Sawatdee Kha from Bangkok!

Hi everybody! Thanks for keeping up with our 2018 UNESCO Fellows Blog — we are all thrilled to share our experiences from different edges of the world with you. 🙂

To be honest, I have put off writing this blog for some time because so much keeps happening within UNESCO Bangkok and generally in my time here in Thailand, so I keep thinking I should wait and include all of these new experiences in my blog. I am realizing if I keep up with this trend, I will never get started because something exciting always seems to be happening…so I guess the best thing to do is just dive right in. To start, I’ll try to follow the pattern of my other fellows’ blog posts: A brief background of Bangkok from my perspective, a discussion about UNESCO Bangkok and my work here, and to close, I’ll share small bits of my experience outside of work (stay tuned for funny pictures of me eating a scorpion).

Before arriving in Bangkok a month-and-a-half ago, I really did not know what to expect. This was my first time to Thailand — and in Asia for that matter. I had heard that Bangkok is a busy, lively, international city where you can find pretty much anything to do and an unimaginable amount of great food to eat. This is absolutely true, but the longer I am here, I am learning that there is so much more to Bangkok. I would say the most impressive thing about the city, though, is the kindness of people here. There have been numerous times that a complete stranger or somebody I recently met went out of their way to help me — whether it was by being my personal tour guide, helping me get a phone contract and pick a lucky phone number (yes you read right; Thai people are quite superstitious and your phone number can make a difference on your luck), helping our group of friends get a flat tire repaired, finding medicine when I was sick, or helping me settle in comfortably at my work — the kindness here is really heartwarming. One day, a friend of mine explained his philosophy on kindness simply, “Why not be nice?” This was an “ah-hah” moment for me here. His response was so simple, yet so powerful. If only we all thought like this…

By now, you probably have a good idea of what UNESCO is from reading my colleagues’ blogs, but I thought it may be helpful to refresh what the overarching goals and responsibilities of UNESCO are before diving into what UNESCO Bangkok is. In short, UNESCO was formed after World War II as an international institution to “build peace in the minds of men and women” by spreading values of scientific progress, education, and cultural harmony.

Its agenda to bring about peace is an ambitious one and in 2015, UNESCO and 193 governments set 17 goals (known as the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs) to do the impossible: From ending poverty and hunger to ensuring quality education for everybody and combatting climate change — all by 2030 — these goals are meant to change the world.

UNESCO Bangkok is the Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau for Education. In this role, it helps coordinate, provide technical assistance and expertise, monitor and evaluate, and share knowledge in Asia and the Pacific. Additionally, as a cluster office, UNESCO Bangkok helps implement UNESCO programs in education, sciences, culture, and communication and information in Thailand, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Singapore, Viet Nam, and Cambodia.

Watch this new video from our Public Information and Outreach team to hear more about UNESCO Bangkok.

Although our office has programs in education, natural sciences, social human sciences, culture, and communication and information, education is the office’s largest focus — and is also my area of focus — so I will dive a little deeper into the programs here.

Under education, we have Education Sector Planning and Management, which helps governments incorporate evidence-based policy-making and results-based management into their education sector policies and plans. We also have Quality of Education, which works with governments and education providers to address quality shortcomings in their systems. Additionally, UNESCO Bangkok works to expand access to and quality in the following program areas:
• Early Childhood Care and Education
• Higher Education
• Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET)
• Teacher Education
• Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in Education
• Education for Health and Well-Being
• Inclusion and Gender Equality in Education
• Monitoring and Statistics
• Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship

At UNESCO Bangkok, I work in the Executive Office surrounding Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and Global Citizenship Education (GCED). I will explain what both of these concepts are and how I have been involved below in this blog, but first I’ll clarify what the Executive Office is.

The Executive Office (EO) has a broad mandate. It helps plan, coordinate, monitor, evaluate, and provide advice and assistance with UNESCO programs and projects in the region. It also supports resource mobilization, public information and outreach, human resource and budgetary planning, information and knowledge management services, and the coordination of training activities.

34920FD4-76CD-4143-9F04-E956D6332E26Unplanned matching by our Executive Office team

MY ROLE IN UNESCO BANGKOK: Global Citizenship Education and Education for Sustainable Development
Working in the EO has been a wonderful experience so far because I have a chance to take part in many different activities and responsibilities. To begin my work here, I served on the editorial team for a report about the 2018 Asia-Pacific Global Citizenship Education Regional Network Meeting held in Jakarta, Indonesia. This was a great way for me to learn about Global Citizenship Education and it was also helpful for me to formalize myself with UNESCO-style writing.

So, what is global citizenship education (GCED)? Broadly speaking, it is a concept of citizenry that goes beyond national boundaries and refers to a sense of belonging to a common humanity. UNESCO promotes GCED to reduce intolerance and disrespect for diversity — the root causes of bullying, school violence, racism and other forms of prejudice and violence — by equipping learners with the knowledge, understanding, and critical thinking skills about global, regional, national and local issues. GCED teaches learners to have empathy and respect for differences and diversity and it encourages lifelong learning that fosters the values, attitudes, knowledge and skills necessary for learners and social groups to become active social agents. In turn, these social agents can work together to make the world a more peaceful and just place for all.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a similar concept, although as you may have guessed from its name, it places a greater emphasis on sustainability. The objective of ESD is to develop individuals’ competencies to reflect on their own actions and consider their current and future social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts from both local and global perspectives (UNESCO, 2018). Like GCED, the goal of Education for Sustainable Development is to empower individuals to take action and become change agents for a more just society.

Both GCED and ESD are explicitly recognized in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as part of Target 4.7 related to education: “By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”

As a long-term project working with UNESCO, I will write a research report with my supervisor on the aforementioned Target 4.7. This report will respond to concerns that Target 4.7 is too broad and vague to implement and realize. It will highlight existing case studies and models, discuss remaining challenges to successful implementation, and suggest a way forward for implementing and monitoring Target 4.7. The goal is for this report to be a resource for policy makers, curriculum developers, and teacher trainers. We are just in the beginning phase of drafting the report, so stay tuned for more updates on this project.

Most of my time at UNESCO Bangkok thus far has been spent helping our office organize the Technical Consultation Meeting on the Future of Education for Sustainable Development, which took place here in Bangkok earlier this week on July 9-10. This meeting brought together members of ministries of education, experts in Education for Sustainable Development, and other stakeholders in national governments from 116 countries around the world to discuss the way forward for ESD. The meeting was organized to build off of the momentum of the Decade of ESD (2005-2014), which raised awareness of the concept of ESD and its importance globally, and the subsequent Global Action Programme (GAP) (2015-2019), which started to scale-up ESD action on the ground. As the GAP phase is coming to an end, UNESCO is consulting with its Member States and Associate Members on the future of ESD.

5C8558DF-E002-4C73-B061-394A27D513E5Participants on Day 1 of the Technical Consultation Meeting

In my short time working with UNESCO, I have heard about ESD success stories at the local-level. For example, we can look to Indonesian eco-schools and see that there are, in fact, places that are creating global citizens who think creatively and critically to make the world a more sustainable, just, and peaceful place. However, on regional, national or global levels, there is more progress to make. In order to actually achieve the goals of ESD, entire education and economic systems have to be shaken and changed. Traditional systems create serious barriers for implementation and currently, countries, nations, and localities, themselves, do not have the financial resources or human capacity to effectively implement ESD. There are, however, many opportunities as networks are created and the world becomes more interconnected through advances in technology. The Technical Consultation Meeting brought together leaders from all over the world to discuss these challenges and opportunities with implementing ESD on a large-scale.

During the second day of the Technical Consultation Meeting, individuals attended one of five breakout sessions based on their region (Africa, Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and North America, and Latin America and the Caribbean) to discuss, in detail, the challenges and opportunities in implementing ESD. In each of these sessions, participants concluded by identifying three to four priorities moving forward. Each region’s priorities were compiled in the final plenary session for UNESCO to incorporate into its draft position paper on the future of Education for Sustainable Development. In the breakout sessions, I had the opportunity to work in the Latin America and Caribbean regional discussions. I was thrilled to learn about ESD in the region and to speak Spanish while working here in Asia.  (If you are interested in learning more about the details of the regional discussions and what challenges and opportunities were identified, please reach out to me).

As a whole, the conference and breakout sessions provided a significant amount of food for thought, forged new connections, and got participants excited and motivated to bring back what they learned to their own countries and organizations.

OTHER ROLES: JeJu Water Academy
At the end of August, my supervisor invited me to participate in a 3-day water academy for sixth graders in the Republic of Korea. Known as JeJu Water Academy, roughly 100 selected 6th-grade students will attend this event to learn about the importance of water, water conservation, climate change, and sustainable development. The organizers of the event invited UNESCO Bangkok to take part in designing and leading one day of activities for the children to learn more about UNESCO’s work and how water is related to our Sustainable Development Goals. Three UNESCO Bangkok colleagues and I have been working to create activities and learning materials for the children and to create related lesson plans for teachers to use once the Academy is over. As a former teacher (ESL teacher in Santiago, Chile and an early childhood educator in the US), I am really excited to have to opportunity to work with children again in UNESCO — something that I did not foresee as an opportunity in this fellowship.  🙂

In my free time, I have made a routine for myself by joining a gym and exploring new places with friends on the weekends.

3B05F72A-B379-4EBB-BAAE-E92290906542There is great art inside and outside of my gym building

The first weekend I was here, a new friend of mine showed me around a few gorgeous temples, including the famous Wat Pho with the reclining Buddha. We took a boat across the Chao Phraya River, ate a typical lunch at the university he works at, enjoyed a traditional Thai massage, and finished the day with getting my Thai number and grocery shopping in a market that sells all the comforts of home (peanut butter, popcorn, Nutella, and Alfredo pasta sauce, for example).

Wat Arun and the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

Recently, I have been spending the weekends with my co-workers watching the World Cup in various bars and restaurants around Bangkok. Although both teams I would normally root for (the US, where I am from, and Chile, where my husband is from) are not in the game this year, it has still been quite fun — and possibly less stressful – to watch. Last weekend, when Belgium defeated Brasil, we were on the infamous Backpacker Road watching the match. This was an especially memorable time not just because Brasil was defeated, but because after a beer for liquid courage, we all decided to share a scorpion. You can imagine from these pictures what it tasted like.

Not my favorite thing to eat…

I have also had the opportunity to take a trip outside of Bangkok to a rural town called Kanchanaburi, which is close to the Myanmar border. This trip was especially enjoyable because it was an escape from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, and because we stayed in a beautiful and peaceful lodging that floats on top of the River Kwai. These “jungle rafts” are supported by the locals in the adjacent traditional Mon village and offer a tranquil place for visitors to disconnect and enjoy nature as there is no electricity on the rafts. What is even more special about the jungle rafts is that they are a sustainable and eco-friendly accommodation, and Lundy, the village’s elephant, helps by eating the guests’ leftover fruits and fruit rinds each morning.

The Jungle Rafts, Lundy, and some friends and I on our way to the rafts

Next weekend is a long weekend for us, so I am hoping to plan a last-minute trip to one of the beautiful island beaches along the southern coast. I’m also looking forward to my husband arriving here in one month. Although I won’t be able to impress him or any visiting friends with any Thai language skills, I am becoming more familiar with the city and am finding my favorite areas I can share here.

Stay tuned for more updates on my work here in UNESCO and my adventures in Thailand.

Thanks for reading 🙂


Courtney is a master’s degree candidate in George Washington University’s Education Policy Program. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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