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What is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)?

By O. Wallace
Updated May 23, 2024
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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was created in 1945, as an arm of the United Nations (UN). It serves to promote the goals of the UN Charter that works to sustain an international collaborative effort to establish and protect the rule of law, basic human rights and justice for all. UNESCO strives to not only protect human rights and culture, but also the treasures and rich resources the world has to offer its inhabitants.

The organization's operations are headquartered in Paris, France, and it has 191 member nations. It operates using the fields of education, science and culture to achieve its goals. It promotes its agenda through five separate programs within these fields: Culture, Education, Natural Sciences, Social and Human Sciences, and Communication and Information.

Education

In 25% of African nations, only 50% of elementary aged children who are currently attending school actually go on to attend the next year. Women make up two-thirds of the illiterate adult population, worldwide. UNESCO’s Education For All (EFA) campaign was established to promote education as one of our basic rights, to help nations worldwide to improve their educational programs as well as provide improved access to its citizens through innovation and public discourse. The World Conference on Education for All in 1990 was the first of its kind and has set the focus on adult literacy and primary education. EFA established the end of April every year as EFA Global Action Week. The program’s goal is to provide education for all by the year 2015.

Natural Sciences

UNESCO founded the World Water Assessment Program (WWAP) in 2000 to focus on the world’s water supply, and to help implement a worldwide system of water monitoring for safety and sustainability. Campaigns such as “Water for Life” and “World Water Day” work to increase public awareness on issues affecting international water safety and supply. 2005-2014 was designated by WWAP as the “Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.” The global climate and its repercussions are another focus of the organiation.

Social and Human Sciences

This division focuses on bioethics, and in particular, the field of genetics. The organization hopes to set international standards of ethics in the sciences using issues relating to religion and philosophy as well as legal and cultural ramifications. Through public discourse and education, the program may someday be what member nations look to for ethical guidance in the field. Other ethical issues, such as doping in sports are a focus of UNESCO.

Culture

The protection of culture and cultural diversity is perhaps one of the organization's most well known endeavors. In the Universal Declaration of Cultural Diversity, UNESCO outlines its goals — it hopes to avoid the homogenizing pitfalls of globalism, while protecting the unique traditions, languages and architecture of a culture. Heritage can be broken down into several different aspects: world heritage — world heritage sites which belong to all humans, including Egypt’s Pyramids and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef — monumental or tangible heritage — monuments and historic sites such as the city of Fez in Morocco — movable heritage — such as museums — and intangible heritage — such as music and language. Living cultures and all the intangible aspects associated with them are at risk of being lost to the ages without the intervention of the organization's programs.

Communication and Information

UNESCO recognizes that in many parts of the world, some citizens live without universal access to uncensored information about their country and the world beyond its borders. Through its programs, the organziation strives to provide universal access to information through libraries and the press. Freedom of expression through the development of a strong media is a large focus of UNESCO, and it has established 3 May every year as “World Press Freedom Day.”

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