Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Practitioner demonstrating batik methods at a gallery © ICHCAP/Weonmo Park

Transmitting ICH in the Context of Informal, Non-Formal, and Formal Education

Sustainability of Intangible Cultural Heritage in the modern world is very much dependent on transmitting ICH to present and future generations. This is acknowledged in the UNESCO 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003 Convention). The purpose of this transmission is to produce inheritors and appreciators of ICH, without which ICH may fade away and eventually disappear. This transmission may be achieved through the channels of informal, non-formal and formal education, which I will discuss in relation to the case of education and training in batik cultural heritage in Pekalongan City, Indonesia, which was inscribed as a “best practice”1The Operational Directives of the 2003 Convention have now replaced the term “Best Practice” with “Good Practice.” for safeguarding ICH in 2009.

The definition of “safeguarding” given in the 2003 Convention mentions “transmission, particularly through formal and non-formal education” as being an important component of safeguarding ICH.2United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (2003 Convention). Article 2, Paragraph 3. Activities on the nexus between culture and education are only natural, as both education and culture are part of the mandate of UNESCO. The 2003 Convention contains an entire article on “Education, Awareness Raising and Capacity Building,”3Ibid. 2003 Convention. Article 14. and it specifically mentions non-formal education.

The 2003 Convention establishes a register of projects, programs, and activities that best reflect the principles and objectives of the Convention.42003 Convention Article 18. This register is referred to as the list of “Best Practices” (now referred to as “Good Practices”). It is noteworthy that this register has inscribed several nominations related to educational programs for transmitting ICH.

I would like to discuss briefly what is meant by informal, non-formal, and formal education, as related to ICH, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each method. Later I will discuss this in relation to the case of education and training in batik cultural heritage in Pekalongan City. The differentiation between informal, non-formal, and formal education was identified, discussed and popularized beginning in the 1970s by Coombs et al.5Coombs, P. H. with Prosser, C. and Ahmed, M. 1973. “New Paths to Learning for Rural Children and Youth, New York: International Council for Educational Development.” One of several reports involving Coombs that popularized the institutional or bureaucratic categories of informal, formal, and non-formal education. See, also, P. Coombs and M. Ahmed. 1974. Attacking Rural Poverty. How Non-formal Education Can Help. Baltimore: John Hopkins Press.

A general definition of informal education is as follows. “Informal education is the wise, respectful and spontaneous process of cultivating learning. It works through conversation, and the exploration and enlargement of experience.”6Jeffs, T. and Smith, M. K. 1997, 2005, 2011. “What is Informal Education?” The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education. Experts like Dewey have noted the importance of community relationships in informal education.7Dewey, J. 1933. How We Think. New York: D. C. Heath. The 2003 Convention recognizes, and indeed insists on, the involvement of communities, groups, and where appropriate individuals in efforts to safeguarding ICH, including those in the field of education.8UNESCO .2003 Convention. Article 15. Experts like Zeldin and Blyth have noted the importance of conversation in informal education. 9Zeldin. 1999. Conversation: How Talk Can Change Your Life. London: Harvill Press. p.3, p.57. 10Blyth, C. 2008. The Art of Conversation. London: John Murray. p. 4.

Governments recognize informal education as being part of their national education systems. The Indonesian government defines informal education as being “education carried out within the family and the environment,”11Law No. 20 of 2003 on the System of National Education, Article 1, Paragraph 13. and facilitates students or persons who have received informal education to take exams or tests to achieve formal recognition of the educational strata they have achieved.12Government Regulation No. 17 of 2018, Paragraph 117.

Informal education is the traditional method of transmitting ICH, “learning by living.” A master would transmit ICH to students, who would live with the master as part of his (or her) household. There was usually no formal curriculum, nor any stratification of the education and training. The students would also often perform menial household chores, assisting the master, becoming like a member of the master’s household, besides receiving training in the respective practice of ICH.

One advantage of this kind of education is that it often produces strong bonds between the master and his students, and the transmission of certain sacred and secret knowledge is facilitated, which might not be as possible in a formal or public setting. The teacher or master would assess each student individually and give education and training appropriate to each student, avoiding any misconception that progress in mastering ICH advances in a linear manner in direct proportion to age or years of training undergone.

A disadvantage of this kind of system in the modern world is that few students have the time or patience to dedicate themselves full time over a long period, in many cases with no guarantee of a subsequent livelihood. For example, I studied Indonesian shadow puppetry (Wayang kulit, Surakarta Style) in such a traditional school for eight years. But after completing the training, I was forced to see the impossibility of achieving a livelihood simply by practicing this particular kind of ICH. Such is the case for many graduates of ICH informal education.

Regarding non-formal education, Fordham has said, “Non-formal education is about ‘acknowledging the importance of education, learning and training which takes place outside recognized educational institutions.’”13Fordham, P. et al. 1979. “Learning Networks in Adult Education.” Non-formal Education on a Housing Estate. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

In relation to ICH, non-formal education is similar to informal education. It is in the form of courses or training, still held in a traditional way in traditional schools. It retains many of the advantages of informal education, but does not require the students to live full time with the master. Again, in many cases there is no formal curriculum or stratification, and there may or may not be examinations held or diplomas given after completion of studies. Again, students may wonder if after their graduation, they will be able to live by practicing the ICH they have learned in this way.

Formal education, on the other hand, is structured education that generally takes place in schools and universities and is stratified into primary, secondary, and tertiary levels (universities).14Law No. 20 of 2004, Article 1, Paragraph 11, Juncto Government Regulation No. 17 of 2010, Article 1, Paragraph 6. Another distinguishing feature of formal education is the existence of curricula as the basis of teaching and learning activities. Students are given regular examinations or tests to evaluate their achievements of certain levels of competency. There are generally clearly laid-out requirements for students who wish to participate in this type of education.

Formal education in schools and universities is by far the dominant form of education in the modern world. Curricula are generally set by Ministries of Education and mostly consist of languages and mathematics. At this time, ICH is generally not a part of the core curricula in formal education. Noting this problem, the UNESCO Secretariat has begun to organize meetings to draft ICH curricula for later use in schools and universities. From time to time during statutory meetings of the Convention, caution has been raised regarding “over-formalizing” ICH education, lest it lose elements of its intangible nature.

Almost all young people, from kindergarten up to at least secondary level, are fully engaged in formal education, with almost no time for assimilating ICH. Therefore, the good practice of inserting ICH into school curricula as local content or an extracurricular activity has begun to be practiced. The results are encouraging. At the very least the students become appreciators of ICH, understanding ICH to be part of their cultural identity and heritage. Some may become practitioners, inheritors, and transmitters of ICH in their own right. Advantages are the possibility of transmitting ICH to large numbers of students. It is good to involve traditional practitioners in this training, both directly and indirectly by training school teachers “Training of Trainers.”

A case in point is the “Education and Training in Batik Cultural Heritage for Elementary, Junior, Senior and Vocational High School and Polytechnic Students in Collaboration with the Batik Museum in Pekalongan City,” inscribed on the Register of Best Practice for Safeguarding ICH in 2009.

The batik community noted that the younger generation’s interest in batik was waning and felt the need to increase efforts to transmit batik cultural heritage to guarantee its safeguarding.

Primary school students learning batik skills © ICHCAP/Weonmo Park

The program is collaboration between the Batik Museum and elementary, junior, senior, vocational, and polytechnic schools to include education in batik cultural values and traditional handcraft in curricula as local content or an extracurricular subject. The mayor of Pekalongan City enacted a decree asking all schools in the city to participate in the program by either sending their students to the Batik Museum to join in a workshop on batik cultural heritage theory and practice, or having their own teachers participate in the training-of-trainers program at the museum. The project has gone on since 2007, and continues to expand to the Pekalongan District and the neighboring Batang, Pemalang, and Tegal districts.

In the case of Pekalongan City, the risk of over formalization was overcome by training school teachers to teach batik cultural heritage using methods similar to those used in a traditional context. Some traditional teachers were also invited to teach in schools.

Data and interviews with headmasters, teachers, and students prove that the program is popular and successful. Some headmasters even noted an enhancement of students’ achievement in other subjects after this program was introduced. Similar measures have also been enacted in other parts of Indonesia involving other elements of ICH. For example, Angklung in West Java Province, Saman in Gayo Lues District in Aceh Province, and Noken in Papua and West Papua Provinces, as appropriate to the local ICH. The project is a good example of transmitting intangible cultural values to the younger generations by including modules of cultural heritage in the curricula of educational institutions.

Notes   [ + ]

1. The Operational Directives of the 2003 Convention have now replaced the term “Best Practice” with “Good Practice.”
2. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (2003 Convention). Article 2, Paragraph 3.
3. Ibid. 2003 Convention. Article 14.
4. 2003 Convention Article 18.
5. Coombs, P. H. with Prosser, C. and Ahmed, M. 1973. “New Paths to Learning for Rural Children and Youth, New York: International Council for Educational Development.” One of several reports involving Coombs that popularized the institutional or bureaucratic categories of informal, formal, and non-formal education. See, also, P. Coombs and M. Ahmed. 1974. Attacking Rural Poverty. How Non-formal Education Can Help. Baltimore: John Hopkins Press.
6. Jeffs, T. and Smith, M. K. 1997, 2005, 2011. “What is Informal Education?” The Encyclopaedia of Informal Education.
7. Dewey, J. 1933. How We Think. New York: D. C. Heath.
8. UNESCO .2003 Convention. Article 15.
9. Zeldin. 1999. Conversation: How Talk Can Change Your Life. London: Harvill Press. p.3, p.57.
10. Blyth, C. 2008. The Art of Conversation. London: John Murray. p. 4.
11. Law No. 20 of 2003 on the System of National Education, Article 1, Paragraph 13.
12. Government Regulation No. 17 of 2018, Paragraph 117.
13. Fordham, P. et al. 1979. “Learning Networks in Adult Education.” Non-formal Education on a Housing Estate. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
14. Law No. 20 of 2004, Article 1, Paragraph 11, Juncto Government Regulation No. 17 of 2010, Article 1, Paragraph 6.