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UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), established in 1945, is an agency of the United Nations. Its purpose is to contribute to peace and security by promoting international understanding and collaboration through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, the rule of law, human rights, and the fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.[1]

The organization has 192 Member States and 6 Associate Members. Based in Paris, UNESCO has over 50 field offices and several institutes and offices throughout the world. Most of the field offices are "cluster" offices covering three or more countries. There are also national and regional offices.

UNESCO serves as both an incubator for ideas and sets standards in formulating global agreements on ethical challenges. As the organization assists member states in capacity building, it also gathers and disseminates knowledge and information for the use of member and associate member states. Criticism of UNESCO has focused on the accusation that it promotes a more liberal view of human rights, such as a woman's right to have an abortion and individuals' rights to choose their sexual lifestyle, that undermines family values. Its protection of the human heritage, of endangered places of beauty and of historical interest, ranks as its major achievement.

Millennium Development Goals

UNESCO plays a crucial role in fostering genuine dialogue using the fundamental ground rules of respect for shared values and the dignity of each civilization and culture. The essence of UNESCO's work lies in creating a collective vision of sustainable development that takes into account observance of all peoples' human rights, with an eye towards mutual respect and alleviation of poverty.

The organization focuses on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly:

  • Halve the number of people living in extreme poverty in developing countries by 2015
  • Achieve Universal Primary Education in all countries by 2015
  • Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2015
  • Help countries implement a national strategy for sustainable development by 2005 to reverse current trends in the loss of environmental resources by 2015.


Three bodies are responsible for policy-making, governance, and day-to-day administration within UNESCO:

  • The General Conference
  • The Executive Board
  • The Secretariat

The General Conference is a gathering of the organization's member states and associate members, at which each state has one vote. Meeting every two years, it sets general policies and defines program lines for the organization.

The Executive Board's 58 members are elected by the General Conference for staggered four-year terms. The Executive Board prepares the sessions of the General Conference and ensures that its instructions are carried out. It also discharges other specific mandates assigned to it by the General Conference.

The Secretariat consists of the Director-General and his staff and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the organization. The Director-General, who serves as the public face of UNESCO, is elected for a (renewable) four-year term by the General Conference. There are currently about 2,100 people on staff. Two thirds of the staff are based in Paris. The remaining third are in UNESCO's field offices around the world. The Secretariat is divided into various administrative offices and five program sectors that reflect the organization's major areas of focus.

Controversy and reform

UNESCO was at the center of controversy, particularly in the United States, the United Kingdom and Singapore during the 1970s and 1980s. At that time, UNESCO's support for a "New World Information and Communication Order" and the MacBride report calling for democratization of the media and a more egalitarian access to information was condemned by these countries as attempts to destroy freedom of the press. UNESCO was perceived by some as a platform for communist and Third World countries to attack the West. In 1984, the United States withheld its contributions and withdrew from the organization in protest, followed by the United Kingdom in 1985 and Singapore in 1986. Following the change in government in 1997, the UK rejoined. The United States rejoined in 2003. (As of 2007, Singapore has still not rejoined.)

Since this time, considerable reforms were implemented in the organization. The reforms included the following measures: the number of divisions in UNESCO was cut in half, allowing a corresponding halving of the number of Directors — from 200 to under 100 worldwide. The number of field units was cut from a peak of 79 in 1999 to 52. Parallel management structures, including 35 Cabinet level special adviser positions, were abolished. Between 1999 and 2003, 209 negotiated staff departures and buy-outs took place, causing a $10 million staff cost deficit to disappear. The staff pyramid, which was the most top heavy in the UN system, was cut back and the "inflation" of posts was reversed through the downgrading of many positions. Open competitive recruitment, results-based appraisal of staff, training of all managers and field rotation were instituted, as well as SISTER and SAP systems for transparency in results-based programming and budgeting. The Internal Oversight Service (IOS) was established in 2001 to improve organizational performance by including the lessons learned from program evaluations into the overall reform process. In reality though, IOS's main tasks involve auditing rather than program oversight. It regularly carries out audits of UNESCO offices, looking into administrative and procedural compliance, but not assessing the relevance and usefulness of the activities and projects that are carried out.

Programming coherence and relevance remains a challenge at UNESCO. One of the main reasons for this is that activities and projects can be identified and supervised by various services within the organization (divisions and sections based at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, UNESCO regional and cluster field offices and international institutes) with insufficient coordination between them. Another issue is the very broad thematic areas that UNESCO engages in.


UNESCO acts in the fields of Education, Natural Sciences, Social and Human Sciences, Culture, Communication, and Information. Projects sponsored by UNESCO include literacy, technical, and teacher-training programs; international science programs; the promotion of independent news media and freedom of the press; regional and cultural history projects, the promotion of cultural diversity; international cooperation agreements to secure the world's cultural and natural heritage and preserve human rights; as well as efforts to bridge the world-wide digital divide.

The following are some of the many efforts of UNESCO.

  • UNESCO provides international leadership in the creation of learning societies with educational opportunities for all populations. It supports research in comparative education, fosters partnerships, and provides expertise to strengthen national educational leadership and the capacity of countries to offer quality education for all.
    • The International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) provides nations with training and research to strengthen their capacity to plan and manage their education systems.
    • UNESCO-CEPES, the European Centre for Higher Education, established in 1972 in Bucharest, Romania, is a decentralized office to promote international cooperation for higher education in Europe as well as Canada, United States and Israel. Higher Education in Europe is its official journal.
  • Projects and places with cultural and scientific significance are given special designation by UNESCO:
    • Biosphere reserves, through the Program on Man and the Biosphere (MAB), initiated in 1971.
    • City of Literature; in 2007 the first city to be given this title will be Edinburgh, Scotland
    • Endangered languages and linguistic diversity projects
    • Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity
    • Memory of the World International Register, since initiated in 1997
    • Water Resource Management, through the International Hydrological Programme (IHP), initiated in 1965.
    • World Heritage Sites
  • Programs are sponsored that foster the free flow of ideas and access to technology:
    • The International Program for the Development of Communication and the Communication and Information Program both promote freedom of expression, press freedom, and access to information.
    • Universal access to Information and Communications Technology (ICTs), are promoted through the Information for All Program (IFAP.)
    • Free Software Directory: since 1998 UNESCO and the Free Software Foundation have jointly funded this project cataloging free software.
  • Promotion of events:
    • International Decade for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World: 2001–2010, proclaimed by the UN in 1998
    • World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd each year, to promote freedom of expression and freedom of the press as basic human rights and crucial components of any healthy, democratic, and free society.
  • Founding and funding projects:
    • Migration Museums Initiative, promoting the establishment of museums for cultural dialogue with migrant populations.[2]
    • School health services: UNESCO initiative, Focusing Resources on Effective School Health (FRESH) [3]
    • OANA, the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies
    • International Council of Science
    • UNESCO Goodwill Ambassadors
    • UNESCO Online Encyclopedia

Prizes, awards and medals

UNESCO awards several prizes in science, culture, and peace to honor significant contributions:

  • Carlos J. Finlay Prize for Microbiology
  • Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize
  • Great Man-Made River International Prize for Water Resources in Arid and Semi-Arid Areas
  • International José Martí Prize
  • International Simón Bolívar Prize
  • Javed Husain Prize for Young Scientist
  • Jikji prize|Jikji Memory of the World Prize for individuals or institutions that have made significant contributions to the preservation and accessibility of documentary heritage.
  • Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science
  • L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science
  • Sergei Eisenstein Medals for merit in cinematographic art.
  • Sultan Qaboos Prize for Environmental Preservation
  • UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize
  • UNESCO King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa Prize for the Use of ICT in Education
  • UNESCO Mozart Medal for contribution to world peace through music and the arts.
  • UNESCO Prize for Peace Education
  • UNESCO Science Prize
  • UNESCO/Institut Pasteur Medal
  • UNESCO Artist for Peace
  • Creative Cities Network

Directors General

  1. Julian Huxley, UK (1946–1948)
  2. Jaime Torres Bodet, MEX (1948–1952)
  3. John Wilkinson Taylor, USA (1952–1953)
  4. Luther Evans, USA (1953–1958)
  5. Vittorino Veronese, ITA (1958–1961)
  6. René Maheu, FRA (1961–1974)
  7. Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow, SEN (1974–1987)
  8. Federico Mayor Zaragoza, SPA (1987–1999)
  9. Koïchiro Matsuura, JPN (1999–present)

General Conferences

  • 1st General Conference (Paris, 1946) - chaired by Léon Blum (France)
  • 2nd General Conference (Mexico City, 1947) - chaired by Manuel Gual Vidal (Mexico)
  • 3rd General Conference (Beirut, 1948) - chaired by Hamid Bey Frangie (Lebanon)
  • 1st extraordinary session (Paris, 1948)
  • 4th General Conference (Paris, 1949) - chaired by Ronald Walker (Australia)
  • 5th General Conference (Florence, 1950) - chaired by Count Stefano Jacini (Italy)
  • 6th General Conference (Paris, 1951) - chaired by Howland Sargeant (United States of America)
  • 7th General Conference (Paris, 1952) - chaired by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (India)
  • 2nd extraordinary session (Paris, 1953)
  • 8th General Conference (Montevideo, 1954) - chaired by Justino Zavala Muñiz (Uruguay)
  • 9th General Conference (New Delhi, 1956) - chaired by Maulana Abul Kalam Azak (India)
  • 10th General Conference (Paris, 1958) - chaired by Jean Berthoin (France)
  • 11th General Conference (Paris, 1960) - chaired by Akale-Work Abte-Wold (Ethiopia)
  • 12th General Conference (Paris, 1962) - chaired by Paulo de Berrêdo Carneiro (Brazil)
  • 13th General Conference (Paris, 1964) - chaired by Norair Sissakian (Soviet Union)
  • 14th General Conference (Paris, 1966) - chaired by Bedrettin Tuncel (Turkey)
  • 15th General Conference (Paris, 1968) - chaired by Willian Eteki-Mboumoua (Cameroon)
  • 16th General Conference (Paris, 1970) - chaired by Atilio Dell'Oro Maini (Argentina)
  • 17th General Conference (Paris, 1972) - chaired by Toru Haguiwara (Japan)
  • 3rd extraordinary session (Paris, 1973)
  • 18th General Conference (Paris, 1974) - chaired by Magda Joboru (Hungary)
  • 19th General Conference (Nairobi, 1976) - chaired by Taaita Toweett (Kenya)
  • 20th General Conference (Paris, 1978) - chaired by Napoléon LeBlanc (Canada)
  • 21st General Conference (Belgrade, 1980) - chaired by Ivo Margan (Yugoslavia)
  • 4th extraordinary session (Paris, 1982)
  • 22nd General Conference (Paris, 1983) - chaired by Saïd Tell (Jordan)
  • 23rd General Conference (Sofia, 1985) - chaired by Nikolaï Todorov (Bulgaria)
  • 24th General Conference (Paris, 1987) - chaired by Guillermo Putzeys Alvarez (Guatemala)
  • 25th General Conference (Paris, 1989) - chaired by Anwar Ibrahim (Malaysia)
  • 26th General Conference (Paris, 1991) - chaired by Bethwell Allan Ogot (Kenya)
  • 27th General Conference (Paris, 1993) - chaired by Ahmed Saleh Sayyad (Yemen)
  • 28th General Conference (Paris, 1995) - chaired by Torben Krogh (Denmark)
  • 29th General Conference (Paris, 1997) - chaired by Eduardo Portella (Brazil)
  • 30th General Conference (Paris, 1999) - chaired by Jaroslava Moserova (Czech Republic)

Information about more recent General Conferences can be found at www.UNESCO.org, The official UNESCO website.


  1. UNESCO UNESCO Consitution.
  2. Migration Museums Migration Museums Home Page. Retrieved May 21, 2007.
  3. UNESCO.org FRESH.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Joel, Spring. 2000. The Universal Right to Education: Justification, Definition, and Guidelines (Sociocultural, Political, and Historical Studies in Education). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 978-0805835472
  • Mcclay, Ellen. 2006. In the Presence of Our Enemies: A History of the Malignant Effects in American Schools of the Un's UNESCO and Its Tranformation of American Society from the Lips of Those Who Did It Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse. ISBN 978-1420894226
  • Meisler, Stanley. 1995. United Nations: The First Fifty Years. NY: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0871136562

External links

All links retrieved May 2, 2023.


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