Promoting sustainable development through arts education

Promoting sustainable development through arts education

The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development ends in 2014, and this fast approaching target date provides a stimulus to accelerate progress in order to achieve the Decade's goals. Given that UNESCO was designated as the lead agency to promote and implement the Decade, Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) has become of uppermost importance for the Organisation. The significance of ESD has been stressed by Ms Irina Bokova, Director‐General of UNESCO, who has stated that “ESD is based on the fundamental interdependence of environment, economy, society and cultural diversity, which together form the key to a better and more just world in the 21st century.”


UNESCO believes that sustainable development education needs to be re-oriented in a manner that is cognizant and inclusive of local cultural practices and knowledge systems. Having evolved over generations in specific ecological and social contexts, these practices and knowledge systems, instilled in our intangible cultural heritage (ICH), form the basis for sustainability in all its dimensions. The widespread adoption of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) by 159 Member States provides a great opportunity to understand and safeguard intangible cultural heritage through ESD.

The importance that the authorities of Uzbekistan attach to sustainable development, combined with the commitment of the UN to promote the integration of cultural diversity and environmental sustainability into community-related policies and activities, resulted in Uzbekistan being selected as one of the four pilot countries in the Asia and the Pacific (ASPAC) region—alongside Pakistan, Palau, and Viet Nam—to participate in the ICH-ESD programme. The goal of this programme is to raise awareness and enhance the capacity of teachers to incorporate intangible cultural heritage and local knowledge forms and practices into teaching, while promoting the sustainability of local traditions and knowledge.

UNESCO partnered with the Uzbek authorities, and specifically the Ministry of Public Education and the Ministry of Culture and Sports, to develop educational material for two sixth-grade classes, national singing and national games. These two specific areas of intangible cultural heritage were chosen in order to strengthen the already existing music and sports education curricula with elements that would allow students to familiarize themselves with the rich cultural tradition of Uzbekistan. The new material was pilot-tested in schools and revised jointly with methodologists from the Center of Education and intangible cultural heritage experts.

The project equipped educators and learners in Uzbekistan with knowledge and skills to understand intangible cultural heritage which are conducive to sustainable behaviours, lifestyles and practices grounded in traditional wisdom. It also raised awareness of the importance of integrating the cultivation of local identities and knowledge systems into the formal education system.

The initiative has been met with success and has gathered positive feedback both from the institutions concerned and from the pubic. As Mr. Urazali Tashmatov, one of the experts working in the project, highlighted, the idea is unique, because it both raises awareness and enriches school teachers' knowledge about ICH and its educational capabilities. He has found that the project is inextricably linked with sustainable development, given that both concepts aim at educating capable and worthy future decision-makers. As far as the future of the project is concerned, Mr. Tashmatov has found that the development of a common approach and methodology makes it possible to incorporate the study of ICH into the curricula of more schools across Uzbekistan, and he has also stressed the importance to further evolve the project and gradually incorporate ICH into preschool, specialized secondary, and higher education. However, in order to enhance ICH and promote its presence in all public spheres, ICH education should start from home.

Given the success of the project, Uzbekistan’s experience shows that it could be possible for the other countries in the region to follow its example and integrate the elements of their intangible cultural heritage into public education.

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