UNESCO education stories from 2019 at a glance


In 2019, history was made with the adoption by the UNESCO General Conference of the Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education, making it the first legally binding UN treaty on this issue. The year also witnessed the launches of two new major UNESCO initiatives: Her education, our future, a new drive to accelerate action for girls’ and women’s education; and the Futures of Education, a global initiative to reimagine how knowledge and learning can shape the future of humanity and the planet.

Throughout the world, UNESCO is pushing forward the education debate and promoting policies that ensure the right to quality education for girls and boys, women and men everywhere. From Guatemala to Madagascar, Syria to Ethiopia, inspiring stories from around the world show how UNESCO is transforming lives through education.  Here are some of them.   

As a young girl growing up in rural Semien Shewa, Ethiopia, Tigist had to walk for an hour to go to school. When she was in primary school, she would walk to school with her brother every day. They hiked uphill and downhill and crossed a river under the sun’s heat to reach the school. Now aged 20, Tigist is a graduate student in Addis Ababa. As part of her studies, she is currently teaching a third grade class at a primary school.  

In the last two years, UNESCO supported some 120 teacher training institutions and provided teachers, like Tigist, with quality-gender responsive professional development training.

“I have learned how to be sensitive of gender stereotypes and ensure gender equality and equity principles are applied in school,” she said. Read the full story

In the Syrian Arab Republic, UNESCO supported the education system by providing learning opportunities and psychosocial support to children and young people affected by the conflict. “Many of us have economic issues, it is important to have this free support for our children,” said one parent.

To date, more than 113,200 Syrian learners have benefitted from this project that is part UNESCO’s Capacity Development for Education Programme. To complement these interventions, UNESCO also carried out psychosocial support training for counsellors, and produced 40,000 psychosocial support handbooks for distribution to teachers and counsellors. It also fundraised and rehabilitated 12 schools. Read the full story

UNESCO is positioning education as part of the humanitarian response and is working with countries on crisis-sensitive policy and planning, on protecting schools from attack and empowering youth in crises, including through the recognition of qualifications and prior learning. In 2019, it launched the pilot phase of the UNESCO Qualifications Passport for Refugees and Vulnerable Migrants. Together with partners, UNESCO conducted the first session of interviews with Qualifications Passport candidates in Meheba Refugee Settlement in the North-Western Province of Zambia. The Qualifications Passport will contribute to re-starting refugees’ new life in their host countries.

“I no longer depend on my parents, I am financially independent,” said 21-year-old Natacha Obienne, who lives with her husband and child rural Madagascar. During her vocational training provided by UNESCO, she learned to breed fish and to manage their conditions for optimized production. Before the training, Natacha did not know anything about fish farming. She is now planning to construct a second fishpond, and she has been able to buy a house and a cow. “I advise young people like me to pursue training because I learnt everything from a training course,” she said. Read the full story and watch the video

Some 23 countries – including Madagascar - have benefitted from UNESCO’s expertise in revising their Technical and Vocational Education and Training policies to equip youth and adults with the skills required for employment, decent work, entrepreneurship and lifelong learning.

“I grew up in a modest family and married at the age of 15, so I could not finish school. But I was able to continue my studies at the Centre,” said Isabel Aracely Tzoy Tzoc. Like her, most girls and women in Guatemala are unable to access or complete their education. Numerous obstacles such as poverty, the distance to school, early marriage and pregnancy, and traditional gender stereotypes limit their educational opportunities. Isabel managed to escape from the marriage at age 23 and set out to continue her education thanks to a UNESCO-supported learning Centre. Read the full story

UNESCO launched a new initiative this year, Her education, our future, aiming to accelerate action for girls’ and women’s education – like Isabel’s - by leveraging political and financial commitments, as well as leadership. The initiative contributes to UNESCO’s Strategy for Gender Equality in and through Education and its three pillars aiming for better data to inform action; better legal, policy and planning frameworks to advance rights; and better-quality learning opportunities to empower.

As UNESCO turns 75 in 2020, its commitment to ensuring everyone’s right to quality education, especially the most vulnerable ones, is stronger than ever. The second edition of International Day of Education will be celebrated on 24 January, a day to honour education and its key role in empowering people, preserving the planet, building shared prosperity and fostering peace.

Stay tuned for more inspiring UNESCO stories in 2020, and follow our action on social media via @UNESCO