United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Director-General addresses ministerial round table on the future of education

On Friday 9 October 2009, the Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, opened at UNESCO Headquarters a ministerial round table on the theme, “What Education for the Future? Lessons from the major international education conferences”.

The meeting was held during the first week of the 35th session of UNESCO’s General Conference and brought together over 70 Ministers of Education and eminent representatives from multilateral organizations. Also addressing the opening ceremony were the President of the General Conference Education Commission, Mr Duncan Hindle, and two representatives of the UNESCO Youth Forum, who presented a series of recommendations on how to make education systems better geared to meeting the needs and expectations of young people today.

In his address, Mr Matsuura noted that the holding of an education round table had become an established feature of UNESCO’s General Conference, providing an interactive forum for ministers to discuss key education policy issues. “These opportunities for dialogue should be understood as an effort by UNESCO to better understand the needs and priorities of Member States so that we are in a better position to respond”, he stated.

By way of an introduction to the round table debate, the Director-General highlighted three key messages which had emerged from the cycle of conferences organized by UNESCO during the 2008-2009 biennium.*

“The first is the absolute necessity for education policies to promote inclusion and combat marginalization […]. Reaching the excluded must be a top priority for every education system”, Mr Matsuura said. He argued that the economic crisis had brought renewed attention to the intolerable nature of inequalities and the urgent need to better protect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Second, the Director-General underscored the need to ensure successful learning conditions and outcomes – that is: to improve quality. Mr Matsuura placed special emphasis on global teacher shortages, warning that “there are simply not enough teachers just to achieve universal primary education by 2015”. He also urged the need to give far more importance in training and practice to how students learn.

Third, the Director-General highlighted education’s ethical role. “From an early age, education has a role in transmitting values. Respect for oneself and the other, and for social and cultural diversity is more essential than ever in our interdependent world. Learning environments should be places where human rights and democracy are put into living practice and experienced each day”, Mr Matsuura stated. The Director-General also drew attention to education’s role in improving the condition – the underlying ambition of the Millennium Development Goals. “Basic education is key for meeting all these goals, while higher education must be in a position to anticipate needs and generate the intellectual capacity to respond to the world’s most urgent challenges: HIV and AIDS, hunger, poor sanitation, poverty, child and infant mortality, and unsustainable environmental practices”, he said.

“The international community has a determining role to play in supporting countries that are making tremendous efforts to expand education. UNESCO will continue to vigorously advocate for increased investment in education. With the whole UN system, we will continue to monitor the impact of the crisis. In terms of setting priorities, our programme work for the next biennium will place special emphasis on literacy, teachers and skills development, supported by reinforced policy and planning advice”, the Director-General affirmed in conclusion. He expressed the hope that Ministers would leave the round table “enriched by a wide range of perspectives enabling education to be synonymous with learning opportunities for all and a more just and peaceful globalization”.

The roundtable was structured around three sessions, with keynote speakers setting the ground for discussions on the themes of: “Knowledge, values, competencies and skills for today’s and tomorrow’s societies”; “Building education systems that are inclusive, equitable, of high quality and supportive of sustainable development; “Promoting changes in policies and practices: the way forward”. The debates were rich and wide-ranging. Ministers shared information on recent policies, providing a frank assessment of the difficulties they are facing and also engaging in forward-looking reflections on how to promote change and adapt education systems to the demands of globalization.

In his remarks at the closing of the round table, the Director-General said that these exchanges would be extremely useful for UNESCO in preparing its education activities for the next biennium. Mr Matsuura stated that the 8.8 per cent nominal increase – or 4 per cent real growth – that he was proposing for the Education Sector’s budget for 2010-2011 was a sign of UNESCO commitment to help Member States address the challenges going forward.


* The 48th International Conference on Education: “Inclusive Education: the Way of the Future” (25-28 November, 2008, Geneva, Switzerland); the World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development: “Moving into the Second Half of the United Nations Decade” (31 March-2 April 2009, Bonn, Germany); the 2009 World Conference on Higher Education: “The New Dynamics of Higher Education and Research for Societal Change and Development” (5-8 July 2009, Paris, France); the preparatory regional conferences for the 6th International Conference on Adult Education [CONFINTEA VI]: “Learning and Living for a Viable Future: the Power of Adult Learning”, which has been postponed from May to 1-4 December, 2009 (Belém, Brazil); as well as the 8th Meeting of the High-Level Group on EFA: “Acting together”, (16-18 December 2008, Oslo, Norway).

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Author(s): Office of the Spokesperson - Source: Flash Info N° 194-2009 -  Publication Date: 13-10-2009

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