Writer : Joris Van Doorsselaere, MA
Year : 2021
The results show that the 2003 Convention has not yet permeated into the policy processes. Although the Flemish government developed open learning outcomes that accommodate awareness-raising and – to a lesser extent – the safeguarding of intangible heritage, the 2003 Convention did not serve as a reference framework. Evidently, considering the short time frame since the conception of the ORF, the results need to be interpreted as a baseline measurement on which to build. To conclude, this paper aims to put the overall results framework to the test in a particular context. Nevertheless, when leaving the institutional and operational scope of the specific case in Flanders behind, the paper provides useful reflections and strategic learnings for the implementation of the 2003 UNESCO Convention in other contexts as well.
The 2003 UNESCO Convention provides each of the state parties the freedom to explore their own means for implementation. Here, the strategic goals of the Convention and the ORF are to be translated from the international scope to the various levels in Belgium, as State Party to the Convention, where the Flemish Community has competence for cultural affairs and education. The UNESCO-accredited NGO Workshop Intangible Heritage (in Belgium) has taken on a crucial role as a competent body in the implementation in the field in Flanders. Jorijn Neyrinck, director of the organisation, made linking intangible heritage and education a high priority on the organisation’s research agenda in 2019. As a full-time teacher in secondary education in Flanders and an arts and archaeology working student at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), I decided to investigate the link between intangible heritage and education in the region. At the VUB, Marc Jacobs coordinates the UNESCO chair on critical heritage studies and safeguarding the ICH. With the help of Marc Jacobs and Jorijn Neyrinck, I submitted a research proposal to the VUB. The master thesis aimed to critically examine the implementation of the 2003 Convention in the formal education system in Flanders. The above-mentioned periodic reporting mechanism, as described in Article 29 of the Convention and Article 152 of the Operational Directives, highlights the relevance of this study. Belgium will need to deliver a new periodic report by December 2021. The research project was not only a case of assessing the current status in Flanders but also about making recommendations for future policy and practice in light of the recently developed ORF. From this perspective, this investigation can be seen as a baseline measurement on which to build.
At the outset, the learning outcomes for primary and secondary education, developed by the Flemish government and civil service (2020), were screened using the ORF and the Guidance Notes elaborated by external experts and consultants. Relevant indicators for this qualitative analysis are 4, 5 and 6. They can be found in the thematic area ‘transmission and education’. The first two were used to measure educational policy implementation, learning outcomes and supplementary initiatives. Core indicator 6, concerning higher education, was left out of the screening process. However, solely employing this approach would not suffice. According to Article 171 of the Operational Directives, communities, groups and individuals (CGIs) need to be involved (UNESCO: 2018; Blake: 2019; Jacobs: 2020). Further, relevant experts and cultural brokers within or outside the cultural sector should also be considered. To investigate the participation of both, the development process of educational policy and curricula was examined. Here, the thesis drew on in-depth interviews with policy advisers and relevant stakeholders in the (intangible) cultural heritage and education sectors. Finally, during this research, the thesis explored the connections with international frameworks, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and other UNESCO concepts used in Flemish educational policy.
This paper presents the results of the research submitted as a master’s thesis at the VUB in June 2020, as mentioned above. It is structured according to the three relevant operational levels. First, there is the macro or national level. Here, the specific case of the general education system and policy in Flanders, as a part of Belgium, is explicated. Second, a closer look is given to the meso level of the educational providers. By transferring the official learning outcomes into curricula, these providers play an intermediate role in the educational landscape in Flanders. Third, the paper discusses the micro level. This involves the didactic choices schools and teachers make within the given framework from above, related to integrating intangible heritage. Finally, relevant recommendations on the three levels are proposed to enhance the implementation of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The country declared its independence in 1830 and seceded from the Netherlands. A few months later, the national congress adopted a constitution, which turned the new state into a parliamentary monarchy. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church still had a considerable influence, especially on formal educational practices. The constitution was considered, at that time, to be progressive, because it encompassed notable liberal aspects. A gradual process of cultural emancipation sparked several conflicts during the 20th century and led to the first state reform in 1970. As a result, three cultural communities were established: a Dutch-, a French- and a German-speaking Community, each with its own cultural autonomy. During the second and third reform, and in response to the request for more economic autonomy as well, three regions were added: Flanders, Wallonia and the Brussels-Capital Region (Witte, Craeybeckx and Meynen: 2009).
After additional reforms in 1993, 2001 and 2011, Belgium now has a federal state structure consisting of three regions and three communities, each with its own legislative body and government. The regions are connected with their territory, and the communities are based on the concept of language and related to the people living within that territory. Therefore, the latter has competence for cultural affairs and education, which makes them legally responsible within the geographical boundaries of the Dutch-language area and the bilingual Brussels-Capital Region. The implementation of heritage policies lies in the hands of the Flemish government and civil service. However, due to the prior division into regions and communities, immovable heritage in Flanders is accommodated under the supervision of the Department of Environment, while cultural heritage (tangible or movable and ICH) falls under the Department of Culture, Youth and Media.
And what about education and the formal school system? Educational policy is an exclusive competence of the Flemish Community, with the exception of decisions concerning compulsory education. The Flemish government takes on the role of developing learning outcomes valid for primary (6–12 years old) and secondary education (12–18 years old). In this development process, it appoints separate committees staffed by experts in a particular field, such as university professors, researchers and experienced teachers. Putting educational policy into curricula in Flanders rests in the hands of the educational providers. They operate as intermediaries in the field and are able to give their personal touch and operational emphasis. Once the outcomes have been developed by the Flemish government, they are transformed into curricula by the providers, according to their own character and pedagogical background. Furthermore, the learning outcomes set by the Flemish government and civil service are minimum goals that the providers need to achieve. However, when transferring the official outcomes to the level of the educational providers, they have the authority to expand these goals.
In Flanders, young children have to attend pre-primary school, starting from the age of five years old. When comparing the relevant attitudinal learning outcomes of the pre-primary and primary education with the ORF, mainly core indicator 5 has to be taken into account. It focuses on the extent to which intangible heritage is integrated into primary and secondary education. Attitudes such as respecting, appreciating and reflecting on cultural expressions of the community and that of others can be found in the curricula of pre-primary and primary education. Nonetheless, instead of conceiving heritage as a goal, the official learning outcomes constitute an environment in which the different types of heritage can be integrated as a means to learn. Mostly this is the case for the learning outcomes relating to attitudes. The outcomes seem to meet assessment factor 5.2. ICH can be used as a means of explaining or demonstrating other subjects as well. However, just like the inclusion of local content, the Flemish government has not set any explicit conditions about this instrumental use. Therefore, the educational providers can achieve these goals without integrating ICH. So assessment factors 5.1 and 5.3 are met, with the remark that it depends on the emphasis and conditions the educational providers create on a lower level in Flanders.
In secondary education, the official learning outcomes recently underwent a major conceptual and operational reform. In 2017, the Flemish government developed 16 decretal key competences. At the foundation lie eight European Key Competences, derived from the UNESCO concept of lifelong learning. At the time of this research, only the learning outcomes for the first stage of secondary education could be examined. The ones meant for the second and third stages were yet to be approved by the Flemish Parliament. In Flanders, the choice of study is traditionally delayed until the start of the second stage of secondary education. So the first stage consists of a basic formation in which students from 12 to 14 years of age receive more or less the same fundamentals.
At first sight, cultural awareness and cultural expression appears to be the most relevant decretal key competence in which ICH could be integrated. A thorough screening reveals that the concept is not explicitly mentioned. However, the Flemish government expanded the eight European Key Competences and developed eight additional key competences. The key competence on historical awareness is one of them and emphasises the connection between the past, the present and the future. Although no explicit references were found, some skills and attitudes related to the concept of historical thinking open possibilities. From a broader scope, relevant attitudinal goals can be found in competences in other languages, competences in Dutch and in the citizenship competences. The competences concerning sustainability and cultural awareness and expression are not interconnected on the conceptual level. Sustainability is only approached through a technological or scientific viewpoint. This means the official learning outcomes do not see any relationship between ICH and achieving sustainability. Nevertheless, according to Article 170 of the Operational Directives, intangible heritage can act as a catalyst for sustainable development.
To develop learning outcomes, the Flemish government appoints separate committees based on the decretal
key competences. To increase the level of participation, an extensive public debate and inquiry were set up by the end of 2015. In this way, the Flemish government investigated the expectations of the public to increase the social relevance of the upcoming curricular reform in secondary education. In the case of the committee on cultural awareness and expression, CGIs did not partake in any phase of the development process.
Of course, including CGIs in all their diversity into the participative process is rather complicated to achieve at this level. But maybe their voices could be heard indirectly by introducing relevant experts and stakeholders in the (intangible) heritage sector? In Flanders, the Flemish Institution for the Cultural Heritage (FARO) acts as an interface centre for the heritage sector, mediating between various policy levels, heritage organisations, global networks, universities and civil society. Subsequently, the Flemish government appointed the organisation Workshop Intangible Heritage in Belgium as a competent body and organisation dedicated to the safeguarding of ICH in Flanders. Civil participation in heritage themes is one of its main goals. On the international level, both FARO and Workshop Intangible Heritage are accredited NGOs that provide advisory services to the Intergovernmental Committee of the 2003 UNESCO Convention. Taking this into account, both organisations indicate that they were not consulted in the development process of educational curricula or learning outcomes concerning cultural heritage.
When examining these findings, a closer look at the policy processes is needed. The in-depth interviews with members of the developing committee on cultural awareness and expression revealed that the 2003 UNESCO Convention and the Operational Directives did not serve as a reference framework. However, the recent curriculum reform in Flanders predates the conception of the ORF. From this perspective, it seems evident that the recommendations of the 2003 Convention have not permeated the policy processes yet. These results should instead be viewed as a baseline measurement for future strategic development concerning ICH.
The commission was established by the Flemish government in 2003 to promote the relationship between UNESCO and the Flemish Community. The German and French Communities have a separate one, which makes Belgium the only country in the world with two ‘national’ commissions. The Flemish Commission for UNESCO (FCU) consists of twelve members qualified to vote and seven – mostly voluntary – advisory members; the FCU is funded by the Flemish Department of Foreign Affairs, which delegates one secretary (UNESCO Flanders, 2020). It is active in all domains of competence of UNESCO. As a result of the cooperation, both voting members and advisory members are appointed by the Flemish government for a term of six years, which can be renewed once. The main goal of the commission is to inform the public on UNESCO’s ideas and to develop outcomes and appropriate actions to bring the international organisation and the Flemish Community closer together. Furthermore, both departments delegate office holders as relevant experts to the board of the organisation. In a way, the FCU acts as a mediator – or cultural broker – between relevant policy areas. Ideally, when reforming learning outcomes and curricula, an advisory opinion should be requested from the FCU.
From this perspective, the FCU functions as an independent and transparent body that assembles valuable expertise. Its merit lies in establishing useful connections between relevant stakeholders across policy areas (immovable heritage, cultural heritage, education, etc.). Considering the complexity of the above-mentioned state structure, this can be seen as its most valuable quality. Nonetheless, the role both departments (Culture, Youth, Sport and Media and Education and Training) ascribe to the FCU – or the organisation attributes to itself – does not always correspond to reality in current practice. As the interviews revealed, a lack of staffing capacity was pointed out as the main reason for not always meeting goals. Within the limits of the professional support around the work of the commission, a selection of mainly UNESCO specific duties is realised, such as advice on nominations or initiatives. Nevertheless, due to the lack of capacity, cross-domain activities or potential developments, such as linking education and ICH, did not – or seldom – found their way onto the agenda in the past. Recently, however, a new dynamic approach has been introduced, and the FCU succeeded in placing heritage and education on the strategic action plan for 2021.
The deliberately open outcomes – often without explicit reference to ICH – offer the advantage of being implemented by any school in Flanders. Due to its broad formulation, however, the specific relationship of intangible heritage with the contextual environment and the CGIs can be omitted when applied at the level of educational providers. Moreover, an important additional question is whether the educational providers have sufficient insight into the general concept of heritage. Possibly as a result of this, which advisory partners and frames of reference have they consulted during the transfer from official outcomes into curricula for the schools? In the past, field research reported a gap between the heritage and the education sector in Flanders, causing relevant initiatives and information from both sides not to seep through (Van der Auwera, Schramme and Jeurissen: 2007).
When investigating this transfer, great diversity in vision and approach by educational providers in the way they implemented ICH was found. Nevertheless, the involvement of relevant experts was limited to a bare minimum, and, more importantly, stakeholders such as FARO and Workshop Intangible Heritage were not consulted at this level. A common reason refers to time pressure from above during the transfer process, as politicians want to push through their own educational policy choices during their term of office. Ideally, the goals concerning (intangible) cultural heritage should be presented to the stakeholders to investigate whether they are well balanced and make full use of the possibilities the open framework offers. The screened curricula of the educational providers remain open and lack explicit goals on ICH, as well as concrete didactical suggestions. However, putting the curricula into practice is a matter for schools. Therefore, teachers, who possess considerable didactic freedom in Flanders, play a decisive role, especially because a dynamic notion of heritage implies an engaging interaction with the curricula, taking into account the pupil’s sociocultural background. How will a school teacher in Flanders implement the curricula in practice?
In 2016, the Cultural Diversity: Opportunities and Socialization (CuDOS) research group of Ghent University conducted a study on cultural education in secondary schools in Flanders (Beunen, Lievens and Siongers: 2016, 84). The results show that heritage as a means to teach lags behind. Of the teachers surveyed, 71.6 per cent indicated that they never used heritage during lessons. In addition, almost three quarters stated they were not aware of the opportunities that local heritage institutions have to offer. What underlying causes can be found for this missed attunement?
First, the curricula do not include or specify any conditions or goals regarding ICH. They mostly refer to the general concept of cultural expression, which means the specific integration of intangible heritage is not obligatory. This non-committal status is detrimental to the integration of ICH in formal education, and the curricula lack incentives. Therefore, developing lessons concerning ICH depends on the goodwill of schools or teachers. Schools can emphasise the connection with the local context, but making a commitment on paper does not necessarily mean it will be implemented in practice. In the end, teachers remain crucial actors in bringing local content into the classroom or acquainting pupils with it during extramural activities.
A second reason can be found in the wide range of employment of ICH. It tends to have transversal opportunities. This means it can be used to achieve other goals as well. Nonetheless, using ICH as an instrument for learning about other subjects appears to be an arduous task. In 2007, the University of Antwerp conducted a study on heritage education in Flanders (Van der Auwera, Schramme and Jeurissen: 2007). On the school level, 15.8 per cent declared that they lacked the specific know-how of heritage education. On the teacher level, 9.3 per cent found themselves not capable of integrating heritage into class practice.
Both reasons refer to the notion of teacher agency, which endeavours to describe the ability of an actor to act in a particular context (Biesta, Priestley and Sarah Robinson, 2017). It has been a part of international sociological research for some time, but when implementing policy, such as the 2003 Convention, it is often overlooked.
First, the learning outcomes should be presented to relevant stakeholders, such as FARO and Workshop Intangible Heritage. Given the specific characteristics of the development process, the ICH network must act as a whole, so a dialogue can take place between the development committee or committees and relevant experts. In this dialogue, the FCU could act as a mediator – that is, if the FCU can build on the current dynamic approach and gain influence by expanding the secretariat and profiling itself as an advisory body with relevant expertise in the field of education, scientific research, culture and communication. The role of the FCU should be enhanced, so it can effectively act as a cultural broker, linking the policy areas ‘Education and Training’ and ‘Culture, Youth, Sport and Media’ in the Flemish civil service.
Second, establishing a connection of learning outcomes with the local context should ideally shift to the micro level. The individual practitioners and bearers, groups or communities of ICH appear to be insufficiently involved in the design of educational programmes and in actively presenting and transmitting their heritage. Their involvement can be incorporated at the level of schools and offers opportunities to link regional or local heritage curricula. Schools have the potential to serve as contexts to bring practitioners and pupils closer together and, with the cooperation of relevant stakeholders, set up participative workshops. In this light, the decision to create an open and generic framework of learning outcomes on the national level is understandable and even beneficial for local contexts.
Nevertheless, because ICH is not explicitly included in educational policy, there is a risk that ICH is insufficiently transferred into curricula (by the educational providers). To seize all opportunities and therewith expand the official learning outcomes, the concept of heritage and its various forms should be more concretely incorporated in Flemish educational policy. The connection with local content is challenging to include in the framework at this level, also for the entire Flemish Community but, to counteract noncommitment at the lower levels, it would be desirable, certainly for ICH, to include more conditions on integration.
The curricula seldom explicitly refer to intangible heritage, making its integration by schools and teachers difficult. For example, intangible heritage can also be used as a means to teach in different subjects, although not every teacher sees the transversal opportunities. Here, providing sufficient didactic suggestions, inspirational guides and clear cross-curricular connections should be elaborated and disseminated. However, the professional freedom and creativity of teachers should not be limited. The difficulty lies in finding a balance between openness and concreteness. When including regional or local content regarding ICH in the curriculum framework, a more bottom-up process should take place.
In this process, schools in Flanders are autonomous in interpreting the given framework from the educational providers and setting up a valuable learning environment. On this level, the notion of teacher agency is often overlooked in the case of heritage education. Contextual factors such as curricula, the pedagogical project of schools or the local network in which they are embedded (connection with formal or informal relevant actors) affect the integration of ICH. More so, in this tension between structure and agency, it is the set of personal factors that, in the end, determine whether an international UNESCO framework finds its way into practice at the lowest levels. The teachers’ own cultural awareness and didactic skills or confidence therein are relevant factors in achieving the safeguarding of ICH through formal learning. They find support in textbooks from educational publishers. However, these mostly rely on generic didactic examples instead of responding to cultural diversity, meaning that more specific and locally embedded examples of ICH are omitted.
To facilitate the implementation of the 2003 Convention, the role of teachers needs to be enhanced. Ideally, a didactic heritage framework should be developed to support teachers in employing heritage, as a goal or as a means, into the classroom. Furthermore, the concept of a schools’ pedagogical project in Flanders offers opportunities to link regional or local heritage curricula. These do not necessarily need to contain substantive goals or guidelines, but rather can encompass an additional vision on involving the heritage context of the school. How this vision takes shape in practice depends on the formal and informal partners of the local network. These regional or local curricula can fit into the imposed framework from above, such as the UNESCO Convention of 2003, the official learning outcomes of the Flemish government and the curricula of the educational providers. Schools should depend more on the local context and function as a pivot in a network, which includes actors such as parents, the neighbourhood, teachers and various formal and informal partners. Besides, integrating the individual teacher into a broader social network can help address the challenges in the relationship between teacher agency and heritage education. Safeguarding ICH can be a small but valuable part of this.
To accelerate the general implementation of the 2003 Convention, deeper penetration into policy processes has to be pursued. Ideally, safeguarding measures at the national level would strongly depend on capacitybuilding and awareness-raising. By improving support for mediation, in which Flanders is strong, further cooperation in both awareness-raising and capacity-building can be generated. Here, the role of the FCU, as an independent, intermediate and transparent body that assembles valuable expertise, needs to be further enhanced to consolidate and expand its network. Moreover, existing collaboration between the heritage sector and the educational field could benefit from additional support. On the lower levels, schools and teachers have to be regarded as key actors and need to be equipped with more effective didactic tools and a framework to bring pupils and ICH (and the sector) closer together. Local content regarding ICH in educational settings cannot be worked out at the national level. A more bottom-up and participative process should take place.
To conclude, when leaving the institutional and operational scope of the specific case in Flanders behind, this article provides useful reflections and strategic learnings for the implementation of the 2003 UNESCO Convention in other contexts as well.
Marc Jacobs, coordinator of the UNESCO chair on critical heritage studies and safeguarding the ICH at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and professor of critical heritage studies at University of Antwerp, was the thesis adviser. Jorijn Neyrinck, director of Workshop Intangible Heritage in Flanders, took on the role of co-adviser. I owe a debt of gratitude to both for their support and feedback during the research process.