Brief history of UNESCO

UNESCO was formed right after the end of the Second World War, during a declaration to the press in March 1944, by the then US Secretary of State Cordell Hull. He explained the rationale for US participation in emergency educational and cultural reconstruction of war-torn countries. Teachers, students and scientists had been singled out for special persecution, during the war. Many had been imprisoned, deported or killed particularly those refusing to collaborate with the enemy.

The United Nations Conference for the Establishment of an Educational and Cultural Organization was held in London from 1st to 16th November 1945. Ellen Wilkinson, British Minister of Education and President of the Conference announced in a plenary session that, although ‘Science’ was not part of the original title of the organization, the British would put forward a proposal for it to be included.

On 5th November 1945, the conference divided itself into commissions. The first commission was charged with crafting of the title, preamble, aims and functions of the new organization. It was the American delegate who proposed that it should be called the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (UNESCO)

The purpose of the organization, right from the start was mandated to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture.

It was vital for scientists be in touch with those who saw the world in human terms. On the 16th November 1945, the Heads of thirty seven delegations signed the UNESCO’s Constitution. Its first stanza is very compelling and binding, especially with respect to peace and sustainable development.

“that since wars begin in minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defenses of peace must be constructed”

The attainment of independence by India in 1947 and subsequent rapid decolonization process in the early 1950 and, 1960s increased UNESCO membership list. Uganda joined the organization on 9th October 1962.


  1. Laboratory of ideas: UNESCO is an intellectual intergovernmental organization that plays a key role in anticipating and defining, in the light of ethical principles that champions the most important emerging problems in its spheres of competence and identifying appropriate strategies and policies to deal with them.
  2. A Standard-setter: UNESCO serves as a central forum for articulating the ethical, normative and intellectual issues of our time, fostering multidisciplinary exchange and mutual understanding, working where possible and desirable, towards universal agreements of these issues, benchmarking targets and mobilizing international opinion.
  3. A Clearing house: UNESCO has a role in gathering, transferring, disseminating and sharing available information, identifying innovative solutions and testing them through pilot projects;
  4. Capacity builder in Member States: UNESCO organizes international cooperation for servicing its stakeholders, especially in building human and institutional capacities in all its fields of competence.
  5. A Catalyst for international cooperation: UNESCO as a technical multidisciplinary agency always assumes a catalytic role for development cooperation in its fields of competence. It therefore ensures that the objectives, principles and priorities it promotes are followed suit by other multi and bilateral programmes and that projects are implemented, especially at regional and national levels through innovation, effective intervention and wise practices.
  6. A Conscious of the nations: Within the UN system, UNESCO occupies a unique position as the conscious of the nations.
  7. A reliable repository: it remains the guardian and repository of the moral standards and principles of world governance; helping to maintain peace and to promote the moral and intellectual solidarity of humanity.

These include a General Conference and Executive Board and a Secretariat. The General Conference determines policies and the main work of the organization. The Executive Board examines the programmes of work for the organization and the corresponding budget estimates submitted to it by the Director General. The Secretariat is headed by the Director General who supervises staff at international platform.

Programme areas:

Major programme I:               Education

Major programme II:             Natural Sciences

Major programme III:             Social and Human Sciences

Major programme IV:            Culture

Major programme V:             Communication and Information

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