A Cultural Rucksack?

This morning I met with colleagues from our Cultural Services Department to discuss how we might promote the East Lothian Council’s commitment to:

“Embed Scottish history, culture and heritage throughout school life and make every effort to support Scotland’s languages – both Gaelic and Scots.”

The associated outcome that schools have to work towards is:

“All children and young people will be able to demonstrate an appropriate knowledge of Scottish culture, history and heritage at key stages in their school careers.”

Obviously such an outcome still triggers further questions about what might constitute “appropriate knowledge” and what do we mean by “key stages” but over the next year we will be fleshing this out with the help of staff in schools.

Nevertheless, it does provide a stimulus for schools to begin to try to explore these areas for themselves.

Our discussion this morning focused upon the huge amount of work already going on in schools, which would link, to Scottish culture, history and heritage. The challenge for us is to find a way of tying this together into a coherent set of experiences that will fulfil our desire to give children a robust knowledge of their cultural heritage – without adding yet another layer of the curriculum to schools at a time when we are trying to declutter.

It was during this discussion that I recalled something that one of our quality Improvement Officers had brought back from a study visit to Oslo last year. On her return Valerie Irving had described a wide range of interesting elements of what’s going on in Norwegian education but the item which caught everyone’s imagination was the concept of the “Cultural Rucksack”. This metaphorical construct is used to ensure that children are acquainted with Norwegian Art and Culture and as they go through the education system they collect these experiences and place them in their rucksack.

We wondered this morning of we could establish a Scottish Cultural, History and Heritage “Rucksack” where young people would be entitled to have a number of personal experiences throughout their school career which provided them with a framework upon which they can develop their understanding of their country.

So what might go into such a rucksack? Here are some ideas for starters:

I have visited a Scottish Castle.
I can dance five Scottish dances.
I have attended a Burns Supper.
I can speak some Gaelic.
I have visited a Pictish fort.
I can recite a Scottish poem from memory.
I can cook oatcakes.
I can describe a famous Scottish battle.
I have a favourite Scottish historical character and can tell you all about them.
I can tell you about a former Scottish industry and why it has declined.

These are just a few examples but you can begin to how see we could establish a wider range of learning experiences – in an inter-disciplinary manner – which could help promote a true awareness and appreciation  of their country’s culture, history and heritage. The exciting thing about this approach is that it allows schools to make best use of their local  environment.

Would it work?

11 thoughts on “A Cultural Rucksack?

  1. The idea of a cultural rucksack is a great idea .Many of our children lack knowledge of our Scottish culture.Using the local environment(and its citizens) in a more meaningful way would enrich the children’s understanding of what it is to be Scottish.When they have an understanding of their own culture they will then be able to transfer those skills and understanding to different cultures and hopefully lead to a more tolerant attitude towards others and their beliefs/cultures.

  2. I think this is a great idea and one I would like to pinch for Liberton High School. I think it is a great way of delivering in a cross-cutting way for curriculum for excellence. I can envisage asking every department to contribute to the rucksack for every S1 and S2 pupil.
    I agree with Jackie’s view about understanding your own culture leading to a better understanding and tolerance of other cultures. Moran taing a Dhomhnaill!

  3. Yes, I think this would work.

    I didn’t realise how little I really knew of our culture until, in my 20s, I began to meet visitors from other countries who seemed more curious about Scotland than we did, and would frequently ask questions – not too many of which I was able to answer at that time.

    How about also including awareness of: inventors/inventions; writers/artists/musicians; geography – towns/cities or rivers/mountains; some knowledge of other communities contributing to life in Scotland; politics – what is devolved? what is not?

  4. I think this a great metaphor they use here. Particularly for the(learning) travelling links i.e. that our learning is not an outcome for testing but a journey.
    When I was on my teaching practice I was hugely influenced by a mentor who taught Science through historical figures and their contribution- made it much more enjoyable for the pupils and they retained knowledge by linking concepts with the individuals, i.e. Nobel, Curie, Bell, Einstien etc. etc.
    As Alan points out throwing in the rucksack some stories of influential Scottish figures could help paint a picture of Scottish life past and present and even touch on the future

  5. Hi
    As Bill says its a great metaphor linking learning and travelling.
    In one sense we all carry our cultural heritage with us whether we are aware of it or not. In relation to health, it is a truism that many of the behaviours that can influence our health & well being are set in the culture we grow up in. Whether its the food we like and take comfort in, the way we express emotion or how easy we find it to access services – whats already in our cultural rucksack can influence our journey through life.
    The idea of cultural rucksack appeals to me because awareness, and knowledge, can be used to take things out of a rucksack as well as to put thing in.

  6. Your article reminds me that we touched on this at last week’s Haddington Cluster meeting. Sadly we were all too wrapped up in discussing the school cuts to make much comment on the emphasis on Scottish Culture.

    I must confess to a slight concern that there is this emphasis on Scottish History. It implies that there will be less effort spent on the likes of English, Welsh and Irish histories. All four together would give a much better perspective and understanding of the world around us.

    It reminds me of when I lived in Hawai’i. Some schools placed emphasis on Hawai’ian history and language and sadly those communities were marginalised in many ways, including being located in the poorer areas on the flanks of the constantly active Kilauea volcano.

    Only in the wider world can we succeed and broad perspectives make broad minds which we need to go forth.

  7. Well yes Ian, but you’ve got to start somewhere and there are loads of excellent reasons for an emphasis on Scottish history. I really don’t see why the rucksack idea has to replace other valuable parts of the curriculum, especially if done in a cross curricular way. I’m sure it will be down to teachers to ensure proper balance.

    I can see it’s relevance in all sorts of areas, even RME, where I struggle to justify teaching children about Guru Nanak, when they can’t tell me why they have names like James and Sarah and what Christmas means! Roll on the CfE and some common sense!

  8. NB Sorry if that comment sounded patronising Ian; not intended. Could we include things like knitting in the rucksack do you think?

  9. I wasn’t really commenting on the rucksack (looks good), just what might be put in it.

    I’ve since asked my 2 kids (s1 & p6) what they know about the most important historical event in the last 1000 years. Astonishingly, neither of them had heard of the Norman Conquest or 1066.

    The conquest is a fundamental part of our history and not to know about it is incredible!

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