13.08.2012 - ODG

Republic of Korea: A School where Peace Carries Special Meaning

© UNESCO/Cynthia GuttmanDirector-General Irina Bokova surrounded by the students of Gunnae Elementary School, a new member of the ASPNet family, in Paju-city, Republic of Korea, August 2012.

A new school unlike any other in the world joined the UNESCO Associated Schools Network Project (ASPnet) on 13 August in the presence of Director-General Irina Bokova.

To reach Gunnae Elementary School in Paju-city, Gyeonggi-do, one first crosses a military checkpoint to enter the Republic of Korea’s Civilian Control Line just below the Demilitarized Zone that separates the country from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The school’s forty odd primary-school children gave the Director- General an enthusiastic greeting and staged a short musical ouverture for her.  

“Because of our geopolitical situation, we feel a dire need for peace and prosperity,” said the school’s principal Mr Hak-In Lee. “We are committed to work for peace and sustainable development.” The 102-year old school runs peace education programs, promotes cultural exchanges and organizes nature experience projects in the surrounding farming areas that are also home to a wide variety of migratory birds.

The school’s motto -“Educate students to love each other and to cultivate dreams through communication and consideration” - carries special resonance for UNESCO, said Mrs Bokova. “There is nothing more important than peace and learning to live together. This is the most important message UNESCO wants to bring to your school and to education worldwide. ”

The Superintendent of the Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education stated that the school’s membership in ASPnet “is a historical moment for all of us. We live in the last divided country on earth and I hope this will help us to move forward to advance peace through education.”

The Director-General commended the Republic of Korea for its commitment to education for peace, human rights and sustainable development. “You should all be proud that your country has a United Nations Secretary-General named Ban Ki-moon. Yesterday at the Yeosu Expo, he stressed the importance of education.  It is because of education that your country has made such great advancements for its people.”

When the time came for questions and answers, the young students did not play shy. “What made you join UNESCO?  Why was UNESCO created? Have you ever experienced war?” The Director-General reaffirmed her deepest belief in working together to build peace through education, culture and science, pointing out that “in many countries where people are very poor, children have no access to schools like yours. We want to help children have the same possibilities to study as you.”

Mrs Bokova urged the young students to “pursue your studies, have a dream, be curious about the world and continue to work for peace. Peace is the most important value that we have to achieve on this planet. ”

The UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network, which celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2013, counts over 10,000 schools in 180 countries.

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