What you need to know about UNESCO’s Recommendation on Education for Peace

(Reposted from: UNESCO. November 24, 2023)

What is the Recommendation about?

The Recommendation on Education for Peace, Human Rights and Sustainable Development is a non-binding guidance document that focuses on how teaching and learning should evolve in the 21st century to bring about lasting peace, reaffirm human rights and promote sustainable development in the face of contemporary threats and challenges. 

It acknowledges that education in all its forms and dimensions, in and out of schools, shapes how we see the world and treat others, and it can, and should, be a pathway to constructing lasting peace. The Recommendation logically links different thematic areas and issues, from digital technologies and climate change to gender issues and fundamental freedoms. It indicates that positive transformations are needed in all these domains because education cuts across all of them, being both impacted by all these factors and influencing them. To realize these ambitions, this text outlines what exactly needs to change in approaches to education and how. 

The newly adopted text updates the “1974” Recommendation that almost 50 years ago united Member States in positioning education as a key driver of peace and international understanding. For the past two years, UNESCO has been revising this visionary tool.

What is unique about the Recommendation?

  • It outlines 14 guiding principles, concrete learning outcomes and priority action areas for holistically reshaping all aspects of education systems, from laws and policies to curricula development, teaching practices, learning environments and assessment. For example, it highlights that beyond critical literacy and numeracy skills, learners should acquire competencies like empathy, critical thinking, intercultural understanding and environmental stewardship.
  • It covers educational activities in all settings and at all levels, and throughout life, connecting the dots between areas that have not been previously considered together. For example, the nexus between learners’ physical and mental health and their ability to access and attain education, the impact of climate change on the education system, as well as knowledge gained outside the classroom. 
  • It applies to all education stakeholders – from policy-makers and teachers to informal educators and tradition-bearers – as a baseline to transform their policies, practices and approaches to build empathetic and inclusive learners. For example, using this document, teachers can see how to adapt their lesson plans to integrate specific topics and activities, or local community leaders can advocate for specific changes in policies and curricula. 

What are the highlights of the Recommendation?

  • New understanding of peace

Peace in the 21st century is not just the absence of violence and conflicts. It is also a positive, participatory, and dynamic process that nurtures our ability to value human dignity and take care of ourselves, each other, and the planet we share. 

  • Education for sustainable development 

Education systems need to effectively improve their resilience to climate-driven crises and deal with their repercussions. Fostering knowledge about the root causes of climate change, its impact, and ways to adapt and mitigate while not causing further damage to the planet is needed for individuals to make informed decisions and work towards creating a more sustainable society.

  • Global citizenship education

The new text states that promoting the philosophy, principles, and components of global citizenship education is essential to preparing learners that value human dignity, cooperation and dialogue. This may encompass teaching and learning about the impact of past and current events and conflicts, exploring economic, social, and political linkages between countries and societies, and nurturing empathy and respect for the diversity of cultures and opinions.

  • Gender equality and education

Women still account for almost two-thirds of all adults unable to read, and girls often cannot fully enjoy their right to participate in, complete, and benefit from education. Promoting gender equality and acknowledging its importance for realizing the right to education for all is one of the Recommendation’s guiding principles, reflecting UNESCO’s global priority.

  • Education in the digital era

In an age where information is abundant, diverse, and easily accessible, media and information literacy, and digital skills are tools educators and learners need to navigate the world. The Recommendation underscores the challenges of misinformation and hate speech, as well as the opportunities of new technologies for teaching and learning. It highlights the importance of critical thinking, empathy, and understanding of key principles of digital security, privacy, and ethical online interactions.

Why is the adoption of the Recommendation so timely?

There are new challenges and threats to human rights and international understanding that require new approaches to education. The legal landscape has transformed, too: over the past 50 years, the international community has developed a robust set of agreements and frameworks to promote peace and prevent violence. New research and data have also enriched the development of effective policies and monitoring of their impact.

The new Recommendation is inspired by the “Futures of Education” report that highlighted the need for a more relevant and forward-looking vision for teaching, learning, and innovating. It brings education with the times, considering how the world has changed and will continue to evolve in the decades to come. 

How will we know the real impact of the Recommendation?

The “1974” Recommendation, predecessor of the current text, has been found to have triggered a wide range of initiatives all over the world. These initiatives include introducing new course content into curricula and teacher training, utilizing new teaching methods such as learner-centered and participatory approaches, creating new institutions, and developing exchange programs.

Member States will submit reports on implementing the new Recommendation to the UNESCO Executive Board – its governing body, every four years. This report will then be analyzed, transmitted to the General Conference, and shared with other specialized agencies. It demonstrates their commitment to international solidarity and helps monitor their progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4, target 4.7.

What is the next step?

Now that Member States have adopted the Recommendation on Education for Peace, Human Rights and Sustainable Development, UNESCO will support countries in translating these ideas into action at the local, national, and international levels. 

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