European Heritage Classes

Primary or secondary school pupils from a number of countries visit a historical site over a period of at least five days so as to learn, with specialists, about the intercultural influences that have marked this location. The European dimension finds expression in the discussions, the themes addressed and the methods utilised, but also and above all in the spirit of tolerance and conviviality that must pervade the entire stay. The aim is not to engage in cultural tourism, with the pupils as mere passive consumers, but to propose a vibrant learning experience, whereby they are educated to use their eyes, minds and hearts in exploring the location, analysing it and achieving an awareness of it.

Workshops and assignments offer prime learning opportunities for pupils who are keen to make discoveries, to learn and to create things together. Academic knowledge here results from pedagogic approaches based on the learning of soft, self-management skills, the acquisition of know-how and the stimulation of critical-thinking abilities, open-mindedness and curiosity. Far from being confined to a backward-looking, nostalgic role, heritage is regarded as a dynamic, tangible medium that meshes traditions with new concepts.

This educational approach fosters the integration of pupils who are experiencing difficulties in adapting to the school context by giving them the possibility of living in places to which they would normally have had no access and bringing them into direct contact with a culture of which they are unaware in their day-to-day lives. European heritage classes are a means of combating academic failure, exclusion and inequalities. They constitute a school of solidarity from which all forms of discrimination are banned.

The project is not limited to the five-day stay on site. It necessitates a period of in-depth preparation during which the pupils, their teachers and cultural workers from the host location together devise a specific project taking into account the partners' cultural and educational objectives. The team subsequently reports to the parents, the local authorities concerned and the schools on the project's outcomes. It can also instigate further action - exchanges of correspondence, reciprocal exchange visits, international voluntary projects, European Voluntary Service initiatives and so on. Roaming European heritage classes can also be set up, in which case the aim is to discover the coherent features of a European heritage area (an example being the "Rhine without borders" project).

Financing: Since each project poses its own challenge and depends on specific initiatives, the funding is obtained via each country's specific arrangements and budgets. The Committee of Ministers' recommendation nonetheless permits support for these projects, and some support is available from international organisations funding exchange programmes, such as the Franco-German Youth Office (FGYO), which provides backing for exchanges between three partner countries, including Germany.

Handbook on European heritage classes
Council of Europe Publishing, 1998