Education and Human Development
Worldwide Action in Education

Education and Human Development

by Federico Mayor
Director-General of UNESCO

The mission of UNESCO set forth in its Constitution is that 'of advancing, through the educational and scientific and cultural relations of the peoples of the world, the objectives of international peace and of the common welfare of mankind for which the United Nations Organization was established and which its Charter proclaims'.

This mission is as essential and urgent today as it was in 1945 when, in the aftermath of a great and terrible war, UNESCO was established. It confers upon our Organization an ethical responsibility as well as a technical role. Education, in the broadest and noblest sense of that term, is at the very heart of this mission. How, if not through education, can the defences of peace be constructed in the minds of men? How, if not through education, can the common welfare - development, as we would term it today - be advanced and ensured? For UNESCO, education is not only an end - indeed, a right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; it is also our principal and often our sole means of action. An ethical mission is by definition an educational mission.

If its fundamental aims remain constant, the world in which UNESCO pursues them is in incessant change. Indeed, in recent years, the world has vacillated between hope and despair. The end of the Cold War, symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall, raised great hopes for the advent of a culture of peace and tolerance. Many of these hopes remain. The retreat of totalitarian ideologies, major initiatives on disarmament, the affirmation of freedom, human rights and democracy, the renewed commitment of the world community to international co-operation through the United Nations system and countless other developments provide real grounds for optimism.

At the same time, we have witnessed - in a context of escalating world poverty and degradation of the earth's environment - the difficulties inherent in the apprenticeship of freedom and democracy, the resurgence of nationalism, the growth of fundamentalism and of religious and ethnic intolerance. The roots of exclusion and hatred have shown themselves even deeper and more tenacious than we had feared. To our profound sorrow and chagrin, we have been forced to realize that peace is not a matter of circumstance or even of politics, but requires, in the words of the Constitution, 'the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind'. In a world in which our destiny is increasingly a collective and planetary one, no task is more vital than promoting, through education and culture, an active sense of tolerance and mutual understanding. For this is the only basis upon which a lasting peace can be established between nations and peoples.

If I have chosen to speak of education in a broad and abstract sense, it is because these are the terms in which the Organization's founders conceived its role. But they also realized that education has a very practical side and denial of education very tangible consequences, as the plight of the world's over 900 million illiterates attests. UNESCO is deeply committed to making the right to education an everyday reality, not a remote promise. Education is the sine qua non for effective participation in modern society. It is for this reason that the struggle against illiteracy and the promotion of Education For All are the top priorities of UNESCO. The quest for a literate world is a difficult and demanding one, but, in close co-operation with Member States and our partners in the United Nations system, we are pushing forward the frontiers of education, reducing the number of adult illiterates and out-of-school children and bringing closer the day when education will illuminate the lives of all the world's citizens.

UNESCO was born out of the tragedy of war in the conviction that the 'education of humanity for justice and liberty and peace are indispensable to the dignity of man and constitute a sacred duty which all the nations must fulfil in a spirit of mutual assistance and concern'. This mission is as vital today as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow.

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