Social Education 55(5) pp. 296
©1991 National Council for the Social Studies

An Update on UNESCO

Joanne Dufour

Although international networks continue to expand and NCSS broadens its international contacts, only one agency within the United Nations System has education as its specific mandate. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was created in 1946 to contribute to peace and security in the world by promoting collaboration between nations through education, science, culture, and communication. To realize these aims, UNESCO (1) expands and guides education to enable the people of every country to assume control of their development; (2) encourages national cultural values and the preservation of cultural heritage to derive the maximum advantage from modernization without the loss of cultural identity and diversity; (3) develops communication for a free flow and a wide and balanced dissemination of information; and (4) promotes the social sciences as instruments for realizing human rights, justice, and peace.
In education, UNESCO's major activity, it combines literacy programs with a drive to make primary education universal and eliminate illiteracy's root causes. It also helps train teachers, educational planners, and administrators, and encourages local building and equipping of schools. Andri Isaksson of UNESCO served as keynote speaker for the general session, "The United Nations, Social Studies, and the Future," at the NCSS Annual Meeting held in November in Anaheim, California.

In 1984, though a charter member, the United States withdrew its membership in this organization. The U.S. continues this policy despite numerous appeals from several professional organizations, including National Council for the Social Studies, to rejoin. Those interested in learning of the State Department's explanation for remaining outside UNESCO are referred to the Bolton Report, issued by the State Department in spring 1990. Those interested in following UNESCO initiatives and developments regarding U.S. reentry, a recommended newsletter is produced by the Americans for the Universality of UNESCO and is available for $25 from A.U.U., P.O. Box 18418, Asheville, NC 28814; (704) 253-5383.

This article highlights for teachers the work of UNESCO and resources available through it. Despite the cutbacks and budget reductions necessitated by the U.S.'s withdrawal, UNESCO has survived and continues with its noteworthy programs in literacy, natural science, management of the world copyright convention, study and development of cultures, including the world heritage program, conservation of the world's inheritance of books, art monuments, and the world decade for cultural development. It was the lead agency for 1990 International Literacy Year and recently organized, in cooperation with UNICEF and the United Nations Development Program, an international conference in Bangkok, Thailand, on "Education for All by the Year 2000."

For the classroom teacher, UNESCO provides a range of materials-more for teacher reference than actual classroom-ready use. UNIPUB, the official distributor of UNESCO materials, produces a free education catalogue that lists current titles under categories of curriculum and methods, higher education, planning and management, and primary and secondary education, and includes topics such as secondary education in the world today, teaching classics from 5-16, and comparative studies on a variety of issues among which are drugs, smoking, and AIDS. The catalogue is available from UNIPUB, 4611-F Assembly Drive, Lanham, MD 20706-4391; (301) 459-7666, or toll free (800) 274-4888.

The Courier is UNESCO's monthly "kaleidoscope of culture." It contains articles on literature, art, archaeology, history, science, technology, and current world issues by authors from different countries representing many schools of thought. Published in twelve different languages (English, French, Spanish, Arabic, German, Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese, Russian, Turkish, Portuguese, and Greek), it is excellent for schools with large bilingual populations, especially at $20 per year, and is obtainable through UNIPUB.

A free publication called UNESCO Sources highlights activities of the organization. Copies are obtainable by writing on school letterhead to the Publication Division, UNESCO, 7 place de Fontenoy, 75700 Paris, France, and asking to be placed on their mailing list.

UNESCO's role in human rights education has taken the form of contributions to teaching and research. The 1952 resolution of UNESCO's General Conference supported studies relating to the application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today UNESCO's human rights activities are concentrated under three major programs concerned with: (1) elimination of prejudice, intolerance, racism, and apartheid; (2) peace, international understanding, human rights, and the rights of peoples; and (3) the status of women. These activities include, in addition to education, training and research, setting standards for action, preparing teaching modules, revising textbooks and providing informational materials, supporting public lectures, and projects for youth. In general, the trend of UNESCO's activities in recent years has been from the theoretical to the practical-from studies to action. To help answer questions, UNESCO published World Directory of Human Rights Teaching and Research Institutions, and its twin, World Directory of Peace Research and Training Institutions, both obtainable through UNIPUB.

Current efforts are directed towards implementing International Literacy Year goals that extend to the year 2000. Although it is common in our schools and communities to hear of computer literacy, throughout the world hundreds of millions of children and adults cannot read and write, with females outnumbering males in substantial numbers. UNESCO materials that explain and clarify the problems and offer solutions and actions we can implement in our classrooms are available from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, 99 Metcalfe Street, Box 1047, Ottawa, Canada K1P 5V8.

Some of the pieces produced include: ILY-Year of Opportunity; Objective Literacy; A Practical International Literacy Year Guide for non-Governmental Organizations and UNESCO Clubs; and a brochure, A Time for Action, defining the year, the agenda, action by governments, and the creation of a UNESCO Special Account for World Literacy (see UNESCO Paris address above) that is used solely for listing books and material required for literacy programs worldwide.

Although many of the agencies and programs of the United Nations system have departments that produce excellent educational materials, UNESCO is the lead agency for educators and educational issues.

Joanne Dufour of Seattle, Washington, is Alternate NGO Representative for NCSS at the United Nations.