PALATINE, Illinois — The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, also known as UNESCO, is one of the leading organizations fighting global poverty. However, unlike most anti-poverty organizations that provide humanitarian aid exclusively, UNESCO takes a different approach to eliminating global poverty. By seeking to improve peace and education through international cooperation, UNESCO’s approach to ending poverty notes tremendous results, helping millions of people across the globe.
In the wake of World War II, European governments sought ways “to reconstruct their systems of education once peace was restored.” Thus, the governments of several countries met in the United Kingdom, creating a project to reconstruct its educational systems. Eventually, after a 1945 conference, 37 nations founded UNESCO. Today, UNESCO has grown to 193 member states with 11 associate countries, allowing the organization to promote its goals of improved education in those countries.
According to UNESCO’s website, “National Commissions are national cooperating bodies set up by the Member States for the purpose of associating their governmental and non-governmental bodies with the work of the Organization.” By aligning country efforts with the mission of UNESCO, the organization amplifies action to improve peace and stability in these nations.
Emphasizing the importance of educational efforts in peacemaking, in an interview with The Borgen Project, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Gianni says UNESCO’s founders “believed that peace cannot be based exclusively upon political and economic arrangement. It is access to education, the sharing of culture and the free exchange of ideas and knowledge that promotes mutual understanding.”
In 2014, 90% of global students completed primary education, “but just 75% went on to finish lower-secondary education.” This lack of full schooling completion is largely due to the wealth-related educational gap. Whereas primary level education is free in many countries, secondary school often requires the payment of school fees, a cost that impoverished parents usually cannot afford. Due to factors relating to gender inequality, girls are less likely than boys to complete secondary education. In fact, the United Nations estimates that about 15 million girls, mostly those enduring poverty, will never attend school “compared to 10 million boys.”
While these numbers highlight educational disparities across the world, UNESCO has helped devise many strategies to combat educational unfairness. For instance, UNESCO “helped to frame the Education 2030 agenda which is encapsulated in SDG 4” of the Sustainable Development Goals, boldly aiming for all children to have access to quality education by the year 2030. Gianni cites that “UNESCO is the only United Nations agency with a mandate to cover all aspects of education… SDG 4 encompasses this wide scope and includes attention to education’s role in promoting more sustainable lifestyles.”
Education: UNESCO’s Approach to Ending Global Poverty
UNESCO has many missions in working toward a more sustainable future. One of the most important goals is to help alleviate inequalities caused by COVID-19. Gianni explains that “The COVID-19 crisis has unveiled many preexisting inequalities.” She elaborates further, stating that “there is an urgency now to chart a more equitable and sustainable development model [that]is central to peace. And it starts with education and by further strengthening its status as a global public good.”
Another important initiative of UNESCO is its new educational framework, known as the Futures of Education Report. Gianni explains that “this initiative aims to rethink education and [is]catalyzing a global debate on how knowledge, learning and teaching [require reimagination]in a rapidly changing world.” The organization hopes that this framework can capitalize on existing efforts to help people access the education they deserve and improve global peace.
Since the organization’s founding, UNESCO’s approach to ending poverty has seen extraordinary success in transforming the lives of people across the world. During the COVID-19 pandemic specifically, UNESCO is playing a key role in safeguarding the education of millions, benefiting “more than 400 million students and 12 million teachers in 112 countries.”
UNESCO has remained steadfast in advancing global peace and education throughout its history. UNESCO’s approach to ending poverty continues to prioritize these goals and advance relationships with other countries. The organization’s ultimate hope is for the world to move toward a brighter future, ending global poverty through education.
– Calvin Franke