01.11.2011 - Education Sector

Rodolphe Imhoof, Chairperson of the Education Commission of UNESCO’s 36th General Conference

© DFAE, Suisse- Ambassador Rodolphe Imhoof

Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of Switzerland to UNESCO, and personal representative of the President of Switzerland to the International Organization of La Francophonie, Mr. Rodolphe Imhoof is the Chairperson of the Education Commission of the 36th Session of the General Conference of UNESCO. He spoke to EduInfo during the General Conference.

You are chairing the Education Commission at the 36th session of the General Conference. Do you see it as a challenge or as an opportunity? 

Education, as we have recently heard during the discussions in the Leaders’ Forum held at UNESCO Headquarters (26-27 October), is a central concern for States in the promotion of sustainable development and a culture of peace. Education is therefore a challenge because we have an immense responsibility and a great amount of work to do. But, of course, it is also an opportunity because, as we know, education is central to achieving UNESCO’s goals.  

Education, and this is a fundamental point, must be accessible to everyone. Also fundamental is the quality of education. Young people, as we recently saw at the 7th UNESCO Youth Forum (17-20 October), are the drivers of change. In a large number of countries they account for 30 to 50% of the population, and it is through them that the future is created. In turn, for their future, it is essential they receive a quality education. 

Do you think that economic integration will become the central concern of education systems, to the detriment of philosophical reflection? 

It is obviously important for education to meet the professional needs of students and the economic demands of society. But it is also necessary for school curricula to be adapted in order to give young people a rounded education. First, they must be provided with basic knowledge, so that they may develop in their social and economic environment. This means instilling knowledge about their roots as well as developing their capacities to adapt and reflect. Education must train generalists who are sufficiently specialized in a number of areas to enable them to adapt quickly to the changes of the modern world. 

At the same time, we must make them aware of the fact that they are not alone; that the world is nuanced, and that there are different visions and different cultures in the world, which they will encounter throughout their life. We must therefore forge sound minds that acknowledge their origins, and are both tolerant and adaptable. 

From the perspective of school curricula, this involves teaching young people a number of values. The teaching of philosophy is therefore essential. We cannot only teach technical subjects, particularly since technology is constantly and rapidly changing, while universal values are the basis of society. In the space of 20 years, I have passed from telephone to telex, from telex to fax, from fax to mobile phone, from mobile phone to the Internet and the I-phone. Change is and always will be permanent.  

It is therefore necessary for people to have an excellent general knowledge base and the kind of mind that can reflect upon and adapt to changes that will take place with increasing velocity. This base will also allow them to adapt to the needs of the market and in turn contribute to their integration into their environments.  

The Commission will be discussing the post-2015 future of Education for All. In your opinion, what is EFA’s future beyond 2015? 

Personally speaking, I feel the basis of EFA is highly relevant – education is a fundamental right. Focusing on quality education will become particularly important after 2015. We must also lend extensive support to a number of principles that have made progress but have not been wholly achieved, namely equal opportunities in education, education for girls and education for persons with disabilities.  

To conclude, I would add that we must not forget education for adults and for older people. I mentioned that there are more and more young people. But as life expectancy continues to rise there are also more and more older people, and they can make contributions to society, as indeed they have always done. Lifelong learning is essential and when we speak about education for all, we mean education for adults and older people as well. 

You are also the Personal Representative of the President of the Swiss Confederation to the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF). Do you feel that the French language is currently under threat? 

It is not a question of a threat to the French language; nor is it a question of its defence. What is important for Switzerland, as a member of OIF, is the defence of certain values and of the diversity of linguistic and cultural expressions. The OIF’s goal is also the defence of the thought, philosophy and history that exist in the French language. Therefore, rather than speak of a battle, we should speak of the promotion of cultural diversity – indeed, the OIF and the French-speaking Group of UNESCO played a decisive role in the creation of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. 

* Born in 1947, Mr Imhoof joined the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in 1973. A Doctor in law of the University of Geneva, he held positions with the Swiss Delegation to the OECD, the Swiss Embassy in Beijing, the International Public Law Division in Berne and, as First Secretary, in the Swiss embassies in Greece and Germany. In 1996, he was nominated Ambassador to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama, and from 2002, Ambassador and Chief of the Political Division for Asia and Oceania in Berne. From 2006 to 2009 he was Swiss Ambassador to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.

Mr Imhoof speaks several languages. He is the author of numerous scientific publications as well as articles, conference papers and interviews on the foreign policy and constitutional regime of Switzerland.


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