UNESCO’s Associated Schools Project Celebrates its 50th AnniversaryAuckland - What does a teacher training institution in Morocco have in common with a secondary school in the South Pacific island state of Kiribati? What links a technical school in the Russian Federation with a primary school in Togo, or a kindergarten in New Zealand with a secondary school in Ecuador?
All are members of UNESCO’s Associated Schools Project network, which this year celebrates 50 years of working with the world’s youth to promote the Organization’s ideals of peace, democracy and human rights.
More than 160 delegates from over 80 countries will attend an international congress in Auckland, New Zealand, from August 3 to 8, to celebrate ASPnet’s half century. They will review the successes and challenges facing the network, look at how to reinforce its contribution to quality education for all, examine the role of information and communication technologies, which have greatly facilitated the network’s growth, and chart future directions.
ASPnet, is one of UNESCO’s longest-running programmes, and involves some of its youngest collaborators – the students and pupils attending over 7,500 member schools and educational institutions spread throughout more than 170 countries.
It was launched after the World War II by the founders of UNESCO, as part of their quest for real and lasting peace. They were aware of the need to go beyond lip service and ministerial circulars for teachers to “teach peace”. Peace building through education, they believed, called for committed teachers, participatory methods of learning, relevant curricula, unbiased textbooks and a climate of mutual respect and non-violence in the classroom, the school, the family and the community.
The idea took hold, and from its humble but ambitious beginnings as a programme involving 33 secondary schools in 15 countries (known in its early years as “ASPRO”) it has developed into one of the largest networks of its kind. According to Elizabeth Khawajkie, ASPnet’s UNESCO-based International Coordinator, it has become a “pulse-taker” and an educational “pace-setter”, sensitive to what is happening in the world and concerned to introduce new issues and topics in the classroom so that students are better prepared to deal with the present and to plan their future.
The Baltic Sea Project, for example, was kicked off in 1989 by Denmark, Finland, the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Democratic Republic, Poland, the Soviet Union and Sweden, to raise the awareness of the region’s young people to the need to improve and protect the polluted Baltic Sea environment.
Under the project, students from some 200 schools in the Baltic countries undertake such activities as studying water quality or monitoring the heavy metal content in mussels. Under a programme known as Coastwatch they clean up beaches, check sea-level changes and follow the evolution of sea-life, seeking explanations for any major shifts in the region’s marine flora and fauna The information is shared and discussed by all participating schools through exchange programmes, publications and a regular newsletter.
“This is a fantastic project,” says Dace Blese, a year 12 student from the Talsi Grammar School in Estonia. “This is the third year I have been involved and every year bring something new and different. The sea is changing…”
The Baltic Sea Project has proved so successful that it has since served as a model for other ASPnet environmental programmes on the Danube River, the Caribbean, the Western Mediterranean and the Zambeze River.
Another, more recent, initiative is the Transatlantic Slave Trade Education Project. This vast undertaking seeks to improve teaching about one of the most shameful chapters in human history, and its enormous economic, social and cultural impact on the three regions that were involved (Africa, the Americas and Europe). A task force of specialists advises and guides UNESCO on this project, in which some 100 schools in the three regions are participating. A wealth of material has been produced on the subject, breaking the silence that has surrounded the slave trade and its legacy. It is the first international endeavour to mobilize schools in Africa, the Americas/Caribbean and Europe to develop new educational approaches while promoting intercultural dialogue between young people.
Funded by UNESCO and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs , it has also won the support and participation of Anti-Slavery International, an NGO, which has worked with ASPnet to establish an extensive website on the project (www.antislavery.org/breakingthesilence).
The World Heritage in Young Hands Project encourages young people to support world heritage protection through activities both in and out of school. Since 1995, 12 major World Heritage Youth Fora have been held in different regions of the world mobilizing young people to share their views on what world heritage means to them and what they can do to protect it. An educational resource kit developed for teachers, tested and validated in ASPnet schools in 130 UNESCO Member States, has been translated into about 20 languages and the project is now working towards mainstreaming world heritage education into national education systems.
Although these examples are international or regional in scope, with schools working together through twinning arrangements and regular contacts, ASPnet members are also active individually on a national level.
In New Zealand, for example, students at the Favona Senior School conducted an extensive study of a mangrove forest in an estuary close to the school, examining its role in maintaining the health of the surrounding environment and looking at ways to protect it. At the Gueswende Public Primary School in Burkina Faso, children tackle issues of local poverty and environmental degradation through an agricultural programme. They have, for example, set up a vegetable garden and a fruit orchard whose produce is used to improve school lunches and the nutrition of the pupils, or is sold to buy much needed stationary and other school supplies. They have also established a plant nursery to help fight deforestation. In Austria, students at the Bundesrealgymansium Leoben learn about tolerance and mutual understanding through an exchange programme they have established with the Johannesburg Girls Prep School in South Africa, while schools in Paraguay have focused on the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse.
“ASPnet is unique in its global scale and scope,” said Margaret Austin, Chair of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, which has helped to organize the 50th anniversary “Navigators for Peace Congress”. “The number of schools participating in the network has more than doubled over the past decade (…) creating opportunities for profound cross cultural experiences that pave the way for enduring friendships, greater awareness of cultural and educational realities in other countries, and creative problem-solving of shared concerns.”
The congress will be opened by Jonathon Hunt, the Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives, on the evening of August 3 (6 p.m) at the Waipuna Conference Centre in Auckland.
Alison Bartley or Carole van Grondelle
for the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO.
Telephone: +64 (0)4 380 9223, +64 (0)4 384 3650
or by mobile phone at +64 (0)274 436 123 and +64 (0)272 555 400