Europa Nostra’s Secretary General delivers keynote on relevance of cultural heritage to 500+ teachers from all over Europe

Over 500 teachers from all over Europe came together in Warsaw, Poland, on 25-27 October for the annual conference of the eTwinning programme of the EU. eTwinning is the world’s largest online platform for school teachers, gathering more than 600.000 participants from all over Europe. With the topic “eTwinning and Our Heritage: Where the Past Meets the Future”, this year’s conference was dedicated to the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 with the aim to support schools and teachers participating in the programme in their efforts at promoting Europe’s cultural heritage as a shared resource, raising awareness of our common history and values and reinforcing a sense of belonging to Europe. As representative of one of the key civil society organisations contributing to the European Year, Europa Nostra’s Secretary General Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović was invited to inspire teachers and eTwinners alike with a keynote speech on “Sharing Heritage – Sharing Values: Why Cultural Heritage is Key to Europe’s Future”.

Conference participants were welcomed by Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, who presented the success story of eTwinning, outlined the European Education Area and made the link with the ongoing European Year. In his address, Commissioner Navracsics stated: “Our cultural heritage offers wonderful stories to tell and is a great way of bringing people closer together.” He also encouraged teachers and pupils to use the eTwinning initiative “to help us build a more cohesive Europe. For your next project, maybe choose a European country you know less about, go beyond your geographical neighbours.”

After the opening speech of Anna Zalewska, Polish Minister of National Education, participants were informed about how the eTwinning programme will continue under the future EU Erasmus programme that will run from 2021-2027. On the following conference days, more than 40 workshops were organised for teachers of different age groups to provide further insights into how to engage pupils with Europe’s cultural heritage and the resources available. A panel discussion was dedicated to cultural heritage and education.

The conference highlight was the ceremony for the eTwinning European Prizes, awarded in different age categories. Before the winners were revealed, Europa Nostra’s Secretary General captured the audience’s attention with a very personal speech on the importance of cultural heritage for the future of the European project. It was her own experience of a school twinning between her native town Belgrade in former Yugoslavia and a French town near Bordeaux that had a decisive and lasting impact on her personal and professional life. Recalling that Europe is still suffering from conflicts and faced with divisive forces, Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović showed photos from her recent visit to Cyprus: two derelict and abandoned buildings standing in the Buffer Zone of the Historic Centre of Nicosia, formerly a boys’ and a girls’ school, now resembling ghost schools. Not without expressing her hope that they would soon be revitalised, she added “Heritage is important and we often realise how important it is when we lose it.”

On this occasion, Europa Nostra’s Secretary General also presented the Berlin Call to Action: “Cultural Heritage for the Future of Europe”, pointing specifically to Action 6 of the Berlin Call on “promoting better knowledge and deeper understanding” which deals with educational aspects and calling on the teachers present to support the call and sign it online.

Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović also took the audience on a visual journey through examples of inspiring educational projects in the heritage field from among the winners of the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage / Europa Nostra Awards, such as the Culture Leap: Educational Programme from Finland, one of this year’s winners.

And what better way to inspire teachers to bring their students closer to cultural heritage than encouraging them to leave the classroom and discover their local heritage together? An initiative that perfectly lends itself to such a discovery of local cultural heritage is Europa Nostra’s #Ode2Joy challenge. As pictures and music can say more than a thousand words, Europa Nostra’s Secretary General closed her speech by showing a video compilation of some of the best contributions to this initiative.

After the keynote speech, Europa Nostra’s Secretary General was interviewed by the organisers for the conference wrap up video, explaining why cultural heritage is a “most inspiring topic to teach in classrooms” and stressing the European dimension of our shared cultural heritage by adding: “Every single heritage in Europe is not telling us only a national story. It is telling us a local story, a regional story, a national one and a European story. In every single place, you can find a European story.”

The winners of the eTwinning European Prize in the category cultural heritage will also be celebrated at the Closing Conference of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 taking place on 6-7 December in Vienna.

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