THE UNESCO INSTITUTE FOR EDUCATION TURNS 50Paris - The UNESCO Institute for Education (UIE) today celebrates its 50th anniversary on June 14th: a half a century of working for those that the world's formal education systems have left by the wayside.
Based in Hamburg (Germany), the Institute is an international research, training, information, documentation and publishing centre, focused on adult and continuing education, adult literacy and non-formal basic education. It was created in 1951 to help respond to the critical educational problems of post Second World War Europe, and to help Germany rebuild its bridges with other countries.
The project drew such visionaries as Jean Piaget - the Swiss child psychology pioneer - and Maria Montessori, theauthor of an enlightened pedagogical method that carries her name and is practiced in schools all over the world today.
Since those early days, the Institute's mission has greatly evolved, broadening to include the countries of Eastern Europe during the Cold War and the developing countries of the South from the 1960s. But its underlying goal of finding ways to educate those with no access to schools, or for whom education has been cut short, remains. Its quest has kept the IUE at the forefront of education research.
The Institute, for example, was the first to focus on post-literacy work. The mass literacy campaigns launched in many developing countries, were a step in the right direction, but not sufficient on their own. Follow-up work was needed, students - young or old - needed reading materials to keep up their skills: a culture of reading and writing had to be developed, and learning had to become part of people's daily lives.
In the 80s, the Institute warned the rich world that illiteracywas a serious problem there too. This was backed up by an OECD-wide survey in 1995, which took into account the different skills and levels of knowledge required for today's societies, and revealed that nearly 25 percent of adults are functionally illiterate in some of the world's richest nations. This problem, said the Institute, was likely to be further aggravated by the rapid development of new communications and information technologies, increasing migration and under-resourced formal education systems unless a real effort was made to solve it. Learning did not finish at school, said the UIE, it was an ongoing process.
"Today, all international institutions - the OCED, the World Bank, the European Union and such like - agree that lifelong education is the motor of development, and that it is as important to reach the adults as their children," says Adama Ouane, the director of the UIE.
The Institute's research on adult education has helped decision-makers and education authorities better understand the scope and complexity of illiteracy, which still affects more than 880 million adults and 130 million children worldwide. But it's work goes beyond the provision of data to the development of programmes and projects tailor-made to deal with the myriad cultural and social situations and needs of adult learners. Today it offers some 8,000 different types of pedagogical materials which are being used for adult literacy programmes in 120 countries and in 160 languages.
The Institute works with experts, non governmental and governmental organizations as well as governments. It functions as a sort of "network of networks", in order to make its research findings accessible to as wide an audience as possible - and especially to political decision makers and those responsible for formulating education policies. "We put people in touch with each other, so that they can learn from each other's experiences," says researcher Madhu Singh.
One of the key networks created by the UIE is ALADIN (the Adult Learning, Documentation and Information Network - http://www.unesco.org/education/aladin) which connects some 100 specialized documentation centres around the world to exchange information and experiences. Another known by the acronym of GINIE, was established by the Institute and the University of Pittsburgh and focuses on young people in post-conflict situations. GINIE develops programmes which not only allow these people to resume their education, but which also help to heal the psychological wounds and traumas that war leaves them with.
"Education can become the means for a child or an adult to free themselves, through physical, written or artistic expression," explains Gonzalo Retamal, a researcher and specialist in post-conflict education at the UIE. Programmes designed by the Institute and its various partners have thus trained professionals and helped people in Somalia, Liberia, Rwanda, Kosovo and Sierra Leone. Such programmes are built around the daily realities of the learners, and include survival skills like mine awareness or AIDS prevention, nutrition and hygiene, but also issues such as women's rights and democracy.
"The underlying message permeating all of the Institute's work," says Adama Ouane, "is that education is a lifelong adventure; that people constantly need to update their knowledge and the skills they need to function in modern society, and that education systems - formal and non-formal - must be able to adapt to satisfy people's needs. The message is being heard and demand for such continuing education is taking on a new urgency. If the UNESCO Institute for Education didn't exist already, we would have to invent it."
Despite its vital work, a shadow hangs over the future of the Institute, which has been funded mainly by Germany over the past half century. However, the German government has announced that it can no longer continue the arrangement and its financial support will cease altogether at the end of 2006. Between now and then, the Institute must find new financial partners.
Contacts: Sue Williams,
Bureau of Public Information, Editorial Section,
Tel: (+33) (0)1 45 68 17 06,
or Maren Elfert,
UNESCO Institute for Education,
Tel: (+49) (40) 44 80 41 44,