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UNESCO at 74: An overview of its laudable progress

Quazi Faruque Ahmed | Published: November 16, 2019 21:04:08


United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is now 74 years old. The specialised agency of the United Nations came into existence on November 16, in London in 1945. The idea of UNESCO was largely developed by Rab Butler, the Minister of Education for the United Kingdom, who had a great deal of influence in its development. At the ECO/CONF, the Constitution of UNESCO was introduced and signed by 37 countries, and a Preparatory Commission was established. The first General Conference took place from November 19 to December 10 1946, and elected Dr. Julian Huxley as Director-General.

ACTIVITIES OF UNESCO: UNESCO's early work in the field of education included the pilot project on fundamental education in the Marbial Valley, Haiti, started in 1947. This project was followed by expert missions to other countries, including, for example, a mission to Afghanistan in 1949. In 1948, UNESCO recommended that Member States should make free primary education compulsory and universal. In 1990, the World Conference on Education for All, in Jomtien, Thailand, launched a global movement to provide basic education for all children, youths and adults. Ten years later, the 2000 World Education Forum held in Dakar, Senegal, led member governments to commit to achieving basic education for all by 2015.This initiative popularly known as MDG is the predecessor of the ongoing SDG, of which SDG 4 relates to education in particular.  UNESCO implements its activities through the five programme areas: education, natural sciences, social and human sciences, culture, and communication and information.

 UNESCO and its specialised institutions publish a number of magazines. The UNESCO Courier states its mission to "promote UNESCO's ideals, maintain a platform for the dialogue between cultures and provide a forum for international debate." Since March 2006 it is available online, with limited printed issues. Its articles express the opinions of the authors which are not necessarily the opinions of UNESCO. The ninth issue of The Blue Dot, another magazine focuses on artificial intelligence (AI) and the future of education. It explores debates on the use of AI in education and the potential it offers to complement existing education systems and teachers, as well as in facilitating personalised learning. UNESCO regularly publishes documents and research materials on education. To mention a few: Empowering students for just societies, Commit To Education, Supporting teachers with mobile technology.

We know that many governments worldwide have reformed, or are looking to reform their teacher career structures. Over the past several years, International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) and UNESCO have been researching jointly on questions that policy-makers face when they consider how to change the organisation and management of teacher careers in their country, including entry to the profession, salary structures, and promotion models. The project has also examined the challenges posed by the reform process itself and the effects of the reform on teacher motivation, attraction, and retention. This year on the eve of World Teachers' Day, 2019, IIEP-UNESCO have jointly published eight country reports that detail the background, nature, and impact of some mature and some more recent teacher career reforms (ranging from 1991 to 2016). The countries explored include Colombia, Ethiopia, Lithuania, Mexico, Peru, Scotland, South Africa, and Thailand. Each one draws on laws, regulations, statistics, and semi-structured interviews conducted with actors involved. The countries covered come from different geographical zones and income levels, and in each case the reforms were intended to diversify teacher career structures and professional advancement opportunities.

On October 14 2019, UNESCO presented the report on the implementation of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in the framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the United Nations General Assembly. At the 74th session of the Second Committee of the UN General Assembly (Economic and Financial Committee), representatives of member states and the UN system discussed ways towards the achievement of sustainable development, including the implementation of international commitments on climate change and agreements on financing for development, as well as efforts for advancing education for sustainable development worldwide. As part of the discussions, Ms. Marie Paule Roudil, Director of UNESCO New York, presented the Report. In her presentation, Ms. Roudil mentioned that substantial progress had been achieved in all five priority areas of the Global Action Programme, namely policy advancement, transformation of learning environments, capacity-building of educators, youth empowerment and sustainable solutions at the local level.  This report, among others presented on sustainable development, was unanimously welcomed at the General Assembly. This demonstrates a clear acknowledgement of education's key role in the 2030 Agenda, as well as of UNESCO's efforts to champion education for sustainable development.

GEM REPORT 2019: UNESCO is publishing Global Education Monitoring Report since 2002. This year the GEM Report has been published under the caption: 'Migration, displacement and education: Building Bridges, not walls'. The key messages of the report include:

n Migration is 'an expression of the human aspiration for safety, dignity and a better future' but also 'a source of divisions within and between States and societies'.

n Migration and displacement can affect education, requiring systems to accommodate those who move and those left behind - but also those with migrant backgrounds who do not speak the language of instruction at home.

n Education can also affect migration and displacement. It is a major driver in the decision to migrate. It is also key to providing citizens with critical understanding, promoting cohesive societies and fighting prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination.

n About 1 in 8 people are internal migrants, living outside the region where they were born. About 1 in 30 are international migrants, almost two-thirds of them in high income countries. And about 1 in 80 are displaced by conflict or natural disaster, 9 in 10 of whom live in low and middle income countries.

n To address the challenges of migration and displacement, all 193 UN member states signed the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016 to strengthen and refine responsibility-sharing mechanisms. The declaration set in motion processes for two global compacts.

n The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration conveys a generally positive message of education as an opportunity to make the most of migratory flows and addresses a wide range of issues related to access to education, education beyond schooling and skills recognition.

n The Global Compact on Refugees renews the commitments made in the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees but goes further to promote inclusion of refugees in national education systems, calling for more coherent planning in crises and protracted displacement.

The GEM Report 2019 as a matter of fact looks at migration and displacement through the eyes of teachers and education administrators faced with the reality of diverse classrooms, schoolyards, communities, labour markets and societies. It aims to answer two questions:

n How do population movements affect education access and quality? What are the implications for individual migrants and refugees?

n How can education make a difference in the lives of people who move and in the communities receiving them?

UNESCO & BANGLADESH: Bangladesh became a member of UNESCO on October 27, 1972. In view of its recognition of the role of teachers in education, UNESCO has undertaken steps for improvement of the status, standard and overall contribution to quality of education by teachers in Bangladesh.  A series of studies have been conducted including status and capacity development for primary and secondary education in 2008, inclusive education in 2009, and capacity development of Non Formal Education (NFE) teachers/facilitators in 2010. The findings of these studies have contributed to the formulation of National Education Policy in 2010 and helped a better understanding on UNESCO's instruments, namely UNESCO and ILO recommendations Concerning Status of Teachers (1966) and UNESCO's recommendations regarding teacher's status in higher education (1997). In 2018, UNESCO, Dhaka published a study from Paris on `Bangladesh : Using Open School Data to Improve Transparency and Accountability'. The work was done jointly by Dipu Roy and Abu Said Md. Juel Miah. This case study compares the design and implementation of two major open school data initiatives in Bangladesh, namely the government-led open school data programme developed by the Directorate of primary Education (DPE), and Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) report cards. The historic March 7 speech of the Father of the Nation was included in the Memory of the World International Register of the UNESCO as a world documentary heritage.

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, in collaboration with UNESCO Field Offices in Bangladesh, Egypt, Ethiopia and Mexico, and funded by the Microsoft Corporation, have launched the project Advancing Mobile Literacy Learning to develop teaching and learning strategies that use digital solutions. The project, launched in 2015, equips educators and education leaders with technology training to enable them to provide more flexible learning opportunities and address individual learners' needs. The overall aim of the project is to reach literacy learners whose needs were previously unaddressed. In addition to acquiring literacy skills, facilitators and learners alike were able to improve their ICT skills.

UNESCO fosters dialogue and mutual understanding between peoples through education, the sharing of different cultures, and the free circulation of ideas and knowledge. I became interested to know about UNESCO being motivated by late Principal AKM Shahidullah after I started teaching at a college in the month of August, 1972. Shahidullah used to write on the rights, obligations and status of teachers in line with the recommendations of UNESCO. I developed a better idea about UNESCO when I visited its headquarters in Paris in 1997 and 1999. In 1997, I was a participant in the 29th General Conference of the world body as a member of Bangladesh delegation. On the year of establishment of the world body, I would like to quote from the constitution of UNESCO: 'Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed'. Best wishes at its entering 74 years of prospective progress.

Prof. Quazi Faruque Ahmed was a member of Bangladesh delegation in the 29th General Conference of UNESCO in Paris in 1997. He is the Chairperson, Initiative for Human Development (IHD). principalqfahmed@yahoo.com

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