Photo: Maja Zalaznik (formerly Makovec Brenčič), economist and former Slovenian Minister for Education, Science and Sport.
“Access to knowledge through education and science allows us to develop and share our values, for the development of humanity. It allows individuals to improve their quality of life. This quality of life is the basis for individual peace, and individual peace is the basis for collective peace,” says Maja Zalaznik (formerly Makovec Brenčič), economist and former Slovenian Minister for Education, Science and Sport. “I think UNESCO has an important role in facilitating accessible, inclusive education and open science. This is truly where peace starts.”
Accessible, inclusive education and open science tools to combat inequality
The recent ‘World in 2030’ survey conducted by UNESCO highlighted education as a key solution to the world’s challenges. According to Maja Zalaznik, the pursuit of peace – as enshrined by UNESCO’s mandate – is founded on the inclusivity and accessibility of education. Education, she says, is the glue of UNESCO’s activities, and one if its great strengths.
“From primary through secondary to higher education, UNESCO has done a great job in dealing with inequalities. The COVID situation has exposed a lot of these – in gender, digital learning, and between countries. UNESCO’s role is to close the gaps,” Maja Zalaznik explains.
These inequalities, says Maja Zalaznik, did not emerge because of the crisis – they already existed and have simply been made more apparent. In the same way, she says, many educational tools and methods that already existed have been forced to the forefront of education delivery – just not for everyone. As such, distance learning is one area requiring significant attention. According to Maja Zalaznik, addressing these issues requires an interdisciplinary understanding of the interaction between inequalities, education and open science.
Education and open science form a triangle with equality. These variables don’t just interconnect, they work together. Access to knowledge and the capacity to educate oneself gives people the possibility to grow. And not everyone can tap into that. This is where open science and inclusive and accessible education can be used to close gaps. It’s all about equality in the end.
Emphasis on sustainable education systems and youth engagement is crucial
Here also is the important role of higher education. Higher education, open science and research work hand-in-hand to help society develop. If our ultimate goals are health, peace and human wellbeing, says Maja Zalaznik, only by learning to create synergies between these together can we be successful. In the era of COVID-19, this is more relevant than ever.
Because of COVID, we find ourselves in a moment of truth for everyone. We have been forced to recognise that health is a collective issue, something that we must work on and invest in together to preserve. Here we have also realised the crucial importance of open science. And, of course, we cannot speak about open science without also speaking about open education
By advocating for and facilitating accessible, inclusive education and open science, explains Maja Zalaznik, UNESCO can achieve a number of ends for its Member States populations. In the context of COVID-19, it can act in its capacity as a multilateral institution to facilitate the production and sharing of scientific knowledge. Further, it can pursue its role as a standard setter in education, while also facilitating education system development and helping to make education systems sustainable. The sustainability of education systems is very important because it lets us enshrine inclusivity and accessibility within them. By strengthening systems in this way, says Maja Zalaznik, we can help to impart important values for building peaceful societies. For her, UNESCO’s action in this capacity goes jointly with its engagement with youth. Sharing values and communicating with young people can be complicated, she says, but it is incredibly worthwhile work.
Let’s be open to dialogue with young people
“The young generation looks up to role models, and I think that UNESCO is a role model in many, many areas. By showing our good work, we can really inspire the young generation, and show them that they truly have their own way of growing and living; and, of course, creating and co-creating the world. I think we can learn from them, as we suppose they learn from us. And this dialogue is something that we need to be more open to; youth may speak in a different way, but that does not mean that they are not proactively contributing to the development of the world.”
Engaging with youth is also important for building UNESCO’s influence in the future. Making UNESCO interesting for young people, Maja Zalaznik points out, will help it to pursue its work across all generations. This means strengthening communication, and ultimately UNESCO’s brand – which is strong, she says, but could be stronger.
“Positioning its identity is where the brand starts. And UNESCO already has such a wonderful soul. It’s just about strengthening the visibility for its identity, in the areas where it is strongest; so definitely education, science and pursuing peace. And it’s actually in such times of crisis [as the COVID-19 pandemic] that I think we see how organisations like UNESCO are crucial, and very important in bringing the world together.”
Maja Zalaznik is a member of the Director General’s High Level Reflection Group, an initiative of UNESCO’s Strategic Transformation designed to anticipate and analyse global developments and contribute to the enrichment of UNESCO’s next Medium-Term Strategy.
*The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or official position of UNESCO.