Chairman Zhang and Director-General Matsuura outline challenges for UNESCO at 175th session of the Organization’s Executive BoardThe plenary sessions of UNESCO’s Executive Board opened today with key addresses by the Board’s Chairman, Zhang Xinsheng (Vice-Minister of Education, China), and the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, in which both spoke of the important challenges facing UNESCO as it prepares its Medium Term Strategy for 2008-2013 in the context of reform of the United Nations system.
“Ignorance of the other remains a source for hatred and violence and hence must be a concern for UNESCO which is called to promote knowledge about others, notably through intercultural and inter-religious dialogue,” argued Mr Zhang who recalled that “our overarching commitment must be to build and strengthen international peace and security.”
The Chairman went on to refer to the Organization’s Constitution which states that UNESCO’s principle mission is “to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science and culture.”
Noting the growing speed of human contact in the age of globalization, and the increased generation of wealth, Mr Zhang pointed out that “these advances bring with them an increasingly prevalent sense of competition. Competition spawns new ideas, and new ideas beget further competition.” He went on to argue that competition is a driving force behind change and said: “I posit, therefore, that UNESCO must embrace this context and stand up to this increasing competition confidently and firmly in order to effect change in what this Organization does and how it does it.”
Mr Zhang further spoke of reforms, of both the UN and UNESCO, recalling that UNESCO started its reform process seven years ago and that “the principal driving force of reform is a quest for improved efficiency and to better meet the expectations of Member States and the peoples of the world in delivering expected results.”
Looking at the agenda of the current session, which ends on 12 October, Mr Zhang emphasized the need to examine in detail the current reform of the education sector in the context of UNESCO’s role as the lead agency for Education for All. Likewise, Mr Zhang pointed to the need to examine UNESCO’s performance and future demands in sciences and technology, as well as the implementation of some of the standard setting instruments in the field of culture, notably the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
“He who cannot look far enough ahead will suffer from the worries of the moment,” cautioned Mr Zhang with this quote from Confucius, to emphasize the need for the Executive Board to think in depth about the future role of the UNESCO.
Later in the day, the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, outlined his vision of the Organization’s priorities in the context of the world situation and of the reform of the United Nations system.
He urged the need to reinforce UNESCO’s dialogue activities including dialogue between civilizations, cultures, religions and peoples, saying that “recent events have once again highlighted, in some cases tragically, the crucial importance of this issue.”
Dialogue, argued the Director-General, must underpin UNESCO’s Medium Term Strategy in “education which must reinforce tolerance, mutual understanding, respect for human rights and democracy, an education that contradicts all manner of stereotype, that speaks to the poorest through appropriate education materiel in local languages while favouring the teaching of widely used languages so as to offer all the possibility of participating in today’s global society.”
“Enhancing the value of all types of cultural heritage, whether passed or contemporary,” said Mr Matsuura, “through improved understanding of the values, history, religions of the Other, is, without doubt, a strong axis for our contribution.”
To achieve these aims, the Director-General evoked the importance of partnerships which must include all the driving forces of society, including not only States and the public sector but also civil society and the private sector.
Speaking about the reform of the UN, the Director-General affirmed UNESCO’s key role in the system and said that the Organization “must reform so that we can fulfill our vital mandate of promoting peace and security.”
“While UN reform constitutes a challenge for UNESCO, it is also an opportunity,” he said. “Today’s world increasingly values knowledge as the key to achieving peace and sustainable development. UNESCO is a specialized agency that has knowledge at the centre of its mission. I am convinced that the nature of UNESCO’s mandate, and the concentration of competencies we possess, in education, the sciences, culture and communication, makes UNESCO more relevant than ever before.”