UNESCO at 73: Building better future

Quazi Faruque Ahmed | Published: November 16, 2018 19:31:22

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) was founded in London on November 16 in 1945. To quote from the UNESCO publication, `Its Constitution, drafted in the aftermath of World War II, opens with the following words, a roadmap for the Organisation: 'Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed'. UNESCO fosters dialogue and mutual understanding between peoples through education, sharing of different cultures, and the free circulation of ideas and knowledge. UNESCO gathers 195 Member States and 11 Associate Members. Its Headquarters are located in Paris.'

Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, said in the `UNESCO 2017' published by the world body in Paris in 2018: 'The events of 2017 underlined the centrality of UNESCO's mandate and the importance of its action in the world today.' In March, UNESCO's work to protect heritage in the midst of conflict, particularly in Iraq, led to the adoption of the first-ever UN Security Council Resolution solely devoted to this issue. This unprecedented, international awareness must now be translated into action. In October, the publication of the Global Education Monitoring Report 2017/8 set the direction to devise better education policies for all, at this time when an educational emergency is more apparent than ever. Also this year, 32 countries united scientific efforts under UNESCO's coordination, to participate in the largest tsunami exercise ever held up until now…..More than 70 years after UNESCO's foundation, this vision of peace remains deeply relevant. It is moreover an essential condition for achieving sustainable development. The world needs to invest in education, the sciences and culture to breed tomorrow's talents, to foster tolerance and the shared value of our common humanity. In an unstable world marked by countless fractures, sustainable peace cannot merely rely on political and economic arrangements between governments. Sustainable peace must be built on the foundation of humanity's intellectual and moral solidarity.

Education transforms lives: Access to quality education is a fundamental human right. Education provides the means to reach out to others, to know one's own rights and to become a citizen of the world. It is UNESCO's uppermost priority.

Building knowledge-based societies: TheUNESCO works towards building inclusive knowledge-based societies by improving access, preservation and sharing of knowledge and information.

Fostering freedom of expression: The 'free flow of ideas by word and image' is to UNESCO a driving force for dialogue and mutual understanding. It is also a key lever for innovation, research and intellectual solidarity.

Protecting our heritage and fostering creativity: Recognising and protecting the value of cultures is at the heart of the fight against ignorance and prejudice, of the efforts to defend human dignity and the dialogue between peoples. No development can be sustainable without a strong culture component.

Learning to live together: Peace must be learned: this is UNESCO's message. In the 21st century, peace education is not only a matter of international relationships. It must be exerted by societies themselves.

One planet, one ocean: Today, the planet and its ocean's vital resources are threatened by unsustainable exploitation and climate change. UNESCO improves our knowledge and reinforces our means to preserve the planet as a whole.

Science for a sustainable future: Scientific cooperation is essential for the rapprochement between peoples and the peace building. UNESCO's programmes gather scientists from all over the world to outline common strategies and challenge pressing issues which transcend borders.

Building peace in the minds of women and men: 740,000 participants from 32 countries joined CARIBE WAVE 17, making it the largest international tsunami exercise to date. 21 new sites were inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List, which now comprises 1,073 cultural, natural and mixed World Heritage properties from around the world. 4,000 young women and men have received training through UNESCO's Networks of Mediterranean Youth (NET-MED Youth) Project.

 Bangladesh, a country ranked 93rd in the world in terms of its area but ranked 8th in terms of population, 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 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 teachers' status in higher education (1997). UNESCO Dhaka office has published the translated version of the two recommendations. It has published research work on Shadow Education System and Private Tutoring - which is a big problem in the country in terms of the amount of private investment by the parents. The book 'Confronting Shadow Education System' has been translated into Bangla and disseminated to policymakers. This year in 2018 UNESCO has 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. As a citizen-led initiative, the TIB strives to empower parents of students in selected public primary schools through useful school data published in leaflets, information boards and desks, interactive discussions at mothers' gatherings, and meetings with authorities.

Last year's (2017) UNESCO 39th Conference was very important and a glaring example of success for Bangladesh as the historic 7th March 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.

This scribe had no idea about UNESCO during his student life. He was made interested in UNESCO by late Principal AKM Shahidullah after he joined in teaching in 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, approved by the ILO. He could get a better idea about UNESCO when he visited its headquarters in Paris in 1997 and 1999. In 1997, he was a participant in the 29th General Conference of the world body as a member of a Bangladesh delegation.

He last visited the UNESCO head office on February 23 in 2011 and met Mr. Tang Qian, Assistant Director General in-charge of Education, when he went to Paris to participate in the programme organised by Global Campaign for Education (GCE). His meeting with Mr. Tang Qian was arranged by Bangladesh Embassy in Paris at the request of Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid. The Director General Ms. Irina Bokova was not available in Paris due to her programmes fixed earlier, during this scribe's weeklong stay in the French capital. Otherwise he would call on her. He submitted few written proposals to Mr. Tang Qian during the meeting. It included curriculum revision and development along with teachers' training. His submission was that UNESCO could provide technical support in the areas of curriculum revision, curriculum dissemination and textbook development. It is usual to revise the teachers training curriculum when the national curriculum is revised. Technical support of UNESCO is possible in this area. It may be mentioned here that the prime objective of our national curriculum is to ensure quality education of our children following the international standard. However, this scribe could meet Ms. Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO in Dhaka in 2014 when she visited Bangladesh on the International Literacy Day, 8th September. This scribe was fortunate to exchange views on matters related to development and quality of education in Bangladesh. She was optimistic about the future of Bangladesh not only in the arena of education, rather in various dimensions of human development here and was very regardful of the educational policies and programmes undertaken by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The UNESCO Annual Report 2017 took stock of the actions undertaken during the mandate of the former Director-General, Irina Bokova, to whom Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, paid tribute. The report also reflects the professionalism and expertise of the organisation's staff working across the world, and translating the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals into action. The report features UNESCO's commitment to providing a world of justice, peace and sustainable development.

Guided by the ideals of peace and progress, the UNESCO represents a powerful force for transformation in the face of today's challenges. It is also well-placed to share our wide-ranging experience and formulate the innovative ideas that the world currently needs, bearing in mind specific conditions on the ground and the need to respect local history and culture.

To quote Ms. Audrey Azoulay again: `In order to meet the challenges of today's world, we must mobilise and work together to build a better future. That is the meaning of the words pronounced at UNESCO by Senegalese poet and former president Léopold Sédar Senghor on his 90th birthday: 'Solidarity and sharing, justice and dignity: words that chime loudly to remind us of our duties.' Long live UNESCO. Best wishes at its youthly vigour entering 73 years of eventful existence.

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


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