ANNEX II. Opening address by H.E. Mr Arjun Singh, Minister of Human Resources Development, and Head of the Delegation of India
Mr Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCO,
I am privileged to chair this inaugural meeting of the 43rd session of the International Conference on Education. I welcome the eminent persons and intellectuals from the world of education and culture who have gathered here today. This session of ICE offers an opportunity to focus on the essential role of education and cultural development in this period of momentous change.
Since this Conference met two years ago, the post-World War political landscape has irreversibly changed. There has been a positive movement towards peace, a deceleration in the arms race and avoidance of a nuclear catastrophe. We need to interpret these developments not merely within the narrow confines of an exclusions political or intellectual framework; they are to be perceived as part of the historical progress of human civilisation towards a more just, equitable, humane and rational order.
Our assembly here in Geneva is a testimony to the fact that multilateralism forms the basis of the emerging international order. The International Bureau of Education, with its historical legacy going back to the League of Nations, is a manifestation of this continuing effort towards multilateralism. Given its past achievements, the IBE is in a unique position to contribute to the global intellectual and cultural evolution.
It is a tragedy of our time that the process of democratisation has also released forces of violence, ethnic strife and cultural and religious intolerance. b this situation there has emerged a greater need for us to use education and culture as media to purvey the message of multi-cultural coexistence and the underlying socio-religious unity of mankind. Respect for pluralism must be our abiding commitment. Coming as I do from the land of Gautama Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, I finely believe that the respect for pluralism comes from tolerance for the other point of view and a regard for the sanctity of the ideals and beliefs of each individual and group. If divisive forces gain ascendancy over cohesive forces we would bequeath to the future generations only a world ridden with strife. We should not let this happen. We should disprove the prophets of doom who predict that movements of rage, ethnic conflict and the politics of religious fundamentalism seem likely to dominate the near future.
Education can implant the seeds of tolerance and understanding of different cultures in young minds during their formative years. And such lessons well taught and well imbibed at a young age can last long and can work as an antidote to the vitriol of obscurantism and socio-cultural schism. Also, the introduction of specialised courses on peace and development, world cultural histories, and human rights and development, among others, can go a long way in disseminating heightened awareness of one unifying culture, amidst the prevailing diversity and differences. In public as well as private conduct we need to uphold Voltaire's declaration I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it'.
Education must contribute to the quality of cultural development of society. Since culture encompasses, inter alia, the internal creativity of human beings, education with a cultural dimension can open up a wide horizon, and by introducing a wealth of fresh ideas can make the future members of the emerging global society more productive and versatile. Literature, music, visual arts, sculpture and theatre etc., would flourish more when backed with learning and education.
The theme of this 43rd session -the contribution of education to cultural development is therefore significant and timely. Our Conference takes place at a time when we are in the process of undertaking a mid-term review of the proclamation by the United Nations General Assembly of the period 1988-1997 as the World Decade for Cultural Development. The inextricable linkage between education and cultural development and their concomitant relationship have to be fully analysed and comprehended to render education more relevant and acceptable as a viable tool to preserve the cultural ethos, foster cultural development and promote global cultural understanding.
Deliberate and systematic effort needs to be made to integrate the cultural component into education, so that we can inculcate an urge for creativity and a sense of aesthetics in youth. This could make a major contribution to improving the quality of life of our people. The human being is both the driving force as well as the beneficiary of the process of development. Hence, the cultural requirements of society should also be met through developmental policy. I may add that understanding and appreciation of one's own culture is a prerequisite for an ability to understand the multifarious manifestations of She cultural expression in our world through word, image or action.
Ladies and gentlemen, She task of bringing millions of illiterates within She ambit of She educational system is still a daunting challenge before us. The last two decades have witnessed a significant expansion of formal education throughout the world. Gross and net enrolments have increased, particularly in the developing countries. The latter part of this century has witnessed a vast movement towards She democratisation of educational opportunity at She global level. The absolute number of illiterates has gone down. However, There are still millions of young people between She ages of six and eleven -a majority of them girls -who remain without schooling. Our unfinished task, however, can be made easier if the education curriculum relates directly to She cultural milieu of its recipients and is not seen as something alien and irrelevant. The ultimate objective of education is to facilitate the all round development of a human being and since human beings are essentially cultural beings and a product of their socio-cultural surroundings, She nature of educational training has to be in consonance with their cultural background. Traditional art forms like folk Theatre and music have already been successfully harnessed for creating a demand for literacy, particularly adult literacy. It would be necessary to further integrate art and culture into various components of the educational process.
Recommendation No. 77 adopted at the 42nd session of the ICE in 1990 has focused on the theme of the struggle against illiteracy and providing educational for all. These recommendations were adopted following the convening of the historic Jomfen Conference on Education for All and proclamation of the year 1990 as International Literacy Year. The recommendations remain equally valid today. Our efforts at this 43rd session should be to take stock of the situation and ensure that UNESCO continues to play a lead role in this regard.
Distinguished delegates, standing on the threshold of the twenty-first century, let us as educationists and policy-makers resolve to create a world where there is greater harmony and where all individuals have the opportunity to fulfil their creative potential and can contribute to the educational, cultural as well as economic development of their environment. I hope that the next few days of deliberations will lead to action-oriented recommendations which will guide the decision-makers and Member States in integrating the crucial aspect of cultural development in the content and process of education. I am confident that the 43rd session of ICE will make a valuable contribution to achieve the desired goals. I offer you my best wishes for success in your work.
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