INITIATIVES
UNESCO—United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
International Affairs Office

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization was founded after World War II on 16 November 1945 to contribute to peace and security. Collaboration among nations through education, science and culture remains a cornerstone of a peaceful world order. The founders of UNESCO believed that the rule of law, respect for human rights, and freedom of expression would be strengthened through international cooperation. UNESCO is headquartered in Paris and has 190 member states.

Americans were an important part of UNESCO's creation. Author Archibald MacLeish, the first U.S. member of UNESCO's governing board, wrote the preamble to its 1945 Constitution. The opening lines captured the spirit of its founders: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed."

The United States joined UNESCO at its founding but later withdrew in 1984 because of a growing disparity between U.S. foreign policy and UNESCO goals. After an almost twenty-year absence from the organization, the United States rejoined the organization in October 2003 at the initiative of President Bush in an effort to express America's firm commitment to uphold and promote human rights, tolerance and learning worldwide.

UNESCO's Work in Education

Education is a significant UNESCO focus, both in terms of activities and funding. UNESCO activities approach education as necessary to democratic societies, as a lifelong process, and as a process requiring high quality as well as innovative approaches. The organization fosters dialogue between its 190 member countries on how to improve access, delivery, standards, innovations, and quality assurance at all levels from basic literacy to higher and continuing education. Among the most important UNESCO education programs is Education for All, a global initiative to promote literacy and basic education without gender bias and to ensure progress through national plans and monitoring mechanisms. Other important UNESCO education activities include the UNESCO Literacy Decade, Education for Sustainable Development, Higher Education Mobility and Recognition, education to combat HIV/AIDS, and the UNESCO Statistics Bureau.

The United States and UNESCO

The United States has several education-related priorities with respect to UNESCO. These include: (1) a special emphasis on literacy; (2) quality education and equal access to educational opportunities; (3) capacity-building, information-sharing and cooperation, including rebuilding education in post-conflict countries; and (4) education to combat HIV/AIDS and other health emergencies as well as environmental education. The United States supports the international momentum behind the Education for All movement coordinated by UNESCO, which has goals similar to U.S. educational reform initiatives, including accountability mechanisms.

On October 20, 2004 the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO was re-established as an advisory body to the U.S. government and a liaison to UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France. The Commission comprises representatives from various non-governmental organizations interested in matters of education, science, culture, and communications. It also includes at-large individuals and state, local, and federal government representatives.

The United States participation in UNESCO is managed by the U.S. Mission to UNESCO, located in Paris, France and the Bureau of International Organizational Affairs (IO) at the Department of State.

ED Contact:     Dana Chong
dana.chong@ed.gov

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Last Modified: 07/19/2012