UNESCO's Mission in the Promotion of International Cooperation

Under its Constitution, the United NationsEducational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) isrequired to "collaborate in the work of advancing the mutualknowledge and understanding of peoples, through all means of masscommunication, and to that end recommend such internationalagreements as may be necessary to promote the free flow of ideas byword and image," to "give fresh impulse to popular education and tothe spread of culture" and to "maintain, increase and diffuseknowledge." With regard to information and communicationtechnologies, the Director-General of UNESCO, Federico Mayor,stresses that the mission today embodies three mainfunctions:

  • Promoting the application of information and communication technologies for the free flow of information, innovation and effective management in education, science, culture and the media;
  • Encouraging international cooperation on legal, ethical and educational issues raised through the social and cultural implications of new technologies; and
  • Assisting Member States, particularly developing countries, in building information and communication capacities, benefiting from new applications of new technologies, and ensuring that those technologies do not lead to exclusion among and within societies.

Cultural Integration

In more pragmatic terms, experience has shown thatefforts should be primarily directed at finding the most appropriateways of interrelating education and information and communicationtechnologies (ICTs). The good results obtained thus far in thisrespect surpass anyone's imagination.

But a paradox lies in that the pace ofassimilating new information technologies into the field of educationcontinues to lag behind the development of informatics itself. On theone hand, in the absence of an integration with education, ICTs willnot be inculcated in culture, will not acquire a truly humandimension. On the other, the degree of freedom people enjoy thanks toICTs calls for a new ethics based on a more profound understanding ofthe notion of responsibility.

Informatization has already offered humankind alot and promises more for the future. But at the same time it bringsin new challenges to the human mind, to finding new solutions toeveryday social, economic and even political problems.

These issues and others linked to the use of ICTsare integrated in the programmes being carried out by UNESCO in closecooperation with other international governmental andnon-governmental organizations such as the European Union, the WorldBank, the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP)and the International Council for Distance Education(ICDE).

Second International Congress

A concrete illustration of this was theorganization by UNESCO, in cooperation with the Government of theRussian Federation, and convening of the Second InternationalCongress on Education and Informatics (EI'96), "EducationalPolicies and New Technologies," which took place in Moscow, from1 to 5 July 1996.

The First UNESCO Congress, entitled "Education andInformatics: Strengthening International Co-operation," held in 1989in Paris, served as a starting point for expansion and reinforcementof cooperation in this field worldwide.

To elaborate on the programme and decisions of theSecond International Congress, distinguished academics and scholarsfrom a wide spectrum of countries made a significant contribution,particularly Sylvia Charp, Editor-in-Chief of T.H.E. Journal(USA); Yury Ershov, Novosibirsk University (Russian Federation);Pierre Mathelot, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers (France);Jef Moonen, University of Twente (The Netherlands); Paul Resta,University of Texas at Austin (USA); Michael Thomas, University ofTexas at Austin (USA); Ubiratan d'Ambrosio, Universidade Estadual deCampinas (Brazil); and John Foster, independent consultant(UK).

Close relations existing between UNESCO and theInternational Conference on Technology and Education (ICTE) made itpossible for the organizers to invite world-known experts as speakersat the Congress. These included Alexei Semenov (Russian Federation),Rockley Miller (USA), Bengt Bengtsson (Sweden), Peter Bollerslev(Denmark), Tom van Weert (The Netherlands) and David Walker(UK).

Prior to the July 96 Congress, UNESCO organizedfour regional expert meetings: Austin (USA), St. Petersburg andVladivostok (Russian Federation), Dakar (Senegal); and sixsub-regional meetings: Yalta, Novosibirsk, Moscow (RussianFederation); Harare (Zimbabwe); Twente (The Netherlands); Sofia(Bulgaria). Their purpose was to identify the priorities and needs ofMember States concerning the introduction and implementation of ICTsinto their educational systems, taking into account the socio-economic realities of the given countries.

The Congress was chaired by Vladimir G. Kinelev,Deputy Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation, whodelivered a welcoming address on behalf of President Boris Yeltsin.Colin Power, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Education,welcomed participants on behalf of the Director-General, FedericoMayor. Welcoming speeches were also delivered by Kurt Bauknecht,President of the International Federation for Information Processing(IFIP), Armando Rocha Trindade, President of the InternationalCouncil for Distance Education (ICDE), and Viktor A. Sadovnichy,Rector of Moscow State University. The opening ceremony was coveredby more than 150 correspondents and journalists representing majorradio and TV broadcasting, as well as leading newspapers andspecialized journals.

Objectives & Concerns

The Second Congress pursued three majorobjectives:

  • To analyse national, regional and international trends and experiences in the introduction and use of ICTs in educational systems;
  • To review the latest developments in ICTs and examine their application in education; and
  • To discuss international, regional and national policies for the use of ICTs in education and make recommendations for international cooperation.

One of the six major themes discussed in plenaryand commission sessions referred to international cooperation andUNESCO's role in this respect. In addition, plenary sessions debate,amounting to some 20 hours, were broadcast worldwide daily via theInternet.

These discussions, as well as documents adopted bythe Congress, emphasized the internationally important positionUNESCO assumes in promoting ICTs in education. It plays thecatalyst's role in fostering cooperation with the producers ofhardware and software, including international firms.

It is important that educators' and trainers'voices are heard by these companies. There needs to be aninternational channel through which these voices can be routed.UNESCO might be considered the right "honest broker" to establishthis dialogue.

One of the major concerns voiced was that unlessminority groups and non-English-speaking countries consciously startproviding information on the Internet, the western world and theEnglish language will continue to dominate the system. The UNESCOCongress made it clear that, while the Internet enables countries ofthe North to share educational materials and research with the ThirdWorld and permits developing countries to make their own materialsavailable online, it also reinforces a likelihood of "culturalimperialism."

Reaching the Unreached

"New information technologies are transforming theperspectives for teaching and learning in all societies," said ColinPower, UNESCO's Assistant Director-General for Education, in hisopening address. "They have the potential to enable us to reach theunreached by eliminating frontiers and barriers to knowledge createdby poverty, distance, family circumstances, physical disability andthe formal education system itself."

The Declaration and Recommendations adopted by theCongress contain specific provisions stressing the commitment ofUNESCO, and other agencies of the United Nations System, to joinefforts and extend their support to the introduction and applicationof ICTs in education, science and culture, notably to the benefit ofdeveloping countries. The other agencies include the United NationsDevelopment Programme, the International Labour Organization and theWorld Bank.

Such recommendations in the field of internationalcooperation refer, for example, to UNESCO's currentactivities:

  • An observatory is being set up by UNESCO to research new information technologies' foreseeable impact not only on education but also on modern societies, a recommendation drawn from the 1996 report, Learning: The Treasure Within.[1]
  • The creation of an international network for teacher tele-training is another effort.
  • Establishment in Moscow of a UNESCO Institute for Educational Policy and New Information Technologies is still another.

In conjunction with the Congress, an internationaltrade fair was organized in which ministries, educationalinstitutions, research centres as well as private firms participated.These included IBM, Silicon Graphics, Apple Computer, CompuLink andINFORMIX.

Questions linked to the impact of ICTs on theteacher's role, on pre- and inservice teacher training, and staffdevelopment issues in general, were discussed at length at the MoscowCongress' follow-up Round Table "The Impact of Information andCommunication Technologies on Teaching and Teachers," organized inthe framework of the 45th session of the International Conference onEducation devoted to "Strengthening the Role of Teachers in aChanging World." Such issues lie at the core of the UNESCOprogramme.

UNESCO was called on once more to increase itsrole in strengthening international cooperation in the pursuit ofpeace and international understanding, in protecting native cultures,and in providing educational opportunity worldwide.

Evgueni A. Khvilon, Senior ProgrammeSpecialist at UNESCO, is responsible for the implementation of theregular programme of the Education Sector in the field of informationand communication technologies. E-mail: [email protected]

Mariana Patru, Consultant in the sameDivision, carries out specific tasks related to the implementation ofthe Moscow Congress' follow-up actions.


  1. International Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century (1996), Learning: The Treasure Within, Paris, France:UNESCO, ISBN 92-3-103274-7 (UNESCO); ISBN 0-11-984387-0 (HMSO).

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.