UNESCO and the Education Technology Industry: A Recipe for Making Public Education a Profiteering Enterprise PART I

Communism= concentration of power and resources into the hands of a few

Oligarchy= concentration of power and resources into the hands of a few



AUTHORS NOTE: Following the completion of this research (22 pages worth) I came across a document from UNESCO in 2002 that sums it up. Given this recent find, the ensuing research is not necessary to “prove” what I suspected: that UNESCO is steering the global ship of privatization. But enjoy the timeline of events and findings nevertheless—each slice of evidence simply further illustrates what is written in this 2002 document called Education Privatization: Causes, Consequences and Planning Implications. Well, the title says it all. This document promotes a slew of market-based reforms that might have well come from ALEC including: voucher programs, promotes charter schools, accountability, and data mining. The article states, “In general, the World Bank (and other supranational agencies) has encouraged reforms which lead toward privatization of public education” (p.32). At the conclusion of this trope, the authors recommend the reader visit a site called National Center for the Study of Privatization of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

This research is broken up into THREE PARTS in three consecutive blogs.


How did we get from first mention of national standards 1984 published at UNESCO to the privatization of public education (of which standards and testing are a huge part) in 2014? The idea of national standards have been an academic and pedagogical exercise for decades if not centuries. What this paper illustrates are not the debatable premises put forth in academic treatise but how national standards as a practice and policy have emerged in the last half century and the ways in which CCSS merges with other related education reform policies all of which lead to one goal: a privatized, market driven and globalized transformation of education.

How did the likes of Lou Gerstner who created Achieve, created in 1996 (who was awarded the contract for CCSS) in 2008 connect with UNESCO? How did an international agency that claims dedication to promoting world peace, and ending of poverty also advocate for a total disruption of education by technology driven corporations?

Without conjecture as to motive or intent, I parallel the last 30 years of reform which are intertwined with UNESCO and find some documented parallels and relationships. The conjecture is left to my reader. My findings here reflect what appear to be the three premises of the last few decades upon which global accountability driven reform are driven, posited by Heinz-Dieter MeyerDaniel TröhlerDavid F. Labaree & Ethan L. Hutt (Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 9, 2014):•

  • homogenizing the heterogeneous reality of education through increasingly abstract and context-indifferent standards and outcome metrics;
  • shifting centers of policy making influence from “local” education professionals embedded in institutions and narratives of national history and culture to a global elite of experts, committed with increasing single-mindedness to the narrative of market efficiency; and
  • moving from decentralized governance and soft guidelines to centralized governance and hard mandates

PART I: The Beginning

1945: The origins of UNESCO (using a very broad stroke here) emerged in 1945 on the tail end of two catastrophic and horrific world wars. It would be understandable that nations around the globe might seek a collaborative international effort that attempts to ameliorate hostilities promulgated through lack of understandings of one another, and that wars might be prevented through education, awareness and communication. Whether or not that is (or was ever feasible) is a debate for another day. It will also be made evident here that current broad sweeping rhetoric claiming UNESCO an arm of a communist driven new world order (and CCSS as part of parcel of that) is indeed problematic.  The evolution of events here demonstrate the power and influence of neoliberal and conservative agendas at play as well. Indeed one might find concepts of “one world” and “global interconnectedness” clearly stated in UNESCO’s agenda….but communist ideology does not own the market on the desire for global management or control.  So where do these roots lead?

According a primary document entitled UNESCO Faces Two Worlds (April 1947) by Byron Dexter (Foreign Affairs, 25, 3, pp 388-407) the two identified goals of the creation of UNESCO were focused on education and mass communications (p. 389). The authors state that “both, in the last analysis, can be said to be concerned with education.”  The organization would serve as a clearinghouse of information and a beacon for freedom on information across national and cultural borders. It is the goal of promoting mass communication in order to promote greater understanding that has taken some interesting twists and turns over the decades. The authors write, “It is the one world idea, particularly vivid in the imaginations of Americans and heralded by the new technical devices which can be described soberly enough as introducing changes in communication comparable to those effected five centuries ago…” The creators of UNESCO anticipated the importance of what they called a “global network.” the sub-themes of the overarching goals in education included: revising educational textbooks in order to eliminate “offensive passages” or “passages prejudicial to mutual understanding between nations” that might lead to misunderstandings, hatred, bias (and ergo…conflict); a literacy campaign, and education reconstruction. Making education freely available to all peoples of the world (half of whom were illiterate at the time of UNESCO’s creation) is an admirable goal. But so is a promise to leave “no child behind.”

The 1980’s: No Child Left Behind… But UNESCO Is

According to Labaree  No Child Left Behind (NCLB) managed to break the longstanding resistance to federal involvement into states’ rights by combining an economic efficiency rationale (“we are falling behind our competitors”) with an egalitarian rationale (“we leave too many kids behind”), a concern whose sincerity may be doubted, given the “compare, punish and close” mode of operation which NCLB institutionalized.

1983: A Nation at Risk is published under the auspices of the Reagan administration. Among the remedies prescribed by A Nation at Risk was the establishment of a national curriculum. This report ushers in the era of high stakes, standardized test-driven reform and accountability at a national level.

1984: The Unites States withdraws from UNESCO citing irresponsible spending and a bloated bureaucracy.

1984: UNESCO comes out with a report, which articulates the necessity for a common core curriculum. The report identifies two problems with the execution of this effort, 1) “The absence of mutual information…education, culture, and communication are not complimentary and do not conform to a general plan of development, and 2) the absence of mutual information and mutual coordination.” The ability to provide the technology-driven infrastructure for such coordination would arrive in the late 1990’s.

1985: The Committee for Economic Development (CED), an independent organization of 200 business executives and educators, issued a similar report warning that the quality of the nation’s education system put the economic future of the United States in peril. “[E]ducation has a direct impact on employment, productivity, and growth, and on the nation’s ability to compete in the world economy,” the report said. “Therefore, we cannot fail to respond.”

(Now in 2014 CED is supporting the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). CED’s support for implementation of the CCSS is being carried out through a business-led Task Force of spokespersons, made up of CED Trustees and others. CED’s College-and Career-Ready Project is made possible through a generous grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.)  

1989: The first ever National Education Summit is convened in Charlottesville, VA by President George H.W. Bush to include the nation’s governors in Charlottesville, VA. Their aim was to draft national “goals for education.”

Final Analysis:

My personal take: UNESCO’s global initiatives were untenable to the free market conservative paradigm which dominated the Reagan era. However, UNESCO and the Bush Administration had a “meeting of the minds” in the 1990’s when neoliberal global market forces were more in line with an agenda and UNESCO leadership. From that point forward, the UNESCO plans as originally stated in 1946 toward greater “mass communications” and “education initiatives” was able to serve the free market “messaging” and policy reforms stemming from U.S. and U.K driven corporate interests. For a comprehensive list of technology-based education corporations cashing in on the flow of local, national, and global funds see The Economic Impact of Ed Tech: Glimpses of a New World (2013) published by ASTRA: http://www.usinnovation.org/sites/default/files/ASTRA-EdTech-economic-impact.pdf

This paper is not an indictment of UNESCO as an organization. Like the proverbial blind man feeling the elephant’s foot I concede there is much more to know and see here. However, it’s also clear that through the decades UNESCO policy and influence have yielded partnerships with well-known education privatizers and profiteers-something that bears deeper examination and consideration.



Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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