Skip links

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations established on Nov. 16, 1945, by 37 countries. As defined by its constitution, the purpose of UNESCO is “to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion, by the Charter of the United Nations.”According to the Preamble of the UNESCO Constitution “That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defense of peace must be constructed . . the wide diffusion of culture, and the education of humanity for justice and liberty and peace are indispensable to the dignity of man and constitute a sacred duty which all the nations must fulfill in a spirit of mutual assistance and concern.”

UNESCO aims to accomplish its’ mission through a range of activities. The names of UNESCO Institutes and Centers reflects the purposes of this organization. UNESCO has founded, and/or funded, numerous projects and programs which further the purposes of the organization. UNESCO makes statements on these topics and gives prizes, makes awards, and confers medals in education, science, and culture. To these topics peace has been added as an additional category for prizes, awards, and medals.

Who Belongs to UNESCO?

UNESCO membership includes 193 member states and seven associate states. It is headquartered in Paris and has 50 field offices worldwide. The organization is comprised of three principle bodies: the general conference, the executive board and the secretariat. There are 322 international NGOs (non-government organizations) which must be widely representative and expert in their field of activity to have official relations with UNESCO. These NGOs are in the fields of education, science and culture and specialize in such sub-categories as journalism, libraries, engineering, sports science, physical education, archives, monuments and sites, museums, music, and theatre.

The Three Bodies That Make up UNESCO

The General Conference

The general conference, held once every two years, consists of the member states and is attended by delegates of all member states and associate member states, together with observers for non-member states, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations. The general conference is the primary decision-making body of UNESCO, responsible for approving UNESCO’s program and budget, electing members of the executive board and, every four years, appointing the director-general based on recommendations of the executive board. The working languages of the general conference are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

The Executive Board

The executive board consists of 58 member states elected by the general conference, each with a four-year term. This body is responsible for handling the overall management of UNESCO and assuring that the decisions of the general conference are properly implemented. In particular, its duties include: preparing the agenda for the general conference; making recommendations regarding programs, budgetary matters, acceptance of new member states and appointment of the director-general; execution of programs; calling extraordinary session of the general conference if and when necessary; and organizing international and non-governmental conferences. The executive board generally meets two times per year, except during the general conference year, when it meets additionally after the general conference concludes.

The Secretariat

The secretariat is UNESCO’s administrative branch, under which programs adopted by the general conference are implemented. It consists of the director-general, who serves as the executive head of UNESCO, and a staff appointed by him or her. As of mid-2009, the secretariat employed approximately 2,000 civil servants from 170 countries, with more than 700 staff members working in UNESCO’s field offices around the world. The staff is divided into professional and general service categories.

In achieving its’ goals UNESCO has identified several priorities. These are Africa, gender equality, education for all, sustainable development, ethics, cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue, and knowledge societies.

UNESCO’s Role in the Field of Education

In the field of Education, UNESCO provides leadership by supporting research in Comparative Education, it provides expertise and fosters partnerships to strength national educational leadership and the capacity of countries to offer quality education for everyone. In the Education sector the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning which focuses on training and research to strength the capacity of countries to plan and manage their education systems. The UNESCO International Bureau of Education specializes in the contents, methods and structure of education, and shares expertise on curriculum development. The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning focuses on literacy, non-formal education, adult, and lifelong learning. Other UNESCO centers focus on higher education, capacity building in Africa, and technical and vocational education and training.

UNESCO’s Role in the Field of Science

In the scientific field UNESCO covers both Natural Sciences, and Social & Human Sciences. The UNESCO Institute for Water Education offers education and training, and has a research program, serves as a policy forum for UNESCO member states, provides professional expertise and advice on water education, and plays a leadership role in setting standards for postgraduate water education. Also in the scientific field the International Centre for Theoretical Physics fosters the growth of advanced studies and research in physical and mathematical sciences, conducts research, and works closely with then Theoretical Physics department at the University of Trieste (Italy), the International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA), and other scientific institutions.

UNESCO’s Role in the Field of Culture

To advance UNESCO’s mission in the field of culture it has founded, funded, or otherwise been involved with projects such as the Migration Museums Initiative, OANA, an endangered language program, The UNESCO Memory of the World Program, and the UNESCO World Heritage sites program. UNESCO cultural heritage programs address issues of the threats, protection, archaeology, museums, and tourism.

The UNESCO Bureau of Strategic Planning

For purposes of fulfilling its mission, in the year 2000, UNESCO created the Bureau of Strategic Planning, a department which reports to the director-general and serves as a focal point linking programmatic planning and budgetary issues. This department is charged with preparing a medium-term strategy every six years and a biennial program and budget document every two years. Such documents are presented for adoption by the general conference.