Themes: Our Creativy Diversity
A new global ethics
A commitment to pluralism
Challenges of a media-rich world
recasting cultural policies

Britt Isaksson
Culture for Children and Young People

Cultural Rights of the Child

Our Creative Diversity, the Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development, maintains that since culture is the foundation of all development, cultural policy must be deepened. This assumes that children and young people are given a cultural identity and made visible everywhere in society.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is one of the main components of the global ethics, calls above all for a change in our attitude to children. Adults must respect children's integrity and listen to children. Adults should always think of the children's best and respect the fact that all children are equal with equal rights. This applies not least within cultural policy.

Children's cultural rights include the right to rest and leisure, play and recreation and to freely participate in cultural and artistic life.

Creativity and empowerment give communicative skills

Creative energy is necessary for cultural development. Children and young people have creative energy. But this is seldom utilised. Instead, children's own creativity and the professional cultural activities are given less and less room in schools and education.

It is difficult to predict what knowledge and skills children will need in a world more or less characterised by urbanisation, mobile labour market, life-long learning. We know that children need communicative skills, i.e. they must develop such skills and abilities which will enable them to interpret, understand and handle the world they live in.

Every nation is obliged to ensure that all children receive a compulsory basic education without charge. A massive effort in particular on behalf of girls' education, has proved to be a good investment since it leads to reduced child mortality, falling birth rates, better educated children, less child labour and increased gender equality.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child has a long list of measures which are aimed at realising children's right to education on equal terms. The overall goal of schools shall be directed to the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for his or her cultural identity, language and value, respect for the natural environment.

The school is the foundation for a society's cultural development and must therefore be a creative school in which the artistic forms of expression (art, music, dance, theatre) together with reading/writing are counted as basic skills.

Around the world schools can be found which have established special courses of study in media, the theatre, art and music classes. Even cultural schools for specially gifted children and young people exist. But creativity must be conceived as a general capacity throughout the compulsory curriculum: in language teaching, in science, in mathematics. In this creative school the children's creative power is developed, which constitutes the actual charge of creative energy which everyone is seeking.

The era of only reproducing knowledge should be past. What we must guarantee for future generations is not the preservation of culture, but the capacity for cultural production.

Challenges of a media-rich world

The Convention on the Rights of the Child maintains the basic right of children to express their opinions fully and freely and their right to be heard via the mass media. The convention also demands that the media takes responsibility for providing a rich assortment of television programmes, films etc. of high quality. Particular consideration should be given to the linguistic needs of children who belong to minority groups or indigenous populations.

Our Creative Diversity proposes that the pioneering work of the convention as regards children and the mass media should be followed up at global level so that guidelines for the international mass media can be developed from a common platform. But in the majority of national and inter-governmental contexts discussions are already in progress and consequent exchange of experience. Voluntary agreements are being signed with television companies on guidelines for the choice of programmes and broadcasting times. Current research and debate on children and media violence has been available since 1996 at UNESCO's Clearinghouse on Children and Violence on the Screen.

Books and libraries

Literacy in the world has increased also among adults, and the gap in literacy between various countries has become smaller. The extent of this change and its impact on cultural and economic demands and activities should not be underestimated.

Being able to read and write is the basis of all communicative skills. In the age of the computer a person must be able to read, which motivates even boys who are unwilling to read to try. Children are reading more than ever, even though adults say the opposite. Young people are also reading more than adults .

In order to encourage children to read and thus achieve functional literacy it is necessary above all to have access to good books. The hunger for books is still insatiable. Children and young people have the right to read good books from all over the world in their mother tongue. This means that publishers must increase translation of children's literature from small linguistic areas. Children from ethnic minorities, immigrant children and refugee children also have the right to books in their home language.

In its comments on the report Our Creative Diversity the Swedish minister of culture deplores the fact that the major culture-bearing role of literature and libraries in the whole world is not considered. The libraries play an increasingly important role in children's and young people's lives. This is also emphasised in The UNESCO Library Manifesto 1994. The libraries function as a breathing space for many children in a hard and crowded existence. Often the library is the only meeting place open to children in an otherwise commercialised centre and is in practice a children's cultural centre with many different activities.

Everywhere in the world children's libraries are springing up, from a shelf in a reading room to their own corner, their own department. Travelling libraries circulate in boxes, in backpacks, on donkeys, in cars and busses with the help of children and young people, parents, voluntary forces and non-profit making organisations.

A development of children's libraries similar to what is now in progress in other parts of the world took place in Europe after the second world war, but many children's and school libraries are now under threat.

Cultural heritage

The World Heritage List, the list of natural and cultural monuments which the world has undertaken to take special care of for coming generations, is dismissed in Our Creative Diversity as being interesting only for the richer countries of the world, despite the fact that three quarters of the world's states have ratified The Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.

The key to preservation is participation. People who live near these monuments and environments must get their share in the profit which tourism, for example, generates. The World Cultural Heritage list also makes great demands of children, since the world's cultural and natural heritage is to be protected for coming generations. Adopting a cultural monument is popular in many parts of the world. In Europe fifteen countries are participating in an EU project "Schools Adopt Monuments".

On the same list as the pyramids of Egypt or the Taj Mahal in India, children and young people can often find cultural monuments in their own countries. Children's and young people's commitment to natural environments is even greater. Thanks to films and television they are familiar with the Galapagos Islands, the Kakadu National Park or Lake Malawi.

Children and young people who are involved in The Cultural Heritage must have access to material via archives/libraries and via Internet. They can also help museums and archives to transfer relevant material to modern technology since documentation often lags behind at such institutions.

Children and young people have the right to their own cultural identity, the right to be seen and exist in history, the present and the future. But the signs of children in both the material and non-material cultural heritage are as good as non-existent. Traditional museums could be recreated on the same premise as "ecomuseums", through letting children and young people collaborate with professionals in order to make children visible in the society the museum reflects.

The museums play an increasing role in children's and young people's education around the world. They like to apply a problem and experience-based educational approach which complements the school's traditional tuition.

A concluding reminder:

"Children are competent cultural creators and tradition bearers, and so grown ups have an obligation to children, which means that if we take on the task to transfer to them the adult's culture, no matter in what form, it has to be of quality. Sincerity is the key word..."

(Åse Enerstvedt at ICOM/CECA International Congress in Stavanger 1995)

"Recasting cultural policies"
Jean Barthélemy
Bennett & Mercer
Néstor García Canclini
Cliche, Mitchell & Wiesand
Jérôme Huet
Britt Isaksson
Lofti Maherzi
Sally Jane Norman
Michiro Watanabe
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) A new globlal ethics
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) A commitment to pluralism
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) Challenges of a media-rich world
pijltje.gif (895 bytes) Recasting cultural policies
General introduction
recasting cultural policies