Interview with Charis Loke about Arts-ED and Integrating ICH into Non-Formal Education

Charis Loke speaking at the ICH NGO Conference ⓒ ICHCAP

On 8 November 2018, ICHCAP’s Associate Expert B.B.P. Hosmillo interviewed Charis Loke, a teacher and artist from Malaysia, after the 2018 NGO Conference in Hue, Vietnam. Charis Loke is an artist programmer and junior trainer at Arts-ED Penang, where she designs and implements community-based arts and culture education for the youth. She also trains schoolteachers in incorporating cultural heritage into their teaching. The following is an excerpt from a two-hour interview with Charis Loke about integrating ICH into non-formal education in Penang, Malaysia.

B.B.P.H.: How does your work relate to ICH?

C.L.: At Arts-ED, we have facilitators, freelance cultural workers, and volunteers. We may not be able to articulate ICH in terms of how it is delineated by the UNESCO 2003 Convention as people working at Arts-ED are regular people, we have day jobs, but we know that where we are has a lot of tangible and cultural heritage. Our goal is to get the younger people to appreciate the values that ICH has. As you can see from our programs, we have some focused on transmitting art forms, where primary school children learn with master teachers. To a great extent, our master teachers reinterpret such art forms though they are still deeply connected to their roots. We are not really about continuing such forms in their original sense because our organization is founded on creative education in which reinterpretation is a viable method of teaching and learning.

If you ask what specific ICH element we are focusing on, we may perhaps refuse to pinpoint anything but rather suggest that our location, Georgetown, a multicultural place in Penang, is composed of many groups living together. When we do cultural heritage, we have to consider that these groups’ ways of life have evolved, and so the values present in Georgetown cannot be attributed to one ethnic group. We cannot say that this element or that is a Chinese cultural heritage or maybe it is Malay, so it is really hard to define and maybe locating the specificity or source of cultural heritage cannot really enrich that cultural heritage. What we do is integrate the values we know ICH has into subject contents and global issues. For example, a teacher may be asked to use shadow puppets as a tool to teach creativity and collaboration.

B.B.P.H.: Your programs and activities are for free?

C.L.: Yes, our students don’t have to pay.

B.B.P.H.: And your students are mainly children?

C.L.: Yes, but ICH practitioners in Penang are also involved. Actually, there are more people involved than we expected. For instance, some of our programs are done in a market community that’s been around for more than 120 years, so the market sellers and the market administrators can be involved, too.

B.B.P.H.: Earlier this year, ICHCAP hosted an international symposium and network meeting with academics based in Asia-Pacific universities that have or will have degree programs and research initiatives concerning ICH. There has been wider efforts to integrate ICH into formal education, even the UNESCO ICH Chairs are basically entrenched within the system of universities mainly across the world. I think this is a reflection of how more visible and more pronounced the connection between ICH and formal education is. As somebody like you who is involved with integrating ICH into non-formal education, what do you want people to know about the work that you do as an agent of ICH safeguarding in the non-formal education sector?

CL: Being in the non-formal education sector gives you a lot of creative freedom with how you approach the work of ICH Education. When it is not formalized, facilitators have more creativity to come up with teaching resources, and students can also have more creativity in response. This implies, of course, that even the larger community we are a part of gets to have a bigger room in our programs. Because of the freedom we get from the framework of non-formal education, we get to enjoy genuine interaction among those participating in our activities. More importantly, because there is deficiency in Malaysia’s education system, our work can also address the problems of content relevance or fill in the gaps between our culture and the present time that formalized training and schools tend to not be concerned about.

For more information about Arts-ED, please visit