(Adapted from the website of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO – to seek approval from the NZ Natcom for use ) UNESCO was established in November 1945 in the wake of World War II. The newly formed organisation was given the responsibility of building peace through global cooperation and intellectual exchange in education and communications. Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific sub-region were two of the first twenty nations to ratify the UNESCO Constitution in 1946. The Communications programme was added in 1947 and Social Science two years later. Tonga became a member of UNESCO on 29 September, 1980 and since then has been participating in UNESCO’s work, and has served once on the Organisation’s Executive Board.
UNESCO Medium Term Strategy 2008-2013
UNESCO has established a Medium Term Strategy that defines a range of overarching and strategic objectives. “As a specialised agency of the United Nations, UNESCO contributes to the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communications and information. “
The strategy will see changes in the way UNESCO conducts its work, particularly at the country level as the organisation contributes to the United Nations system-wide reform efforts in response to the needs of Member States. In the context of recent reforms, UNESCO will contribute in concrete terms to a United Nations system delivering as one through joint country programme exercises. Tonga takes into consideration UNESCO’s Medium Term Strategy in its national planning process.
UNESCO’s Global Initiatives
UNESCO is vested with responsibilities in pursuit of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, in particular taking the lead role for the goal of Education for All by 2015. UNESCO is the United Nations focal point/key contributor for the following global initiatives: United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014); United Nations International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ (2005-2015); Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (2005-2015); United Nations Decade for Deserts and the Fight against Desertification (2010-2020); United Nations Decade on Biodiversity (2011-2020); International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022)
The General Conference consists of the representatives of UNESCO’s 195 Member States. It meets every two years and is attended by representatives from Member States and Associate Member States as well as observers from non-Member States, intergovernmental organisations and non-governmental organisations. Each Member State has one vote, irrespective of its size or the extent of its contribution to the organisation’s budget. The General Conference determines the organisation’s policies, work programme and budget. It elects members of the Executive Board as well as members of UNESCO’s subsidiary bodies. Every four years the General Conference appoints UNESCO’s Director-General.
The Executive Board’s 58 members are elected by the General Conference. Functions and responsibilities of the Executive Board are derived from the Constitution and rules are set by the General Conference. Every two years the General Conference assigns specific tasks to the Executive Board whose members meet twice a year. Other functions stem from agreements reached between UNESCO and the United Nations specialised agencies and other intergovernmental organisations. Tonga has served on the Executive Board once, from 1994 to 1998.
National Commissions for UNESCO
National Commissions are the face of UNESCO in Member States, unique among the specialised agencies of the United Nations system. Most Member States have established their own National Commissions. The Tonga National Commission for UNESCO, established by Cabinet on 11 September, 1984 with a Terms of Reference, is attached to the Ministry of Education and Training Corporate Services Division, Vuna Road, Nuku’alofa.
Permanent Delegations to UNESCO are responsible for communications between the organisation and respective governments. Tonga does not have a Permanent delegation, and all communication is channeled directly to the National Commission in Nuku’alofa. However, the Australian and New Zealand Permanent Delegations to UNESCO based in Paris often facilitate the flow of information through quarterly and annual reports to Pacific member states.
The international secretariat is charged with carrying out UNESCO’s programmes worldwide, both at its headquarters in Paris and in 54 field offices around the world, including the Cluster Office for Pacific Member States located in Apia, Samoa. The current Director-General of UNESCO is Ms. Irina Bokova. Most offices have an education officer and maintain close relations with governments to whom they are accredited, development partners and civil society. Field offices work to advance UNESCO’s goals, assist in designing and implementing programmes and activities and in raising extra-budgetary funds.
UNESCO Asia and Pacific Region
Stretching from the snow-capped Himalayas to the atolls of Polynesia, UNESCO’s Asia and Pacific region is vast and varied. The Regional Bureau for Education is based at UNESCO’s Bangkok office, along with the Regional Advisor for Communications and Information, Culture and the Social and Human Sciences. The UNESCO Office in Jakarta has responsibility for the Regional Science programme.
UNESCO Pacific Sub Region
Improving access to education and information is vital to the development and sustainability of the Pacific. Today 16 independent Pacific states – Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are UNESCO members. Tokelau is an Associate Member. The UNESCO Office for the Pacific is located in Apia, Samoa. It’s head, Tongan educationalist, Dr Visesio Pongi, retired in 2012 and the post is now being advertised for recruitment. The Office is staffed by a team of international professional staff and local support staff. The UNESCO Office for the Pacific coordinates activities in the Pacific in consultation with Member States. The Tonga National Commission for UNESCO promotes the interests and priorities of Tonga and Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) in the Pacific to the international community. It also encourages cooperation amongst governments and civil society in Asia and the Pacific Sub-Region. This includes supporting the work of the UNESCO Office for the Pacific and seeking the allocation of an equitable share of UNESCO resources towards the development needs of the Pacific from UNESCO’s international programme.