From the very beginning, UNESCO has had as one of its most important goals that all people should learn to read and have access to education. The UN has stated that literacy is a human right and an important basis for democracy, peace and development. The proportion of children attending school has also increased steadily since the organization was founded, but it was not until the UN General Assembly announced the International Year of Literacy in 1990 that the fight against illiteracy really took off.
At the World Conference on Education for All, organized by UNESCO in the same year with other UN agencies, two goals were set: to guarantee schooling for children of primary school age and to halve illiteracy among adults. “Education for All” (EFA) was then formulated as an overarching priority for UNESCO which stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization according to Abbreviationfinder.
In 2000 there was a follow-up conference, the World Education Forum (World Education Forum). It was then stated, among other things, that knowledge about the importance of education has increased in several countries and that many countries have identified which areas need further reforms. But at the same time, it became clear that the ability and commitment to raise the level of education is unevenly distributed in the world. At the turn of the millennium, there were 113 million children who were not allowed to go to school and every fifth adult (over 15 years) was still illiterate.
According to the new goals that were formulated, all children must have the opportunity to go to school by 2015 and literacy among adults must be improved by 50 percent. Special emphasis should be placed on giving girls and adult women the opportunity for education.
The UN General Assembly appointed UNESCO as coordinator for the Decade of Literacy, which began on 1 January 2003.
UNESCO also works to increase the quality of higher education and to make it accessible to all.
In emergency situations, UNESCO has the task of providing technical assistance and training. This means partly providing education to refugees, and partly helping to rebuild national education systems after disasters.
Children and young people around the world are involved in UNESCO’s work through the Associated Schools Project, which aims to promote international understanding and cooperation. Nearly 8,000 schools work together with UNESCO on issues such as human rights, the environment and the UN’s role in the world. In Sweden, the project is coordinated by the Swedish UNESCO Council.
UNESCO’s cultural program is primarily focused on protecting and strengthening cultural diversity. This is done by the organization developing common rules and working to strengthen the role of cultural policy and facilitate artists’ work and artistic exchange.
UNESCO seeks to strengthen the protection of the world’s cultural and natural heritage by emphasizing the link between culture and peaceful development. In 2005, a special convention for the protection of cultural diversity was adopted.
Through the World Heritage Convention , UNESCO has worked actively since the 1970’s to preserve specific sites and buildings. States that sign the Convention undertake to protect cultural monuments and natural objects within their borders “which are of such great value that their protection is a matter for all of humanity”.
At the beginning of 2007, the so-called World Heritage List contained a total of 830 objects in 138 countries, of which 644 were cultural monuments. The list includes the concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland, the former prison island Robben Island in South Africa, the Taj Mahal mausoleum in India, the Great Barrier Reef outside Australia, the Statue of Liberty in the USA and the Inca city of Machu Picchu in Peru. There were 15 Swedish objects, including Drottningholm Castle, the rock carvings in Tanum, the Hanseatic city of Visby and the High Coast.
A number of natural and cultural monuments on the World Heritage List are also on a separate list of objects threatened by natural disasters or human destruction. At the beginning of 2007, that list included 31 objects in various parts of the world, including the Old City of Jerusalem, medieval monuments in Kosovo, the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan, where the Taliban blew up Buddha statues in 2001, and five national parks in Congo-Kinshasa.
In order to provide increased protection also for, for example, rites, dances, music and oral traditions, a convention was adopted in 2003 to protect the intangible cultural heritage.
There is already a program called the World Heritage Program, which collects world-unique material in the form of writings, film, photography, audio recordings and data material.
A list of languages that are at risk of disappearing – about half of the world’s 6,000 languages - has previously been published in writing and has also been available on the internet since 2005.
Cultural work also focuses on the protection of copyright, support for book production and reading, as well as efforts to strengthen the position of artists in the world.