UNESCO General Conference opens its 33rd session with visit of the presidents of Ghana and Sri LankaThe 33rd session of UNESCO’s General Conference, which opened today, was marked by the visit of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka and President John Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana.
The president of the 32nd session of the General Conference, Michael Abiola Omolewa of Nigeria, opened this session of the Organization’s supreme ruling body. Ambassador Musa Bin Jaafar Bin Hassan, Permanent Delegate of the Sultanate of Oman to UNESCO, was later elected President of the 33rd session.
Mr Omolewa and Hans Heinrich Wrede (Germany), Chairman of UNESCO’s second governing body, the Executive Board, both took the floor emphasizing the importance of UNESCO’s work, notably in education. Mr Omolewa stressed the role UNESCO’s programmes can play in overcoming the many challenges facing the world today, including combating the root causes of terrorism. Mr Wrede, for his part, highlighted UNESCO’s contribution to human rights and human dignity.
The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura then addressed the General Conference, placing its 33rd session in the context of the 60th anniversary of the United Nations and of UNESCO.
Recalling the recent UN Summit, the Director-General declared that “we are aware of being on a course of change and mutation which has become indispensable. […] The General Assembly, in recognizing the role of education in development and in the eradication of poverty, and in making a commitment in favour of the Dakar Framework for Action for Education for All (EFA), adopted at the World Education Forum in 2000, has without doubt taken the measure of the emergency in this field.”
“Likewise,” he continued, “some of the major principles and commitments made at the Summit, concerning in particular culture, sustainable development, including water management, natural disaster response and dialogue among civilizations, bear witness to new priorities to which the international community is now ready to adhere. […] I believe,” Mr Matsuura emphasized, “that our Organization is now better prepared to face and meet these challenges.”
In her address, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga also emphasized the importance of education, which, she said “is central to human experience. […] Education in its multifarious forms, is the bedrock of understanding between humans, which is a prerequisite for justice, liberty and peace.”
The President voiced strong support for the EFA initiative and for UNESCO’s work in helping achieve the goal of education for all by 2015. She highlighted the outstanding result of Sri Lanka in education, including the achievement of gender parity. Emphasizing the importance of education in economic development and peace, she recalled her country’s great suffering over 20 years of ethnic conflict.
“Education,” she continued, “engenders dialogue and understanding between different view points, cultures and value systems. Today more than ever before, the world needs to inculcate a culture of dialogue and understanding.”
“The world exists and goes around based on the richness of its diversity, drawing sustenance from it,” the President declared. “That diversity finds expression in the artistic creations of individuals, of communities and of nations, which finally constitute their cultures. […] We can never permit one vision, one set of ideas, one project, to englobe the whole world,” she said.
The President expressed appreciation to the Director-General of UNESCO for “taking the initiative to assist Sri Lanka in many ways following the tsunami that devastated two thirds of our coastal areas last December […] UNESCO quickly established a special office to assess the damage and destruction and to assist in the field of education and culture. We are also appreciative of the leading role played by UNESCO in the establishment of a tsunami warning and mitigation system for the Indian Ocean.”
In his address, the President of Ghana, John Agyekum Kufuor, took stock of the great changes and achievement in the world 60 years since the creation of the United Nations but insisted that “even as we celebrate the incredible achievements under the leadership of the UN and its agencies, like UNESCO, we must also acknowledge that there is still a long way to go.”
President Kufuor reviewed the modern history of his country explaining that its development had been slowed by decades of dictatorship. He said that his government has made education a priority. “Our reformed [educational] system exploits the collective wisdom and experience espoused by UNESCO and falls within the wider context of Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals of the UN,” he said.
Speaking about his country’s efforts in education, the President recalled UNESCO’s assistance in capacity building and the support the Organization provided for the creation of the University of Cape Coast, which trains teachers and science education specialists. He also talked of the assistance provided by UNESCO in developing a distance learning programme to help teachers in Ghana upgrade their skills.
“The government,” he said, “is vigorously deploying ICT [information and communication technology] to interconnect the entire educational system and indeed the entire socio-economy of the country. Consequently, the economy is already beginning to enjoy benefits from the out-sourcing of data industry from advanced parts of the world, like the US. But to keep pace with the rapidly changing developments in telecommunication, Ghana supports the international call for bridging the digital divide between the advanced and developing worlds”, which is also a UNESCO priority.
President Kufuor then spoke of natural disasters around the world in the past year and said: “The world must draw lessons from such catastrophic natural occurrences and observe adequate environmental protection practices to minimize their effects in the future. Science and technology must be harnessed to anticipate and contain such events.”
“While humanity may not be able to overcome natural disasters,” he said, “it must be able to curb intolerance and terrorism considerably. This menace is arrogant and does not show discrimination between the innocent and the perceived offender. Its cost to affected countries and families is incalculable. The world must not stop rallying together against this scourge and finding ways and means to eradicate it.”
Upon his election to the Presidency of the 33rd session of the General Conference in the afternoon, Musa Bin Jaafar Bin Hassan declared: “UNESCO must become a friend of its Member States anticipating their needs and the crises that they are likely to be subjected to, rather than waiting to react to crises. […] Globalization and its implications oblige us to plan global solutions while we need to think about solving specific problems locally.”
The new President stressed the importance of the Millennium Development Goals and UNESCO’s commitment, especially to education and gender parity. “Education is the be all and end all,” he declared. “Education being the cornerstone in the construction of knowledge, especially modern knowledge, we welcome the direction taken by our Organization in the building of knowledge societies. Indeed, without knowledge the information and communication technologies, which are today the main actors of the construction of the global village, cannot progress.”
The Director-General of UNESCO congratulated the President on his election and described him as a “great friend of UNESCO” with whom he looked forward to working over the coming two years.
The General Conference will continue until October 21.
Photo (1) © UNESCO/Michel Ravassard: Her Excellency Ms Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
Photo (2) © UNESCO/Michel Ravassard: Mr John Agyekum Kufuor, President of the Republic of Ghana.