UNESCO: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization

The Organisation


Phillip W Jones

Phillip W Jones has pursued, over three decades, a sustained research
program on the history of international organisations working in the field
of education.
He is particularly interested in the evolution of policy content and the organisational dynamics that produce policy content.
His books include "International Policies for Third World Education: UNESCO, Literacy and Development" (Routledge 1988); "World Bank Financing of Education: Lending, Learning and Development" (Routledge 1992) ; and "The United Nations and Education: Multilateralism, Development and
Globalisation (RoutledgeFalmer 2005).

Phillip Jones is currently Director
of the Research Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the
University of Sydney, Australia.
“Universal Education as a Universal Idea”

As a normative construct, universal education is a relatively
straightforward concept to promote. In the abstract, normative rationales
- such as universal education as an expression of universal human rights -
have occupied a prime place in the history of UNESCO, and the Organisation should rightly take considerable credit for having pressed universal
education normatively in the many ways it has done so over the past six

But from a technical and policy standpoint, the waters are far murkier.
Clarity concerning the optimal pathways to universal education remains elusive. "Education For All" is only the latest of a long series of conceptual refinements. Even over the 15 short years from the 1990 Jomtien Conference and Declaration, we have seen how sharp and intense have been the debates over EFA priorities and strategies - even and especially among the 4 key sponsoring agencies in 1990: UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank.

The lessons of history are powerful when it comes to explaining how policy clarity has been pursued by UNESCO in giving meaning to the concept of -
and aspirations for - universal education. As an intellectual idea,
universal education has a long and complex history, and it is worth
examining those which have (and have not) found their way into UNESCO policy discourse and program content, and how. This brief presentation cannot do this comprehensively, but rather addresses some crucial moments in the early history of UNESCO when important judgements were made about how best the Organisation might give expression to universal education as a universal idea. The focus is on the periods of the Director-Generalships of Huxley, Torres Bodet and Maheu, and provides grounds for asserting the important place of human agency in the complex dynamics of international organisations.

UNESCO's proudest moments have come less from the assertion of normative generalisations as from the technically more challenging task of devising policy coherence and direction. With this value judgement in mind, the presentation concludes with some observations on contemporary lessons that might usefully be considered after a careful reading of the history of UNESCO's commitments and program in universal education.
Background works by the presenter on the history of international organisations in the field of education from 1945 to the time of publication:

- 2005 The United Nations and Education; Multilateralism, Development and Globalisation (London and New York; RoutledgeFalmer).

- 1992 World Bank Financing of Education; Lending, Learning and Development (London and New York: Routledge).

- 1988 International Policies for Third World Education; UNESCO, Literacy and Development (London and New York; Routledge).

Europe and North America Latin America and the Caribbean Africa Arab States Asia Pacific