Education and the Future
Worldwide Action in Education

Education and the Future

by Colin N. Power
Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO

UNESCO's action in education is aimed at two essential goals. The first of these is, quite simply, to make the right to education a reality for all the world's citizens. This is a task as enormous as it is essential. Enormous because there are today over 900 million adult illiterates and over 100 million children of primary school-age who are not enrolled in school. Essential because education is the principal means for preparing people to participate effectively in the development of their communities and nations.

The second major objective of UNESCO's action is to assist its Member States in building and renovating education systems to meet the challenges of the 21st century. It is obvious that the world is undergoing profound scientific and technological revolutions. Education must prepare the citizens of today to live and work in the world of tomorrow, a world in which the only constant will be change. Yet, if the technological revolution is the most visible sign of the times, political, social and economic changes are also imposing new challenges and responsibilities upon education systems. Certainly, the most urgent of these is that of constructing a culture of peace and tolerance in which differences and diversities are viewed as a source of richness and not as a threat to one's own values and being. Our very survival may ultimately depend upon our success in confronting this challenge.

'Towards Basic Education for All' reflects elements of both continuity and change in UNESCO's mission. It pursues work in the field of literacy in which UNESCO has been engaged for more than forty years and is directed at implementing the Organization's Plan of Action to Eradicate Illiteracy. Yet, at the same time, it is built upon a new concept of partnership among international agencies in the promotion of basic education which emerged from the World Conference on Education for All. This programme is designed to meet two inter-related aims: increasing access to basic education while, at the same time, improving the quality and relevance of such education. Particular attention is given to providing women and girls with increased access to education: over 60% of illiterate adults are women and over 60% of out-of-school children are girls; further, the education of women and girls lowers fertility rates and improves the retention and achievement of their children in school, thereby breaking the cycle of illiteracy. Hence, it is a long-term investment in facilitating needed social and cultural transformations. More generally, the programme focuses upon putting education at the service of the most disadvantaged groups in society - e.g., street children and refugees - where the need is greatest.

UNESCO's efforts to improve the quality of basic education are multifaceted, dealing, for example, with the training of teachers, the management of schools, the provision of learning materials and the measurement of learning outcomes. A new activity will focus on the quality and relevance of the first 4,000 hours of primary schooling. This corresponds roughly to the first four years of schooling and is often all that many children receive. While the long-term goal must be to offer all children, at least a full cycle of primary education, in the interim, education systems should recognize the vital importance of these first years and do everything possible to ensure that they provide children with a sound basic education and instill in them the desire to continue learning: in school, if at all possible, and, if not, on their own.

'Education for the Twenty-first Century' is based upon the assumption that the challenges facing societies at the threshold of the twenty-first century call for a fundamental review of education worldwide. This is, in particular, the role of the Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century. But it is also the purpose of the programme as a whole. This programme examines the renewal of scientific, technical and vocational education at the secondary level, the role of higher education in seeking solutions to the problems of society, the diffusion of information on educational research and innovations, and the reconstruction and transformation of educational systems in societies experiencing profound changes. In a global situation in which more and more countries find themselves beset by crises and unexpected difficulties, it is UNESCO's responsibility to ensure that its limited resources are used to maximum effect to aid them.

Particular attention is being given to the needs of the least developed countries as their progress depends critically upon the education of their populations. There is also a need to provide the emerging States of eastern Europe and central Asia with technical support and access to information useful to them in rebuilding their educational systems. Tragically, UNESCO is also increasingly called upon to assist in the education of refugees in all regions of the world. While education meets only one of the many needs of refugees, it interjects an element of normalcy and hope into lives shattered by disaster.

UNESCO is today, as it was in 1945, deeply engaged in the task of assisting and supporting Member States in building education systems capable of meeting the requirements of a world in constant, accelerating and often tumultuous change. Preparing individuals to understand and value their cultural identities and to respect those of others, while assisting them to cope with the challenges and uncertainties inherent in an age of change, this is the task of UNESCO, a responsibility as demanding as it is necessary.

Education in the programme and budget
for 1994-1995

Major Programme Area I
"Education and the future"

I.1 Towards basic education for all

    I.1.1 Expanding and improving the provision of basic education
    I.1.2 Improving the quality and the relevance of basic education

  • Interdisciplinary project: "The young child and the family environment"

I.2 Education for the twenty-first century

  • International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century

    I.2.1 Renewal of secondary, technical and vocational education
    I.2.2 Higher Education
    I.2.3 Supporting educational innovation, research and information
    I.2.4 Reconstruction of education systems

  • Interdisciplinary and inter-agency co-operation project: "Environment and population education and information for human development"
  • International Bureau of Education
  • International Institute for Educational Planning
  • UNESCO Institute for Education

Co-operation for development and Participation Programme

Major Programme Area V

V.2.2 Education for peace, human rights and democracy

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