The knowledge and traditions which developed over centuries through interaction of human beings with their environment are definitely the valuable cultural assets and it is very important to safeguard them for the sake of continuity of our identity and sustainability. 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. Widespread adoption of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003) provides a great opportunity for understanding and safeguarding ICH through ESD.
In this connection UNESCO Bangkok has developed a project to raise awareness and capacity of teachers to incorporate ICH in forms of local knowledge and practices into teaching and learning in order to reinforce cultural diversity to drive towards sustainability. Designed as an inter-sectoral collaboration between UNESCO's Education and Culture sectors, the project aims to identify and promote innovative approaches in integrating ICH into learning environments and curricula at the secondary school level in four pilot countries including Pakistan while three other being, Palau, Uzbekistan and Viet Nam. The project is in two stages, the first was a preliminary research on the existing practices and methodologies of integrating ICH into education in Pakistan which was presented in the plenary of the 4 countries in Bangkok and the framework for the implementation developed. As the research report showed Pakistan had little experience in this area although a few schools had been attempting to enrich their curriculum through extra-curricular activities harnessing ICH elements. At the end of the Pilot UNESCO Bangkok office proposed that each country would develop its own guidelines for the purpose.
The key aspect of Pakistan's effort for integrating ICH in education and learning is to link tradition bearers, the Ustadsand practitioners, to the formal school system and to develop mechanisms through which the cultural knowledge and wisdom can be transmitted to the younger generation. A three pronged approach was adopted, one being awareness raising and sharing the intricacies of the ICH element with the teachers and the students through either culture clubs or a new subject of Heritage Education introduced in the Curriculum, the second is by fusing knowledge derived and embedded in ICH into school subjects, the third aspect is "Thematic Projects", which are mechanisms for project based learning and opens a hitherto untapped avenue for seeking knowledge. For Thematic Projects, 4 areas have been highlighted, each of which draw students to learning from their elders and their communities thus inculcating respect for the traditional knowledge and its diversity in the region and globally. Starting from themselves the projects lead the students stage by stage to the larger community. Thus, My Home, My Community (I) My Elders, My Identity (us), Our Town, Our Context (ours/ the collective) and My Culture, My Pride ( we) are the four project based learning opportunities. At the end of the Pilot Project Guidelines for Integrating ICH/ESD knowledge in education and learning has been developed through a consultative process.
While teachers are busy exploring and developing lesson plans some interesting insights are emerging. Story-telling and the traditional stories are providing a wealth of knowledge and opportunities for fusing with math, geography and history. For example the epic folk story "HeerRanjha" can become the basis for teaching an entire course of history and geography of the Punjab as has been shown by Ustad Shabbir Hussain Shabbir, the traditional story teller from Lahore while Ustad Hanif"s lessons of folk music have very quickly translated into its underlying math knowledge. Another myth which has been broken in the process of this linking craft-making skills into the schools is the popular view that embroidery is women's work because we find that boys have opted for zardozi (traditional gold thread embroidery) being offered by UstadSaeed and Chunri (tie and dye) of Ustad Nusrat Saleem. Another important finding from the work so far is that the education system has discarded local traditional knowledge and wisdom so effectively that any program to integrate this into the school system requires special attention for building the capacity of the teachers to take on this responsibility and re-orient their thinking in this direction. What is indeed very encouraging is the response of the teachers and the taught to the Pilot Initiative of "Integrating ICH Knowledge into Education and Learning" and the respect that this is creating amongst the young for cultural diversity.