced design. We have detected that appreciation for the wealth and diversity of natural, social and cultural heritage, as well as the development of individual and social responsibility in the preservation of intangible cultural heritage, are most often the declared goals, followed, albeit to a lesser extent, by others concerning the availability of spaces for experience-transmission and inter-generational exchange, heritage-driven motivation for students with disabilities or SENs, or issues related to values involved in living together, such as team work or the enhancement of inter-cultural awareness, where we believe heritage has a lot to offer.

Regarding the analysis of evaluation systems and tools used by the several programmes, only 14.3% of them plan to use them in advance, in contrast to the remaining 85.7% that do not. This is surprising if we consider how important evaluation is in order to learn about the students’ learning achievements (Stake: 1967), the project’s success and any aspects that may need improving. Evaluation systems and tools range between the simplest types, like observationbased general evaluation, to the most complex approaches like ongoing evaluation of the methods used and the project as a whole, including survey-based and continuous and formative evaluation, the purpose of which is to generate feedback. There are even programmes that engage in a detailed evaluation methodology: procedural evaluation by means of checklists, summative evaluation using worksheets, evaluation of the teaching process through teacher feedback, anecdotal records and student interviews. No programme evaluates outcome continuity, since the programmes under scrutiny do not contemplate any timeline extension beyond their termination date.


Our paper set out to analyse the approaches and categories involved in educational programmes on intangible heritage inventoried by the Spanish Heritage Education Observatory . Our research has proven that there are shortcomings in several aspects of educational designs. One of the main deficiencies that we have spotted is the small degree of adaptation of programmes to the needs and interests of a range of target groups. This is a surprising flaw if we bear in mind that diversity is present in all spheres of contemporary life. This view has also been expressed in several studies like Marín et al. (2017) or Fontal and Marín (2016), who argue that within the sphere of heritage education, diversity must be seen as a two-sided asset insofar as it relates, in the first place to heritage diversity and, secondly, to diversity among the recipients of educational actions: the potential owners of heritage expressions.

To this we should add the shortfall in evaluation planning, since only 14.3% of scrutinised programmes seem to contemplate the latter’s need as defended in published studies by Stake (1967; 2006). The use of ICTs is likewise hardly present despite the benefits they afford as shown in research work on heritage education and these technologies (Ibáñez et al.: 2012; Ott and Pozzi: 2011; Ott, Dagnino and Pozzi: 2014). Moreover, and regarding programme goals, we have found a disconnect with the school curriculum. The link between both things, however, is key in furnishing heritage-related programmes with ties to content, values and skills that must be developed throughout successive educational stages, as advocated by other studies in this area (Fontal: 2008; Lobovikov-Katz et al.: 2014).

On the other hand, and despite the limitations that we have discovered, we have also detected good examples of highly original practice and programmes in the area of intangible heritage. A high proportion of these take place in the formal sphere and in collaboration with other institutions in their neighbouring environment - an interesting issue insofar as this entails the participation of all educational agents. Following (Fontal and GómezRedondo: 2015) the involvement of educational agents immersed in heritagisation processes facilitates the construction of identity, thus enhancing the programme’s quality. Another aspect worth mentioning is the wealth of intangible heritage assets explored by these programmes. Regardless of the heritage type involved in each case, programmes must be designed by paying close attention to all aspects required by a sound didactic layout. This is critical in achieving their main ultimate goal: making heritage known and strengthening respect and appreciation for it (UNESCO: 1972, Arts. 27 and 28). Programmes, therefore, must have a proper educational design that makes it possible to develop the didactic chain discussed by Fontal (2003) - knowing in order to understand, understanding in order to respect, and respecting in order to value. In this sense, we provide a few guidelines pointing to a number of aspects to be borne in mind in programme preparation in order to improve the quality of future designs.

  • Developing a programme suited to the context and to the initial needs.
  • Setting feasible targets according to the beneficiaries’ age and the current regulations for each educational stage if the programme in question takes place in a formal setting.
  • Notwithstanding the educational environment (formal, non-formal or informal) where the programme takes place, it is enriching to seek the participation of other groups and institutions with the aim of gathering additional support and engaging the participation of the whole school community.
  • Teaching-learning resources must be suited to the methodology that the programme intends to implement. Furthermore, they must be carefully selected on the basis of the group’s characteristics, the institution’s educational programme and the material or human resources available.
  • Training of staff responsible for implementing the programme, both in formal and informal settings.
  • Developing programme adaptations and bearing in mind the special needs of the target community or group.
  • Detailed development of a methodology for programme implementation.
  • Periodic scheduling of the programme.
  • Programme evaluation oriented towards content adequacy and compliance with current legislation. Evaluation of programme implementation. Feedback-oriented continuous and formative evaluation. Evaluation of programme results regarding the acquisition of knowledge and values contemplated in the programme’s goals.
  • Reflecting on the negative aspects during evaluation and searching for strategies to improve deficit areas so as to ensure the continuity of the programme.
The above discussion makes clear the need to consider all aspects involved in producing fine educational designs that underpin programmes concerned with intangible heritage. It is worth mentioning that we have been able to detect a wide range of typologies in our examination of such programmes, which reflects the wealth of intangible heritage itself. This is why it is so important to encourage a feeling of belonging among young people that should ultimately become a sense of responsibility towards the preservation of this particularly vulnerable heritage type. It is in this context that heritage education can play a key role in attempting to convey and create relationships that teach people to appreciate cultural wealth as a sign of identity (Fontal and Gómez-Redondo: 2015), thus becoming a fundamental tool in the management of intangible cultural heritage. We need to develop programmes capable of bringing about the transformation of cultural assets into heritage assets, since heritage education provides a key guarantee in such unifying processes to ensure that a cultural asset becomes community-owned heritage (Lobovikov-Katz: 2009).