'Transformative power' of culture and education explained as Unesco convenes in Abu Dhabi

Assistant director-general for education outlines need for agreed framework that consolidates arts, culture and education

Stefania Giannini says technological advancements, climate change and geopolitical tensions have made it essential to agree a global framework for education that incorporates culture and diversity. Leslie Pableo for The National
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The world has changed dramatically since the last global gathering to discuss culture and arts education was held in Seoul 14 years ago.

As policymakers, ministers and international delegates convene this week in Abu Dhabi for the third Unesco World Conference on Culture and Arts Education, there are a number of new variables to contend with and a more ambitious goal.

“It is the first time that ministers of education and culture have come together to join forces and endorse a vision, a framework,” explains Stefania Giannini, Unesco's assistant director-general for education. The goal is to bring the pillars of education and culture together “in policies which can shape the future”.

The inaugural conference was held in Lisbon in 2006. The second, in Seoul four years later, resulted in international goals being agreed. This time, at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, the aim of a conference which brings together 190 ministers of education and culture is to agree a framework that can be put into action. Giannini believes it is important.

“Culture is, by definition, what and how we are, where we come from and where we are going to,” she tells The National. “It's about the shaping our identity. It’s about the sense of belonging.

“Education is a cultural process. It is transmission of knowledge, bringing awareness, whatever the topic. They really naturally go together. Both have a real transformative power, very much more than we think.”

The former Italian education minister notes that, although the two sectors have similarities, they are often viewed as separate and aloof entities. The conference in Abu Dhabi aims to bridge that divide.

“Having Unesco, which is a global platform, gather all these ministers together gives me hope,” she says. “We are not starting from scratch. We are building on robust ideas and visions: the idea that creative industries and the creative economy, broadly speaking, should benefit more from educational processes. They should include new pedagogies in their systems. They should be open to the educational systems from early childhood to university and beyond.”

The notion of consolidating arts and culture within school curriculums has been discussed in recent years. But the conference in Abu Dhabi this week seeks agreement from member states on the action that should be taken, while taking the new geopolitical landscape into account.

Giannini says climate change has emerged from the conference as “the big issue we have to address”. The other is generative artificial intelligence.

She explains: “The digital side of the world is demanding that politicians take action to embed a vision for using technologies including generative AI, broadly speaking, responsibly and ethically. To drive the technological revolution and not to be driven by it.”

Climate change and AI are new talking points to emerge since the conference last convened in Seoul 14 years ago. The other goals delegates are setting include making culture and arts education equitable; providing lifelong learning in cultural diversity; and incorporating digital technologies and artificial intelligence into arts and culture education.

The framework is expected to be endorsed by the member states by the end of the conference on Thursday, after which it will be put into practice by education departments across the globe. Giannini says that will be done by data collection and, for the first time, monitoring what is being done by each member state.

Giannini says Abu Dhabi has been the perfect place to bring it all together. “There is the ambition and capacity in this part of the world, especially in Abu Dhabi, to connect people through cultural diversity and the valorisation of cultural diversity,” she says.

The emirate, she adds, is also a conducive place “for innovating, finding new solutions and addressing some of the big challenges that we face.”

Updated: February 15, 2024, 11:59 AM