Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Education Amidst Digitalisation

Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Education Amidst Digitalisation

1.1. Research Context

The current article explores how the embracement of cultural heritage in education through the adoption of digital technology can cultivate learners’ skills and further contribute to sustainable education (Figure 1). Sustainable education (SE) refers to teaching and learning practices, skills and strategies which facilitate lifelong learning inside and outside the classroom [1]. According to Doukanari et al. [2], “research on sustainable education examines a wide range of learning practices, methods, and strategies, and how they consider, adapt to, and meet the diverse needs of student cohorts” (2021:1). The authors explain how SE has gradually expanded to comprise a wide range of practices and strategies, varying from sustainable feedback, students’ sustainable development, problem-solving and hands-on experiences through to field trips, inter-disciplinary learning, internationalisation, sustainable curricula metrics, Multicultural Teamwork (MMT), Case-based Learning (CBL) and Problem-based Learning (PBL), among others.
According to Sterling [3], sustainable education (SE) can achieve an essential cultural shift. Cultural heritage learning fosters respect and understanding for cultural diversity, promotes intercultural discussion and contributes to more resilient and inclusive communities [4,5,6]. Cultural heritage refers to behaviours, beliefs, habits and artefacts that are passed down from generation to generation, forming a community’s or society’s identity. History, architecture, art, music, literature and language are all included, as are traditional knowledge, rituals and festivals [7]. Cultural heritage not only provides individuals and communities with a sense of pride and identity, but it also plays an important role in promoting intercultural discourse, protecting biodiversity and developing social cohesion. Cultural heritage includes tangible cultural heritage and intangible cultural heritage. Tangible cultural heritage refers to physical artefacts created, maintained and passed down through generations in a civilisation. Intangible cultural heritage has been defined by UNESCO [8] as “the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, and skills-as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts, and cultural spaces associated with them-that communities, groups, and, in some cases, individuals recognise as part of their Cultural Heritage”. Oral traditions, performing arts, local knowledge and traditional skills are examples of intangible heritage.
Within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set by the United Nations 2030 Agenda, it is critical to maintain and conserve cultural heritage for future generations to ensure its sustainability and relevance in an ever-changing world [9]. In light of increasing globalisation, cultural heritage began to decline. Young people became increasingly unaware of their cultural identity [10]. But lately, cultural heritage has gained popularity, along with public and scholarly interest around the world. Its conceptual reach can be seen in various Erasmus+ projects [11]. Also, cultural heritage is linked to urban sustainability [12]; preservation and revitalisation; experiences [13]; city regeneration [14]; and sustainable development [15], among others. Social scientists emphasise its functions in promoting ethnic, national and elite interests, while others highlight its creative and counter-hegemonic aspects. Promoting Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will strengthen collaboration with diverse sectors, particularly culture and science, to smoothly integrate ESD into the 2030 agenda. One main goal of ESD is to empower youth, prepare them to face the contemporary difficulties of unsustainable development and prepare them to be future decision makers. An aspect of the current study seeks to understand the level of youth awareness, attitudes and practices regarding tangible and intangible cultural heritage.
Moreover, as presented in Figure 1, the links between sustainable education, skills and cultural heritage are further enhanced by the increasing adoption of digital technology in education [16,17,18,19]. The inner set of arrows in the figure represent the interconnection and interdependence among the different components of sustainability. The outer set of arrows exists on the periphery of interdependence and reveals a dynamic in which the three components are further enhanced and reinforced as part of a perpetual sustainability cycle. Individual skills and abilities can be strengthened through digitally aided education and training. The Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS), one of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centres, has compiled a comprehensive study of national approaches to digital education policy around the world [20]. Recognising the importance of digital skills at the time, the European Parliament and Council of the European Union named digital competence as one of eight core competences required for lifelong (and sustainable) learning in 2006 [21]. Since then, the EU has developed numerous Digital Competence Frameworks (Dig Comp, DigCompEdu, DigCompOrg) to assist with the development of digital skills among all citizens, educators, educational organisations and consumers (DigCompConsumers). Four proficiency levels in five domains were developed, letting people evaluate their own digital skills and allowing comparisons between member states [22]:
  • Information and data literacy;

  • Communication and cooperation;

  • Creation of digital material;

  • Safety, and;

  • Problem solving.

Human, digital and soft skills are more important in the twenty-first century than cognitive skills. They encompass abilities that robots and artificial intelligence lack or do not thrive on, but that people do have [23,24]. Learners with such talents will be in high demand since they can design and progress digital transformation [25], as well as contribute to societal advancement and innovation in general. Furthermore, the ability to manage change, notably resilience, adaptation, leadership and flexibility, is an important long-term ability for cultivating preparation for future advances [26]. In 2021, the European Union member nations had the lowest proportions of early school leavers. In contrast and contradiction with this, Italy (13%) and Cyprus (10%) reported the highest percentages. The EU member states have set themselves a target to reduce the rates of early school leavers to below 9% as the EU-level target by 2030. Sixteen member states have already met this EU-level target for 2030 for this indicator, including Lithuania [27].
The term “digital native” is increasingly being used in public discourse to describe generations of young people who have grown up surrounded by digital technologies. The term implies that young people intuitively understand how to use technology and thus do not require digital education or training. All EU digital policies during the last decade, including the Digital Agenda for Europe (2010) [28], the Digital Single Market for Europe (2015) [29] and a Europe fit for the digital age (2020) [30], have intended to make every European digitally competent. Although research on young people’s usage of the Internet and technology in Council of Europe member countries is scant, Eurostat data provide some insight into the situation in the European Union. Consequently, 95% of young Europeans in 2021 aged 16–29 years reported using the Internet every day. However, the percentage of young people with a basic or advanced level of digital skills varies between 46% and 93%, with an EU average of 71%. Performing basic computer tasks, such as copying or moving a file or folder, is something, according to Eurostat [31], that 76% of all young people can do.
The use of digital technology has increased dramatically over the previous two decades. Digital technology is defined as “the use of electronic equipment to store, generate, or analyse data, as well as to promote communication and virtual interactions on social media platforms via the internet” [32]. Laptops, smartphones, computers, tablets and other similar devices are all considered electronic gadgets that are utilised for interpersonal connection, virtual communication and virtual engagement. Of course, research should consider not only the positive impact of technology but also its negative implications. Social media has swiftly changed the way young learners communicate with one another, igniting considerable scientific and public discussion over its possible impact on young learners socioemotional well-being and mental health. The necessity to bridge this knowledge gap has become more obvious in view of the COVID-19 pandemic [33]. For example, Borthwick et al. [34] and Kumar et al. [35] state that “[l]earners can download the necessary information or upload their content using a plethora of digital resources”. Web 2.0 tools (wikis, podcasts, blogs and so on) enable learners to create material, collaborate with others, evaluate each other’s work and progress toward co-learning. The pandemic has forced people to rely on digital networks to preserve socio-emotional connections [36]. At the same time, most existing jobs will become obsolete due to technological advancements, and employees will require re-skilling and upskilling to expand their competencies and remain employed [37]. The use of technology and digital means in the education system has become increasingly important and necessary in order to meet the changing needs of students and provide them with a high-quality education that is accessible, flexible and sustainable [38].

1.2. Research Gap, Scope and Contribution

The current article is part of the growing literature in the field of sustainable education (SE). The framework of SE does not solely contribute to sustainability and sustainable development. SE is a theoretical body on its own, which comprises a set of learning strategies, practices and pedagogies [2]. Adding further to the framework of SE, this is the first study to explore the interconnection of cultural heritage, skills and digitalisation and how they contribute to SE, as illustrated in Figure 1.
Also, the literature review revealed a need to explore additional learning methodologies for young learners. Even though young learners are progressively recognised as the fundamental stakeholders in the educational system, the vast majority of educational research continues to focus entirely on learners’ viewpoints, positioning learners as passive information providers [39,40,41]. Young learners are more likely to be digital natives, meaning they grew up with technology and are more comfortable using it. Digital skills have implications for the future of the European workforce [42]. In an increasingly digital economy, those with strong digital skills will have a competitive advantage in the job market, whereas youth who lack such skills will find themselves in a position of disadvantage [22,25].
Drawing on the findings collected through mixed methods, this paper contributes to the literature with a new conceptual learning model, utilising tangible and intangible cultural heritage and emphasising the influence of digital cultural heritage as part of sustainable education. As outlined in the recommendations of the European Commission and the European Council [43], the introduction of this new innovative e-learning model that connects cultural heritage with digital skills is a new learning methodology that reflects the needs of digital native learners, with the aim of developing disciplinary and life skills and improving learners’ key competences. This e-learning pathway can motivate learners and teens who are in danger of dropping out of school because it changes their understanding of and enthusiasm for digital technologies, such as social media and video games. In addition, the model considers the different needs, skills and competences of learners while adapting to their age, level of knowledge and abilities.

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