United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), specialized agency of the United Nations, with headquarters in Paris. Its counterpart in the League of Nations was the International Committee for Intellectual Cooperation. UNESCO was founded in 1945 and became an agency of the United Nations in 1946. It has 195 members and 8 associate members. The organization's policies are decided by the general conference, which meets every two years; it consists of one representative for each member. The executive board, with 58 members elected for four-year terms, and a secretariat, headed by a director-general, carry out the program. National commissions or cooperating bodies of member states act as liaisons between UNESCO and national educational, scientific, and cultural organizations. UNESCO seeks to further world peace by encouraging free interchange of ideas and of cultural and scientific achievements and by improving education.
After World War II, UNESCO worked for the physical reconstruction of the educational facilities of war-devastated countries by building up library and museum collections. Since 1950 it has organized projects for primary education in Latin America, Asia, and Africa; it has also encouraged cultural exchanges between East and West, undertaking translations of important writings and organizing personal exchanges. A most important long-range UNESCO program concerns the problem of "fundamental education"—teaching people to read and write and to meet the problems of their environment. Centers to train educators have been established in Cambodia, India, South Korea, Liberia, Thailand, and Turkey, and fundamental-education centers have been set up in Latin America and in the Middle East.
In 1959, UNESCO set up an international committee to preserve and restore cultural property, which played a leading role in preserving Egyptian monuments threatened by the construction of the Aswan High Dam (see under Aswan). Funds were collected and experts assembled from all over the world in a successful effort to save the monuments, including the famous Abu-Simbel temples of Ramses II. In the 1970s and 80s, UNESCO was mired in controversy over the insistence of the developing nations, supported by the Soviet bloc, that it establish a "New World Information Order." At issue was a move to establish an international press code and licensing system for journalists, facilitating press controls by governments. The United States withdrew its membership (1984), followed by Great Britain and Singapore, charging UNESCO with budgetary extravagance and hostility to free press and free markets. By the mid-1990s, however, UNESCO was helping E European journalists adjust to a free press. Great Britain rejoined in 1997, the United States in 2003, and Singapore in 2007. In 2011, UNESCO's admission of the Palestinian Authority (as Palestine) as a full member sparked a new controversy, and led to U.S. funding cuts.
See W. H. C. Laves and C. A. Thomas, UNESCO (1957, repr. 1968); G. H. Evans, The United States and UNESCO (1971); P. Lengyel, International Social Science: The UNESCO Experience (1986); R. A. Coate, Unilateralism, Ideology, and U.S. Foreign Policy (1988); W. Preston, Jr., et al., Hope and Folly: The United States and UNESCO, 1945–1985 (1989).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.