This past week was an exceptional 'traveling' course. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the class was invited to UNESCO and OECD headquarters in Paris, France. Tuesday was at UNESCO. What is UNESCO and what does it do, besides all those World Heritage sights it recognizes?
UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (l'Organisation des Nations unies pour l'education, la science et la culture). It's a subsection of the UN, and has 196 member states (most recently, Palestine). It has as its purpose the promotion of peace through international work in education, science, culture, human rights, and justice. In other words, it promotes collaboration to achieve particular goals. Our talks were focused on such areas as Education for All (EFA) as part of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), education in conflict and post-confict areas, training and vocational education (TVET), and education and gender. It was a particularly interesting day as we could directly ask our questions to the very people involved in areas we've been studying all year. Their expertise and eloquence were notable.
Wednesday was the OECD and IEPP. (So many acronyms, I know!) OECD stands for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (Organisation de cooperation et de developpement economiques). Formed in 1961 to promote trade and progress, it now has 34 member countries and has long been called a 'rich boys' club'. The main reason for our visit to the OECD was for its PISA global exams. PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) is a global standardized exam for 15-year-olds where they are asked to apply learned information. It's done every 3 years and focuses on reading, math, and science.
While our visit here was completely different from that of UNESCO's, we were also able to ask some questions (though they never all do get answered) about question development, translation, analysis, and distribution. What remains still fuzzy is the extent to how governments uses these scores, how the OECD advises governments based on these results, and what are some of the factors that bring about high scores (case in point: Finland). Since the exam began in 1997, it's still too early to make PISA predictions but it's clear PISA's power in the education and policy bubbles is undeniable.
Finally, it was off to the IIEP (International Institute for Educational Planning) which also works in collaboration with UNESCO and the UN. This institute works to support nations as they go about planning reforms and developments in their education system, whether it be in developing economies or in post-conflict states.
On a sidenote, this is one of many reasons why markets are still in the dumps. Not so much for the lack of financial stimulation but more so because of the pervasive, higher-than-thou attitude.