• UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It is a part of the United Nations. Created in 1946, UNESCO originally rebuilt schools, libraries, and museums destroyed in Europe during World War II. Today, it sponsors international programs, conferences, and publications. The agency recognizes and awards global leaders in the fields of education and science. UNESCO also works to improve the educational, cultural, and economic development of the most impoverished regions of the world.

    UNESCO organizes its 193 member countries into five regional groups: Africa; Arab states; Asia and the Pacific; Europe and North America; and Latin America. In each of these regions, the agency establishes programs and activities that are specific to the needs of their location.

    UNESCO’s programs are divided into five major sectors: Education; Natural Sciences; Social and Human Sciences; Culture; and Communications and Information.


    UNESCO’s Education Sector promotes education as a way of encouraging economic and social development around the world. The “Education for All” program is its largest program. It aims to expand early childhood care and education, provide free education for all children, increase adult literacy, and set global learning standards in reading and math.

    The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) aims to ensure that girls and boys have an equal opportunity to succeed in school. In many parts of the world, girls are discouraged from completing their education. Economic development can be slow in these regions, because half of the population (women) is unable to reach its potential. Making sure girls receive a fair education enriches not just girls, but the entire community.

    UNGEI focuses on the educational obstacles and opportunities that girls face at home and in their communities. In Chad, for example, the initiative gears literacy programs toward out-of-school girls and adult women. In the most undeveloped parts of this African country, teaching girls and women to read is more important than focusing on girls who are already enrolled in school. Additionally, the initiative promotes girls’ education through radio, audio-visual, and theatrical programs written in French, Arabic, and other local languages.

    EDUCAIDS, UNESCO’s HIV and AIDS education program, is another important component of the Education Sector. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). AIDS is a leading cause of death in the developing world. EDUCAIDS helps communities educate people about the causes of HIV and the dangers of AIDS. For instance, HIV can be transferred from a mother to her unborn child. However, pregnant women can take steps to reduce the infection rate from 25 percent to one percent. EDUCAIDS helps provide communities the ability to take these steps.

    In Cambodia, EDUCAIDS has worked with the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to implement Community Learning Centers that focus on HIV/AIDS education. They have developed and produced materials—such as teachers’ manuals, textbooks, and charts—in Cambodia’s official language, Khmer.

    Natural Sciences

    UNESCO’s Natural Sciences Sector organizes international programs and research in science, engineering, and renewable energy. Its programs are designed to respond to the scientific aspects of international issues, such as climate change and poverty. The sector focuses on underdeveloped countries, especially those on the African continent, and on natural disasters.

    One of the sector’s main initiatives is the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (ICO). The ICO helps scientists from all over the world understand and manage ocean resources. Early in 2010, it held a series of workshops in the Republic of Benin on managing the impact of human activities and natural hazards on the coastal zones of Africa. These workshops focused on strengthening observation systems. Observation systems can measure human impact on coastal areas, including pollution and oil drilling. Observation systems can also document the impacts of climate change on Africa’s water resources, through tracking currents and weather patterns.

    The Natural Sciences Sector also has a program that focuses on small island countries that are in the process of economic development. These countries are known as Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and include such nations as Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, and Grenada. The sector aims to strengthen each island’s unique economy, society, and culture while also unifying them into a collective identity. One program, Youth Visioning for Island Living, trains young people in skills that emphasize local and sustainable development. Topics have ranged from environmental planning in small villages of Madagascar to sustainable fish farming in Papua New Guinea.

    Social and Human Sciences

    The mission of UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Sector is to improve the social conditions of member countries. The sector does this by encouraging intellectual cooperation on the values of justice and freedom.

    Through this sector, UNESCO supports human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The sector leads the fight against all forms of discrimination to guarantee human rights all over the world.

    The European Coalition of Cities against Racism is one part of the sector. In 2009, representatives from more than 50 European cities met with human rights organizations to discuss how to better address racism and discrimination. Their discussions focused on improving employment and housing opportunities for discriminated groups, such as North African and Arab immigrants. It also encouraged these groups to increase their participation in the social and political life of their city.

    UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Sector is also committed to eradicating, or ending, poverty. One of its current projects supports ecotourism in mountain areas in Central and South Asia. This region includes parts of India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Nepal, and Pakistan. The program trains local people in mountain guiding, hotel or restaurant management, and the production of high-quality craft items, such as rugs. The program encourages tourists to visit the area and invest in the local economy by taking tours, staying in local hotels, and buying local arts and crafts. Increased tourism could reduce poverty in the region.


    UNESCO’s Culture Sector protects and manages world heritage in all its forms. UNESCO defines heritage in six categories: cultural and natural; tangible and intangible; and movable and immovable. Most heritage items fall into more than one category.

    Cultural heritage is usually made up of pieces of art, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of the “Mona Lisa,” which is displayed at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Natural heritage is usually defined as a unique ecosystem, such as a coral reef. A piece of tangible heritage is something you can see and touch, such as ancient Egyptian manuscripts written on papyrus. Intangible heritage is something you can’t see or touch, such as language or regional music. Movable heritage includes artwork in museums that can travel. Immovable heritage includes entire buildings or geographic sites, such as Ayers Rock in Australia.

    The Culture Sector’s most important program is the World Heritage Site list. Created in 1972, the World Heritage list establishes places that would benefit from UN and government protection. The Galapagos Islands were one of the first World Heritage sites. Mount Wutai, a sacred Buddhist mountain in northern China, was recently added to the list.

    In addition to physical places, the list includes cultural expressions, traditions, and languages—intangible heritage. The tango, a type of dance that originated in Uruguay and Argentina, was recently included in the Intangible Cultural Heritage List, for example.

    Finally, the Culture Sector provides emergency assistance to damaged or threatened World Heritage sites. In 2010, for instance, UNESCO provided support to help restore a minaret—a tall tower from which Muslim prayers are called—that collapsed in the World Heritage city of Meknes, Morocco.

    Some World Heritage sites have been damaged by human activity. Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is the oldest national park in Africa. For years, the plants and animals of Virunga, including mountain gorillas, were threatened by the civil war taking place in the country. The conflict ended in 2007, and Congolese communities are working with UNESCO’s culture sector to help restore the mountain forest ecosystem of Virunga National Park.

    Communication and Information

    UNESCO’s Communication and Information Sector has two main objectives: promoting universal access to information and encouraging diverse expressions in the media.

    The sector’s Initiative B@bel supports a number of projects aimed at increasing multilingual content on the Internet. One of the initiative’s projects is a multilingual web browser. This web browser was originally designed to create and view web pages in the Burmese language, but is now available to software developers so they may write the program in their own language.

    The Communication and Information Sector also helps improve the training of media professionals. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, for instance, UNESCO allowed journalists to work from UNESCO offices. The journalists’ own offices had been destroyed by the quake. People could stay informed about the recovery effort in Haiti through newspapers, radio, and the Internet. UNESCO now hopes to develop a more diverse media sector in Haiti, including community radio stations, multimedia centers, and a public broadcaster that can reach the whole country.

    Special Themes

    UNESCO supports a number of initiatives, known as special themes, which often combine the work of the five main sectors. Some of these themes are global climate change, gender equality, and post-conflict and post-disaster responses.

    Post-conflict and post-disaster responses, for example, supports the reconstruction of areas damaged by conflict and natural disasters. This special theme may help rebuild schools and museums in Haiti after the earthquake, for example, combining the work of the Education and Culture sectors. The Natural Science Sector may contribute to this special theme by developing technology to help predict future earthquakes. The Social and Human Science Sector may remind relief agencies of the needs of the disabled. Information about survivors of the earthquake could be broadcast with the help of the Communications and Information Sector.

    UNESCO is a huge organization. It commits itself to improving the lives of millions of people through the development of knowledge, the creation of local-global partnerships, and direct-action programs.

    UNESCO increases awareness of the diverse economies, sciences, and cultures of the world.

    Celebrating Biodiversity
    UNESCO declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity. It is sponsoring a number of events around the world to celebrate the variety of life on Earth. One can go to a "Biodiversity Fair" in Washington, D.C., attend an environmental film festival in Costa Rica, and participate in the International Youth Conference on Biodiversity in Aichi, Japan. These events and many more hope to inspire people to take care of the variety of life around them.

    If UNESCO believes the government is not working to maintain a World Heritage Site, it can remove the site from the list. In 2007, for instance, oil was discovered beneath the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman. (An oryx is a type of antelope.) The Omani government reduced the area of the sanctuary by 90 percent in order to pursue oil drilling. The Arabian Oryx Sanctuary is no longer a World Heritage Site.

    Many celebrities support the work of UNESCO and bring attention to its programs through Goodwill Ambassador, Honorary Ambassador, and Ambassador for Sport programs. Celebrity ambassadors may travel to regions in support of a UNESCO program focusing on education, gender equality, or human rights.

    Some famous UNESCO ambassadors include:

    • Miguel Bose (Panamanian musician)
    • Laura Bush (former American first lady and literacy advocate)
    • Pierre Cardin (French fashion designer)
    • Celine Dion (Canadian singer)
    • Roger Federer (Swiss tennis player)
    • Angelina Jolie (American actress)
    • Nelson Mandela (former South African president and human rights activist)
    • Pele (Brazilian soccer player)
    • Michael Schumacher (German racing driver)

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    access Noun

    ability to use.

    additionally Adverb


    AIDS Noun

    (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) disease that debilitates the immune system, making the victim vulnerable to infections.

    ambassador Noun

    person who represents a place, organization, or idea.

    ancient Adjective

    very old.

    antelope Noun

    grazing mammal.

    Arabic Noun

    language that is most common in north Africa and the Middle East.

    assistance Noun

    help or aid.

    audio-visual Adjective

    having to do with sound (audio) and sight (visual).

    Ayers Rock Noun

    (143 feet/348 meters) large red rock formation in central Australia.

    benefit Verb

    to be helpful or useful.

    biodiversity Noun

    all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: biodiversity
    broadcast Verb

    to transmit signals, especially for radio or television media.

    broadcaster Noun

    person or organization who participates in television or radio communication.

    Buddhist Noun

    person who follows the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha).

    city Noun

    large settlement with a high population density.

    civil war Noun

    conflict between groups in the same country or nation.

    climate change Noun

    gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate change
    collective Adjective

    combined or unified.

    conflict Noun

    a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

    continent Noun

    one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: continent
    cooperation Noun

    the act of working together.

    coral reef Noun

    rocky ocean features made up of millions of coral skeletons.

    craft Noun

    artwork usually made by a person not formally trained as an artist.

    culture Noun

    learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.

    current Noun

    steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.

    Encyclopedic Entry: current
    damage Noun

    harm that reduces usefulness or value.

    development Noun

    growth, or changing from one condition to another.

    Encyclopedic Entry: development
    dignity Noun

    self-respect or self-esteem.

    direct-action program Noun

    project that takes action for a specific purpose.

    disabled Adjective

    person who has a physical condition that limits one or more major life activities.

    discourage Verb

    to disapprove or encourage someone not to do something.

    discrimination Noun

    treatment based on a group to which a person belongs, not the person himself.

    diverse Adjective

    varied or having many different types.

    document Verb

    to keep track of.

    economic Adjective

    having to do with money.

    economy Noun

    system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

    ecosystem Noun

    community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ecosystem
    ecotourism Noun

    act and industry of traveling for pleasure with concern for minimal environmental impact.

    emergency Noun

    sudden, unplanned event that requires immediate action.

    emphasize Verb

    to stress or place importance on.

    employment Noun

    job or work.

    encourage Verb

    to inspire or support a person or idea.

    engineering Noun

    the art and science of building, maintaining, moving, and demolishing structures.

    enroll Verb

    to enter or participate.

    ensure Verb

    to guarantee.

    eradicate Verb

    to destroy or remove.

    establish Verb

    to form or officially organize.

    expand Verb

    to grow or get larger.

    fish farming Noun

    art and science of raising and harvesting fish and other seafood, such as shrimp or crabs.

    gender Noun

    physical, cultural, and social aspects of sexual identity.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    guarantee Verb

    to promise or confirm.

    heritage Noun

    cultural or family background.

    HIV Noun

    (human immunodeficiency virus) virus that is a cause of AIDS (anti-immune deficiency syndrome).

    human rights Noun

    basic freedoms belonging to every individual, including the rights to social and political expression, spirituality, and opportunity.

    identity Noun

    how a person defines themselves, or how others define them.

    immigrant Noun

    person who moves to a new country or region.

    impact Noun

    meaning or effect.

    impoverished Adjective

    very poor.

    include Verb

    to contain.

    increase Verb

    to add or become larger.

    infection Noun

    contamination or invasion by harmful organisms, such as a virus.

    initiative Noun

    first step or move in a plan.

    Initiative B@bel Noun

    United Nations organization that supports linguistic and cultural diversity on the Internet.

    intangible Adjective

    unable to be touched or easily described.

    intellectual Adjective

    having to do with knowledge, or a knowledgeable person.

    Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (ICO) Noun

    United Nations organization that helps scientists understand and manage ocean resources.

    international Adjective

    having to do with more than one country.

    Internet Noun

    vast, worldwide system of linked computers and computer networks.

    invest Verb

    to contribute time or money.

    island Noun

    body of land surrounded by water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: island
    journalist Noun

    person who reports and distributes news.

    Latin America Noun

    South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico.

    Leonardo da Vinci Noun

    (1452-1519) Italian artist, engineer, and scientist.

    literacy Noun

    ability to read and write.

    local-global partnership Noun

    agreement or cooperation between a local group and an international organization.

    Louvre Museum Noun

    large art museum in Paris, France.

    manage Verb

    to control or organize a situation or activity.

    manuscript Noun

    written material.

    media Noun

    means of mass communication, such as television or the Internet. Singular: medium.

    minaret Noun

    tower used to call Muslim worshippers to prayer.

    Mona Lisa Noun

    (1503) oil painting by Leonardo da Vinci.

    mountain Noun

    landmass that forms as tectonic plates interact with each other.

    mountain gorilla Noun

    mammal (primate) native to Africa.

    multilingual Adjective

    involving more than one language.

    multimedia Adjective

    involving more than one method of communication, such as sound and images.

    Muslim Adjective

    having to do with Islam, the religion based on the words and philosophy of the prophet Mohammed.

    national park Noun

    geographic area protected by the national government of a country.

    natural disaster Noun

    an event occurring naturally that has large-scale effects on the environment and people, such as a volcano, earthquake, or hurricane.

    natural hazard Noun

    event in the physical environment that is destructive to human activity.

    observation system Noun

    method of tracking or monitoring specific activities in a region.

    obstacle Noun

    something that slows or stops progress.

    oil Noun

    fossil fuel formed from the remains of marine plants and animals. Also known as petroleum or crude oil.

    oil drilling Noun

    process of digging below the surface of the Earth for oil.

    originate Verb

    to begin or start.

    oryx Noun

    antelope native to Africa.

    papyrus Noun

    aquatic plant native to the Mediterranean Sea.

    participation Noun

    taking part in an activity.

    pollution Noun

    introduction of harmful materials into the environment.

    Encyclopedic Entry: pollution
    poverty Noun

    status of having very little money or material goods.

    prayer Noun

    communication with a spiritual deity.

    predict Verb

    to know the outcome of a situation in advance.

    promote Verb

    to encourage or help.

    protect Verb

    to take action to prevent injury or attack.

    public Adjective

    available to an entire community, not limited to paying members.

    publication Noun

    communication that is shared with the public, usually in print or electronic format.

    racism Noun

    governmental or social systems based on the belief that one race or ethnic group is superior to others.

    recent Adjective

    new or happening lately.

    reconstruct Verb

    to build again or re-create from an original plan.

    recovery Noun

    restoration or return to a defined state of being.

    reduce Verb

    to lower or lessen.

    renewable energy Noun

    energy obtained from sources that are virtually inexhaustible and replenish naturally over small time scales relative to the human life span.

    resource Noun

    available supply of materials, goods, or services. Resources can be natural or human.

    science Noun

    knowledge focused on facts based on observation, identification, description, investigation, and explanation.

    social Adjective

    having to do with a community or other group of organized people.

    society Noun

    large community, linked through similarities or relationships.

    software Noun

    electronic programs of code that tell computers what to do.

    sponsor Verb

    to support and finance.

    sustainable development Noun

    human construction, growth, and consumption that can be maintained with minimal damage to the natural environment.

    tango Noun

    style of dance that originated in Latin America.

    target Noun

    person or object accused of something.

    technology Noun

    the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

    threaten Verb

    to scare or be a source of danger.

    tourist Noun

    person who travels for pleasure.

    tradition Noun

    beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.

    transfer Verb

    to pass or switch from one to another.

    underdeveloped country Noun

    country that has fallen behind on goals of industrialization, infrastructure, and income.

    UNESCO Noun

    the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

    Encyclopedic Entry: UNESCO
    unify Verb

    to become a single unit.

    unique Adjective

    one of a kind.

    United Nations Noun

    international organization that works for peace, security and cooperation.

    universal Adjective

    used or understood everywhere.

    weather pattern Noun

    repeating or predictable changes in the Earth's atmosphere, such as winds, precipitation, and temperatures.

    web browser Noun

    software tool for finding information on the Internet.

    World Heritage Site Noun

    location recognized by the United Nations as important to the cultural or natural heritage of humanity.

    World War II Noun

    (1939-1945) armed conflict between the Allies (represented by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union) and the Axis (represented by Germany, Italy, and Japan.)