16 Educational policies and the diversity of cultural expressions in the digital era

Gemma Carbó Ribugent & Guillermo Maceiras Gómez[1]

Internet is the site of the total communication meeting point, a place where cultures can communicate endlessly. Internet has been a dream for mankind since quite a long time. (Barbero 2008: 12, free translation)


The citation above allows us to introduce the present case study, which is focused on two innovative approaches to education in cultural diversity in the digital context. Cultural diversity, education and the digital world do not always seem to be good partners. In this case study, we examine the difficulties of this relationship and, through the analysis of two cases, we demonstrate that it is possible and necessary to establish alliances among them in order to improve cultural citizenship.

The first premise is that culture no longer exists as a singular element. The diversity of cultural and artistic expressions requires new ways to promote conviviality that agree with the universal values of democracy and respect for human rights and that is one of the main goals of educational systems all over the world. Some educational approaches give greater recognition to cultural diversity – multicultural education, critical education and intercultural education – and try to modify the tradition of educational policies that tend towards standardization and homogeneity.

The acceptance of cultural diversity as a core value of individual and collective development is opening up interesting fields of thought in the field of teaching and the organization of school curricula. From the conventional organization of the curriculum, based on subjects and disciplines, the tendency is now moving towards skills and abilities that may be interiorized in children and young people, and in the public in general, in order to let them creatively construct their own learning process. In European Union (EU) countries, the skills defined as transversal are those directly related to cultural diversity, in addition to communicative and digital competences (European Parliament 2006). They include, among others, artistic and cultural competence, as well as communicative competence.

Secondly, the educational and social structure needs to adapt to the new demands arising from the technological revolution of the Internet and the Network Society. Digital revolution and the Internet – described as a planet-wide, artificial neurocerebral system by Morin (2009) – have exponentially multiplied and accelerated the cultural and communicative possibilities of the present day, reviving the historical debate regarding media and communication and their relationship to culture and education, which may be seen as incestuous or, on the contrary, essential. In the field of education, the culture-communication-education triad still enflames debate between radical supporters and equally radical opponents; between those who champion the endless integrative possibilities of the culture-communication alliance (Ferrés 2008) and those who decry it as leading to an apocalypse of homogenized culture that ought to be kept well away from education (Fumaroli 2007).

The replications and derivations of this debate – already dissected by the Frankfurt School and to which little else has been added – could go on forever but there begins to be a generalized demand that certain responsibilities and decision making be adopted in relation to this new reality (UNESCO 2011). This paper presents and analyses some good practices linking education to cultural diversity through digital resources in order to achieve such goal. As we intend to demonstrate through the analysis of two different educational proposals presented in this study, education in cultural diversity is a cultural human right linked to basic educational goals such as cultural education, media literacy and digital competence.

I – Cultural rights and cultural diversity

The epistemological and pedagogical perspective adopted for our analysis is a Human Rights approach to education and cultural diversity. As the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity states in its article 4 (entitled “Human rights as guarantees of cultural diversity”): “[t]he defence of cultural diversity is an ethical imperative, inseparable from respect for human dignity. It implies a commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms (…)” (UNESCO 2001).

It should be recalled that Human Rights are indivisible, whether they are civil and political rights or economic, social and cultural rights. And not only indivisible, but interrelated and interdependent. Until the 1990’s, as Janusz Symonides explains, “[c]ultural rights were often qualified as an ‘underdeveloped category’ of human rights. They were mentioned together with economic and social rights, but in fact attention was limited to economic and social rights, whereas cultural rights were not debated” (Symonides 1998).

Cultural rights were difficult to defend inter alia because they were not defined enough in the international covenants. They required more conceptual development and that was the important task assumed by the United Nations General Assembly in adopting the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (United Nations 1966), UNESCO and, notably, the Fribourg Group in 1991. But there was also another difficulty: the fears and suspicions of States that the recognition of the right to different cultural identities, the right of identification with vulnerable groups, in particular minorities and indigenous peoples, may encourage the tendency towards secession and may endanger national unity.

The third important issue was that, through the acceptance of the right of everyone to have different cultural identities, the recognition of cultural specificities and differences was viewed sometimes as a justification of cultural relativism. On this subject, the World Commission on Culture and Development in its report “Our Creative Diversity” pointed out that “the logical and ethical difficulty about relativism is that it must also endorse absolutism and dogmatism. (…) Cognitive relativism is nonsense, moral relativism is tragic.” (World Commission on Culture and Development 1996).

The existence of cultural differences should not lead to the rejection of any part of universal human rights. In 1993, the Vienna Declaration, adopted by consensus by the World Conference on Human Rights, confirmed the universality of human rights and rejected the notion of cultural relativism. The Declaration, in its paragraph 1, “reaffirms the solemn commitment of all States to fulfil their obligations to promote universal respect for, and observance and protection of, all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all (…)”. It stresses that “[t]he universal nature of these rights and freedoms is beyond question.” (United Nations 1993).

After much debate, the scope of cultural rights today is based on the very understanding of the term “culture”. As the UNESCO Mexico City Declaration on Cultural Policies clarified in 1982:

(…) in its widest sense, culture may now be said to be the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs. (UNESCO 1982: Preamble).

We are therefore talking about creative, artistic or scientific activities, but also about the sum of human activities, the totality of values, knowledge and practices. The Human Rights Council, through its resolution 10/23 of 26 March 2009, established, for a period of three years, an “independent expert in the field of cultural rights”, with the mandate, inter alia:

  • To identify best practices in, and possible obstacles to, the promotion and protection of cultural rights at the local, national, regional and international levels;
  • To foster the adoption of measures for their protection, including to submit proposals and/or recommendations to the Council on possible actions in that regard;
  • To study the relation between cultural rights and cultural diversity.

The adoption of the broader definition of “culture”, the acceptance of cultural diversity as an essential part of cultural rights and the advances in the definition of the right to participate in cultural life enshrined in article 15.1 (a) of the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (United Nations 1966), means finally that cultural rights also embrace other related questions, as the right to education. As definitively stated by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR):

(b) Access covers in particular the right of everyone — alone, in association with others or as a community — to know and understand his or her own culture and that of others through education and information, and to receive quality education and training with due regard for cultural identity. (CESCR 2009: 4)

II – Education in cultural diversity as a cultural right

The right to education, as understood by International Human Rights Covenants, includes a culturally appropriate education.[2] In this sense, education responds “to the needs of students within their diverse social and cultural settings.”[3] Cultural diversity concerns were generally limited to the students’ need to receive an education respectful of and according to their own culture. The need of “understanding (…) the importance of the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions (…) through educational (…) programmes” – as stated under article 10 of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (CDCE) – was not initially at the core of the right to education. It was through changes in the concept of another human right – the right to take part in cultural life – that cultural diversity concerns started to be seen as an essential part of education policies (Barreiro & Carbo 2015).

Today, as mentioned in the above section, it is part of the mandate of the UN independent expert on cultural rights to study the relation between cultural rights and cultural diversity, and it is one of the most important questions we should address when working with children and young people. As the CDCE also states, the plurality of cultures has to be seen as a positive factor, leading to intercultural dialogue. In the contemporary world, cultures are not isolated. They interact peacefully (or not) and influence each other. The intercultural dynamics is set in motion by the contemporary processes of globalization which lead, not without tension, to the emergence, consolidation or reformulation of specific cultural and ethical values at the local level.

The CESCR in its Forty-third session, held from 2nd to 20 November 2009, issued its General Comment nº 21, which states also that, if we talk about best practices for intercultural dialogue, education is a fundamental strategy:

26. (…) States parties should take all the steps necessary to stimulate and develop children’s full potential in the area of cultural life, with due regard for the rights and responsibilities of their parents or guardians. In particular, when taking into consideration their obligations under the Covenant and other human rights instruments on the right to education, including with regard to the aims of education,[4] States should recall that the fundamental aim of educational development is the transmission and enrichment of common cultural and moral values in which the individual and society find their identity and worth.[5] Thus, education must be culturally appropriate, include human rights education, enable children to develop their personality and cultural identity and to learn and understand cultural values and practices of the communities to which they belong, as well as those of other communities and societies. (UN CESCR 2009).

Cultural diversity must be promoted and protected through education as a cultural right. “The Future we want includes culture” is a campaign led by the main agencies and civil cultural entities of the world. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved on 27 September 2015 include a main goal regarding “quality education” (SDG 4). Under Goal 4, Target 4.7 stresses the need for education to promote a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development. We need therefore to focus on cultural rights, cultural diversity and education together and as a whole. A fourth fundamental component to be taken into account in the digital era refers to cultural industries and arts education.

III – Cultural diversity, cultural industries and arts education

Education in cultural diversity from a cultural rights perspective has another important component. The diversity of cultural expressions is the foundation of creativity and innovation. It stimulates the lateral and interdisciplinary thinking that is indispensable in the new economic and social context (Alonso 2014: 28).

Target 8.3[6] of the SDGs suggests that creativity and innovation should be encouraged by develop­ment-oriented policies, together with productive activities, decent job creation and entrepre­neurship. This precisely brings up policies regarding cultural and creative industries, linked to cultural diversity and with a clear component of digital technologies. Cultural industries – which generally include printing, publishing and multimedia, audio-visual and phonographic productions, as well as crafts and design – are fundamental for the economic and professional growth in Europe and all over the world.

Arts and cultural expressions lie at the core of all societies and communities, and they mean an opportunity for young people to get involved in the labour market. In terms of development and future labour opportunities, artistic and aesthetics education is key for young people. That is one of the reasons why educational systems all over the world are looking for new ways to teach and learn new approaches to knowledge through languages such as music, dance, cinema, theatre, etc.

The work done by UNESCO in Lisbon and Seoul with the “Seoul Arts Education Agenda” (UNESCO 2010a), the “Roadmap for arts education” (UNESCO 2006), as well as the report “The right to freedom for artistic expression and creativity” from the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights (Shaheed 2013) are, in that sense, extremely important, because they give to educational policies some clear trends. Among other recommendations, the Special Rapporteur has recommended that States:

(j) Develop and enhance arts education in schools and communities, instilling respect for, appreciation and understanding of artistic creativity, including evolving concepts of acceptability, awakening the ability to be artistically creative. Arts education should give students a historical perspective of the constant evolution of mentalities on what is acceptable and what is controversial. (Shaheed 2013: §90)

Moreover, “The Seoul Agenda: Goals for the Development of Arts Education” (UNESCO 2010a) reflects the conviction that

(…) arts education has an important role to play in the constructive transformation of educational systems that are struggling to meet the needs of learners in a rapidly changing world characterized by remarkable advances in technology on the one hand and intractable social and cultural injustices on the other. Issues that concerned the [International Advisory Committee] included but were not limited to peace, cultural diversity and intercultural understanding as well as the need for a creative and adaptive workforce in the context of post-industrial economies. (UNESCO 2010a: Preamble)

IV – Digital technologies as a strategic factor to achieve contemporary educational goals

Cultural diversity and creative arts education from a human rights perspective have, in the digital era, the possibility to converge and improve new ways of teaching and learning. Through the analysis of two different experiences, we can state today that arts education as a resource for cultural diversity education has in the digital world its great opportunity. An illustration may be found with “Diversidades, the creativity game” and the project “Window to diversity”, both funded by UNESCO’s cultural sector.

A – The diversity game

Diversidades, el juego de la creatividad” is a collection of teaching materials and a pedagogical proposal that focuses on play and education, designed to work with young people on the values of protecting and promoting cultural diversity that were agreed upon by the UNESCO Member States in the 2001 Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity and upheld in the year 2005 within the CDCE.

The program seeks to help young people between the ages of 12 and 16 years old to improve, from a perspective of plurality, tolerance, and democracy, their understanding of cultural diversity as part of their everyday lives. It also seeks to improve their understanding of the relationship between creativity and cultural diversity and of the importance and usefulness of protecting and promoting the diversity of cultural expressions. Finally, the program teaches the meaning of the CDCE in international law and its implications for local politics and economies.

It involves a proposal based on education and play in which teachers work alongside the young participants on such thematic axes as: cultural diversity, creativity in artistic expressions, cultural policies and measures, solidarity and cultural cooperation. 

In “Diversidades, el Juego de la Creatividad,” the central role played by the website www.diversidades.net indicates that its methodology is replicable and that the knowledge generated can be transferred without major adaptations. This is certainly a great advantage. Moreover, it is not only transposable to different educational groups, but it also provides training for new trainers.

The content is worded very accessibly, in order to encourage participation by people beginning the game. Respect for and acceptance of diversity runs through all the materials, although an additional step is taken: building a perspective according to which creativity requires and is enriched by diversity. This highly complex and multidimensional concept is dealt with intelligently in a playful and effective way. Its approach is based on a logical chain that goes from the identification of diversity to the promotion of cooperation and solidarity: I – We – Another – All.

The game focuses on the right of free personal and cultural expression and promotes the diversity of opinions and the development of skills in that area. In addition, it encourages the active and equitable participation of the participants, their personal development, and the construction of the individual as an autonomous, solidary, and neutral social being. 

A kit and the website provide trainers and participants with support. The kit also contains a specific proposal for training that can be used along with the implementation and development of the general educational project. This educational proposal entails a 10-hour workshop, for teachers, educators, and/or trainers of trainers that are led by the producers of the educational material.

The game “Diversidades” is available online and can be downloaded free of charge from anywhere. It has been used at schools and other educational establishments in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Brazil. In Europe, it has been used in Spain, France, and Austria.

The second phase of the project, also funded by UNESCO, involves:

  • Preparing a manual to train trainers in the use of “Diversidades” and continuing to create educational communities throughout the countries;
  • Converting the game into an online resource that can be played over the Internet. This will help those countries where computers are used as educational tools in the classroom to use “Diversidades” as a form of learning that is integrated into their study plans.

B – Window to diversity (We2Di)

We2Di (www.abrituventana.org) manifests a creative possibility for youth. The program engages young creators and entrepreneurs from diverse cultural origins into the making of a collaborative ICT-based creative network. Participants around the world learn first-hand how to develop and co-create not just a collection of trans-media art pieces, but a deeper sense of intercultural values that state the relevance of creativity and collaboration for solving nowadays challenges at global scale.

A window symbolizes the limit between public and private spheres; it represents the spot where we look outwards to our neighbourhood and, likewise, our portion of private space is exposed to the public. In contexts where different cultural communities share the same space, a window also represents how the others sees a community, as well as the viewpoint from which their members look outwards to see the world around.

This parabola, though, does not necessarily rely only on the world of ideas: in multi-cultural societies with conflictive backgrounds, safe houses represented a place where members from a given culture expressed and enjoyed their cultural traditions and practices. The sign of our times has somewhat expanded our neighbourhood to a planetary scale: what we show from our window is virtually reachable by – almost – every other culture from the planet. Still, our perception of the other is just a portion of their everyday real life and cultural imaginaries.

In this context of the so-called Network Society, trans-cultural dynamism has grown significantly. People, and remarkably the youth, interact as an interconnected virtual living system that is constantly re-created and re-coded by group-oriented users with tendency to self-promotion and certain individualistic idolatry. Even though their core cultural values still exist underneath those social profiles, prejudice and biased information about each other is commonly found as you start to peel the onion across the web. With the ICT accessibility boundaries being constantly expanded, the time has come for promoting intercultural creativity among the youngsters from both the cultures with full Internet access and those that are just logging in.

In this sense, We2Di represents a tool that fosters the capacity of all cultures to collaborate, while engaging with – and learning from – others in equity, following a quite appealing medium for the youth: art and new media. We2Di pave the way for youngsters to interiorise art as a thinking process and behave creatively while designing their own careers and interacting with others. Since 2014, We2Di network has developed more than 20 methodologies and implemented them collaboratively with hundreds of youngsters from dozens of cultures along 12 States and 3 continents, from Indonesia to Argentina.

On a first stage, Window to Diversity designed and co-organized, in partnership with local organizations, a set of activities aimed to generate a process with focal groups of youngsters from diversified cultural origins, often from a marginalized background. The process did not end with the programmed activities, but rather became a blueprint for participants’ upcoming cultural interventions by fostering their own replicable and scalable methodologies. As a result, on a second stage, We2Di network members (grupo de ventaner@s) are developing their methodologies and sharing them with other members, expanding the topics initially proposed and diversifying the artistic disciplines and interactive ways to engage with each other.

We2DI is helping build capacities of the global youth to overcome barriers posed by cultural or socioeconomic backgrounds and develop their imagination by collaborating in art projects that hold potential for replicating effects and improving societies. Following an intercultural innovation approach, We2Di network is still designing an ever-growing number of co-creative methodologies, inspired by ideas ranging from post-structuralism to cooperative learning labs. Learning-by-doing driven, all co-creative experiences shift participants’ technical grounds, practical experience and ethical values by connecting cultural imaginaries through collaborative-art creations.


Human cultural rights are clearly related with the protection and promotion of cultural diversity as the different United Nations and UNESCO declarations and covenants establish. The next step in that chain embraces the advances in cultural rights definition and perspectives, making education in cultural diversity as a specific cultural right. At that stage, arts and creativity education appears as a strategic pedagogical approach to the development of new citizens’ competences related to the values of intercultural dialogue and, at the same time, to the creative economy professional needs.

Internet and the digital world appear finally as an opportunity to bring together the three components: cultural diversity, creativity and education. Two examples have been presented in order to understand the possibilities of that synergy. Internet is the place where cultures can communicate and play in order to increase creativity and values of intercultural understanding. The premise for that is, ultimately, a human cultural rights perspective.

Art-based pedagogical approaches are not just about teaching art techniques, but about awakening creative citizens who can use their creativity in all spheres of life. Thus, art is the perfect medium to awaken creative thinking through which diverse people can work together, fostering mutual understanding and collaboration beyond the artistic process itself. This approach embodies a relevant strategy to engage people into a learning process that highlights the importance of cultural diversity as a source of mutual understanding. From this perspective, digital-based, culturally-diverse pedagogical initiatives hold potential in the safeguarding and promotion of cultural rights.


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  1. Gemma Carbó Ribugent – University of Girona, UNESCO Chair in Cultural Policies and Cooperation. Guillermo Maceiras Gómez – Co-Founder and Creative Director of “Window to Diversity”.
  2. See, for instance, point 6 (c) of the General Comment No. 13 on the right to education (article 13 of the
    Covenant) by the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (UN CESCR 1999) and Tomasevski, K. (2006).
  3. Point 6 (d) of the aforementioned General Comment (UN CESCR 1999).
  4. In particular articles 28 and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  5. See UNESCO (1990).
  6. Goal 8 of the SDGs addresses “sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”.

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