Teaching Two Lessons about UNESCO

The US Secretary of State recently announced that the US would withdraw from UNESCO at the end of 2018. It is important that ordinary citizens understand the implications of this decision. To do this, they need to know what UNESCO is, and to understand the mission the organization advances.

A group of graduate students, former students, colleagues and I developed these two lessons to assist high school teachers and college faculty in leading their students in a series of conversations which will help them gain introductory knowledge about UNESCO and think about how this organization contributes to Human Rights. The lessons could be used in a variety of ways. They can be inserted into an existing high school or college course, drawing appropriate connections with the discipline or focus of the course. They can be taught as an extra activity, outside the context of a course. They can also be facilitated by students, organized in the context of student organizations or self-organized specifically for the purpose of gaining knowledge about a current event.

I invite your feedback and suggestions at the end of this document. These lessons have been published, along with various essays on Human Rights and the need to teach Human Rights in the recent book Teaching Two Lessons About UNESCO and other writings on Human Rights.

A community of teachers who are teaching these lessons can communicate here fb.me/teachingUNESCO 

Two Lessons About UNESCO

By Fernando M. Reimers, Mitalene Fletcher, Gaby Anzo, Lior Avrahami, Katy Bullard, Idia Irele, Ameya Kamath, Shuwen Liu, Farah Mallah, and Tatiana Shevchenko

(with appreciation to Sabine Detzel, Soo-Hyang Choi, Cynthia Guttman, Alexander Leicht and Jordan Naidoo from UNESCO for the bibliographic references they provided as background to these lessons)

Summary and Rationale: These lessons are designed to help high school and college students understand the mission of UNESCO, the reason the organization was created, the work it does, how it is structured and funded, and how its work relates to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Grade: The lessons can be taught at the High School or College level. They can be taught in a variety of courses including social studies, history, humanities, and can be integrated in courses in other disciplines.

Time Frame: These lessons could take a minimum of one hour of instructional time each, plus an additional three hours of independent work from students. The proposed discussions could be extended over a longer period than the suggested minimum of one hour. The lessons could be taught over a period of several classes, or in a single intensive two hour period.

Two Lessons About UNESCO. Lesson 1.

Instructional Goal: In this lesson students will learn which are the Universal Human Rights and their history, and examine how these rights are relevant to their lives.


 Why are Human Rights important?

 How does the United Nations relate to the advancement of Human Rights?

What are some big ideas or enduring understandings from this lesson?

· Throughout history great violence and harm has resulted from denying equal dignity to all and recognizing the shared humanity that unites us across differences in identity. The Genocide against the Jewish people and other crimes perpetrated by the Nazis is an example of the consequences of such violence.

· Human Rights were invented to help create conditions that ensured equal dignity for all persons.

· The United Nations play an important role in the development and enactment of Human Rights.

Essential questions:

· What are Human Rights?

· In the wake of World War II what where the hopes that drove the crafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Creation of the United Nations and of UNESCO?

· What role does the United Nations play in the advancement of Human Rights?

Student Learning Objectives: At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

· Identify the rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

· Explain how the creation of the Universal Declaration relates to World War II.

· Define the concept of upstanders and bystanders, and relate those concepts to the Genocide during World War II.

· Explain how their lives are influence by the existence of Human Rights and hypothesize the implications of the suppression of some of those rights for their lives.

· Identify groups of people who are denied some Human Rights in their communities or in the globe, describe the rationale for this denial, and argue whether those rights should be restored.


Teachers will observe whether students have achieved the intended learning objectives from their participation in class discussion and from their written answers to the two questions which students must prepare prior to class. T Students will write a short reflective essay on key takeaways learned during the class and use this to assess whether the learning objectives were met.

Sequence of Activities:

Before class 1.

In preparation for this lesson students will think about the following questions, and write down their answers which they will bring to the class:

Question 1. Read the universal declaration of human rights, identify five rights and reflect on the role they play in your daily life. Now imagine your life without five of those rights. What would change?


Question 2. Read the article ‘Anne Frank’s Final entry’, Which Human Rights did Anne enjoy living in the Annex?


In class.

Teacher explains the goal of the class, reminds students of the questions that they prepared. Asks them to take ten minutes to share with the person next to them what issues these questions made them curious about. (10 minutes)

After the initial ten minute discussion teacher calls on a few students to hear the themes they are curious about, or to raise questions they would like to understand. (5 minutes)

Discussion of answers to the five questions students prepared and to some of the questions raised by students (20 minutes)

Teacher then presents the following statement:

“During World War II, 3% of the world population was murdered. Who was responsible? What responsibility did the rest of humanity have for this genocide? Why did more people not stand up to stop this violence? The United Nations was created to create conditions that would prevent such violence from happening again and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted to provide a foundation for the work of the organization”

Teacher shows the students the following video (6m:10s):


Teacher asks the following questions to the students (10 mins):

1. What is the significance of the declaration of Human Rights to you today?

2. What is the significance of a common Human Rights declaration that individuals share across the globe?

a. How would it have made a difference to Ana Frank?

3. What is the importance of an organization like the UN in light of these rights?

Teacher engages the students with the following questions: (10 mins)

1. Can you think of people in your community who are denied these rights?

2. Can you think of people across the globe who are denied these rights?

3. How can you protect these rights today?

Ideas for involvement: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/youth-forum-2013/participate/youth-led-projects/15-youth-led-action-projects/

To conclude the class the teacher ask a few students to identify key takeaways from the discussion.

Two Lessons About UNESCO. Lesson 2.

Instructional Goal: In this lesson students will learn about UNESCO, how the work it does relates to the Universal Human Rights and to the United Nations. They will also analyze the US decision to leave UNESCO and decide for themselves if the decision holds any significance.


 UNESCO works across the globe in areas of education, peace building, poverty eradication, science, culture and intercultural dialogue.

 Understanding the US choice to leave UNESCO and better be able to evaluate it.

Essential questions:

What does UNESCO do and why is that work important?

What are the implications of the US decision to leave UNESCO?

Student Learning Objectives:

At the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

· Explain how the creation of UNESCO relates to the inclusion of education as a Universal Human Right.

· Articulate how the achievement of universal education is important to the achievement of other Human Rights.

· Evaluate the implications of the US leaving UNESCO.

Assessment: Teachers will be able to check whether students achieved the learning objectives from their answers to the three questions they must prepare before class and from their participation in class discussion. Also, students will write a reflective essay at the end of class discussing their answers to the five questions that will guide the whole class discussion.

· How does the work of UNESCO relate to human rights?

· Why is this work important?

· What would it take to make UNESCO more effective?

· What are the challenges facing UNESCO?

· What are the likely consequences of the US withdrawal from UNESCO?

Sequence of Activities:

Before class 2.

Write your answers to the following three questions.

1. What is UNESCO?

Resources to guide your answer:




2. How does the creation of UNESCO relate to education and human rights?

3. What are the possible consequences of the US leaving UNESCO?

Resources to guide your answer:




In-Class Activity — Discovering UNESCO — 30 Minutes

In small groups students investigate and discuss some of the work of UNESCO. [If feasible, based on the course you’re teaching, guide students to search for work done by UNESCO in this field. Try to connect to the particular class in which this is discussed]

As students investigate the work of UNESCO, they can reflect on the following questions: (Questions for discussion)

· How does the work UNESCO does relate to human rights?

· Why is this work important?

· What would it take to make UNESCO more effective?

· What are the challenges facing UNESCO?

What are the likely consequences of the US withdrawal from UNESCO?

The teacher concludes the class by encouraging the students to explore the UNESCO themes, and pick one they are interested in and ask themselves: how can I get involved?

The themes can be accessed here: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/themes/

Whole class discussion 30 minutes.

Teacher asks teams to summarize the results of their individual work investigating some of the work of UNESCO and their answers to the five questions for discussion and leads a short discussion on the question of what are the implications of the US leaving UNESCO.

Additional Resources







“Qu’est-ce que l’UNESCO?”


Three teacher guides on UNESCO’s priorities in Global Citizenship Education, Education for Sustainable Development and Climate Change, developed for the UNESCO Associated Schools Network (ASPnet).


The ASPnet Best Practices contain many ideas and concrete examples of what schools, teachers and students can do to promote UNESCO’s ideals and values.


Global Citizenship Education

Webpage: http://en.unesco.org/gced


Infographic 1: http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/ED/pdf/GCED4-infographic.pdf

Infographic 2: http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/ED/pdf/GCEinfographics_full.pdf

Infographic 2 (Mother Language): http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/ED/ED/pdf/imld2017-infographics-en.pdf


Global Citizenship Education: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPdtGrnj7sU&feature=youtu.be

Learning to live together in peace through Global Citizenship Education: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuKzq9EDt-0

Preventing violence through education: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79MTkVumCcQ

International Mother Language Day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMDxUFbkE_M

UNESCO Works to build peace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASJ0CYP8oNY


ABC of Global Citizenship: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002482/248232E.pdf

Teacher’s Guide on the prevention of violent extremism: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002446/244676e.pdf

Making textbook content inclusive: a focus on religion, gender and culture: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002473/247337e.pdf

Education about the holocaust:

Webpage: http://en.unesco.org/themes/holocaust-genocide-education

Memory of the World:



Education about the Holocaust and preventing genocide — a policy guide: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002480/248071E.pdf

Why Teach about the Holocaust? http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002186/218631E.pdf

Education for Sustainable Development

Webpage: http://en.unesco.org/themes/education-sustainable-development


Learning about Biodiversity http://www.unesco.org/archives/multimedia/?s=films_details&id_page=33&id=2666

Education for Sustainable Development: Children speak up! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-Wl3crN8eU

Education for disaster preparedness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USLHmwvpjX8

Learning to address climate change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJbRnv7rMkk


Education for sustainable development goals: Learning Objectives http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002474/247444e.pdf

Getting climate ready: A guide for schools on climate action http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002467/246740e.pdf

Towards a Learning Culture of Safety and Resilience. Technical Guidance for Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction in the School Curriculum


Disaster Risk Reduction in School Curricula: Case Studies from Thirty Countries


Stay Safe and Be Prepared

Student’s guide: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002287/228798e.pdf

Teacher’s guide: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002287/228798e.pdf

Parent’s guide: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002289/228964e.pdf

Not just hot air: Putting Climate Change Education Into Practice


Climate Change in the classroom: UNESCO course for secondary teachers on climate change education for sustainable development


Climate Change Starter’s Guidebook: An issues guide for Education Planners and Practitioners


YouthXchange Climate Change and Lifestyles Guidebook