Exchange through Education: How Germany’s UNESCO Associated Schools Think Globally Through Acting Locally

Lara Bautista is a second year student from San Francisco, California, currently studying French at the University of St Andrews (UK). 

U.S. | June 27, 2020 | Student Essay

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) was created with the goal of fostering international peace, respect and understanding through the promotion of intercultural exchange and transnational collaboration. Accordingly, UNESCO established its Associated Schools Program network (UNESCO ASPnet) as a means of bridging the gap between state-mandated cultural policy and civil society, establishing distinct hubs within which pluralistic coexistence and cultural diversity may be promoted and celebrated. Germany’s participation within the UNESCO ASPnet allows for the direct implementation of UNESCO’s central values and principles within the German educational system, acting as an unprecedented means of seamlessly integrating, encouraging and facilitating critical discussions surrounding UNESCO’s core initiatives. Ultimately, Germany’s UNESCO-Associated Schools are not only pillars of diversity and inclusivity within the nation’s educational system, but furthermore, are active drivers of UNESCO’s long-term strive towards the standardization of true interculturalism within learning and teaching practices.

         “Education for Sustainable Development”– that is, the inclusion of sustainable development issues (such as climate change and biodiversity) within teaching and the promotion of individual awareness and responsibility – has emerged as one of UNESCO’s central initiatives within its education sector, and accordingly, is particularly promoted within UNESCO ASPnet, as demonstrated by the ecocentric projects and partnerships developed by German UNESCO Associated Schools in support of the movement. For instance, the Marie-Curie-Gymnasium in Dresden conducts an annual “Rainforest Run”– a fundraiser seeking to raise money in support of rainforest protection against rampant deforestation. In conjunction with smaller donation efforts, by its 10th year, the Rainforest Run had already raised over 100,000 euros in support of their cause. Thus, while the projects undertaken by UNESCO Associated Schools are frequently community-based, conducted on a smaller, more localized scale, their intentions and resulting impacts resound globally, lending credence to the phrase ‘Think globally, act locally.’

However, given the distinctly international nature of UNESCO’s ASPnet, global interactions are often the cornerstone of the program’s larger projects. Notably, one of UNESCO ASPnet’s flagship projects is the Baltic Sea Project: launched in 1989, the project sought to promote environmental education in the greater Baltic sea region through the partnership of approximately 200 schools in nine Baltic coastal states; schools in Schleswig-Holstein (Germany’s northernmost state) have taken part since the project’s establishment. Participation within the Baltic Sea Project is a clear indication of Germany’s long-term commitment to Education for Sustainable Development. Moreover, in demonstrating their openness towards transnational collaboration in pursuit of a collective goal (in this case, sustainability on the Baltic coast), it exemplifies German schools’ utmost devotion to upholding diversity within learning practices through providing a means for exchange of different cultures and perspectives in seeking to further a shared movement.

Another example of such cultural exchanges are the literal “exchange” programs widespread within the Associated Schools Project network– with exchange opportunities abounding in over 11,500 other UNESCO associated schools in more than 180 countries, transnational learning is not only promoted with German ASPnet schools, but are downright embedded in the intercultural environment fostered by these institutions.

While Germany’s contributions to UNESCO as a whole are extensive, its participation within the Associated Schools Program marks an unprecedented effort to truly make governmental efforts and initiatives resound within the day-to-day lives of German citizens. In imbuing the German youth with UNESCO’S values of diversity, inclusion, responsibility and respect as well as equipping them with a fully-developed awareness of the social, economic, cultural and ecological issues of contemporary society, Germany’s cultivation of a pluralistic education ensures German citizens a greater educated, cultured, and open-minded future.

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3 thoughts on “Exchange through Education: How Germany’s UNESCO Associated Schools Think Globally Through Acting Locally

  1. P. Bustos says:

    More countries would do well to follow suit. Future generations would be better served than they currently are – this gives hope and promise for a better future.


  2. Ron says:

    Great read! I wish the United States would once again become a member of UNESCO and support programs similar to that of ASPnet — but only a change in American leadership would make that possible. I can’t wait to vote in November and change the political tone in Washinton in support of programs beneficial to environmental awareness and responsibility.


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