United Nations

The United Nations is an international organization that was founded in 1945. At the end of the Second World War, many countries came together to focus on global peace, climate change, humanitarian emergencies and country development. The organization has become a forum for countries to negotiate and solve problems together in a regulated environment. Below are 10 cool facts about the United Nations.

10 Cool Facts About the United Nations

    1. The U.N. Has Almost 200 Member States
      There are currently 196 member states in the United Nations. These individual states are all recognized by the United Nations as members of the international organization. There are only four countries that are non-members of the U.N. They are Kosovo, Palestine, Taiwan and Vatican City. These countries have received invitations to join the U.N., but have yet to accept.
    2. Branches and Programs of the U.N. Received the Nobel Peace Prize 11 Times
      Over the last 70 years, the United Nations has been given 11 Nobel Peace prizes awarded to various agencies, specialized programs and initiatives. This prize was inspired by the last will of Alfred Nobel in 1895. Upon his death, he left most of his fortune to those who made advancements for the betterment of humanity in the areas of physics, chemistry, physiology, medicine, literature and peace.
    3. The United Nations Was Proposed in 1942
      United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the term the “United Nations” on January 1, 1942. Representatives of 26 nations came together at that time in order to fight the Axis Powers during World War II. However, the U.N. did not officially create a charter until 1945. The organization was officially formed in October 1945 when 51 member states ratified its charter. This day is now celebrated as United Nations Day.
    4. The U.N. Has Six Official Languages
      In 1946, the U.N. established six official languages for its meetings and distributed documentation. The languages are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. During meetings delegates and representatives must utilize one of these languages or provide a written interpretation in one of them. Each language is recognized on a specific day of the year to celebrate cultural diversity and multilingualism.
    5. The U.N. Has Its Own News Site
      In order to keep the world updated on pertinent international issues and achievements, the United Nations has a news site. The site separates stories by world regions, topics and timeliness. The site is available in the official languages of the U.N. and has both a written and audio option.
    6. It Prioritizes Specific Global Issues
      Conflict resolution and peacekeeping are the main efforts of the United Nations, but the organization has many other branches of foreign assistance. Through specialized programs, the U.N. also addresses global issues such as decolonization, climate change, ending world poverty, children’s rights and international law. The website also outlines fast facts to engage readers about various topics.
    7. The U.N. Hosts International Court Hearings
      The main body of the United Nations judicial system is the International Court of Justice. It is composed of 15 judges who each serve nine-year terms and are elected by the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council. This court provides legal advising and settles disputes between member states. It also regulates global commons, such as environmental conservation, international waters, outer space and global trade, and ensures that human rights violations are prosecuted.
    8. The U.N. Has 36 Specialized Agencies, Programs and Partnerships
      There are 36 agencies and programs known as the “U.N. Family.” The programs are funded through voluntary contributions and are considered independent international organizations. The agencies and programs specialize on different issues. For example, UNICEF is the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund and focuses on ensuring the proper treatment of children worldwide and the protection of children’s rights.
    9. The Official Emblem Hasn’t Changed Since 1946
      The United Nations flag and symbol are blue and white. The design team created the logo in 1945, and it was officially adopted by the organization in 1946. The emblem is “a map of the world representing an azimuthal equidistant projection centered on the North Pole, inscribed in a wreath consisting of crossed conventionalized branches of the olive tree, in gold on a field of smoke-blue with all water areas in white,” according to the original description.
    10. The U.N. Has the First Recorded Definition of Human Rights
      In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly drafted the first Universal Definition of Human Rights (General Assembly resolution 217 A). It was drafted by representatives from different legal and cultural backgrounds to make it more comprehensive. It sets out fundamental human rights that should be protected; condemning slavery, torture, imprisonment without trial and prejudice. It has been translated into more than 500 languages.

The United Nations has worked for decades to protect human rights around the world. These 10 cool facts about the United Nations shed some light on the history of the organization as well as some of its policies.

Emily Triolet
Photo: Flickr

China
Poverty in China today primarily refers to the rural poor, as the country’s economic growth over the past few decades has led to the majority of urban poverty disappearing. However, while local Chinese governments have implemented many programs and policies in an effort to aid China’s poorest regions, there is still one major factor that researchers say China is forgetting about: language. In a lot of ways, language and its variations affect poverty in China.

Language Statistics in China

Geography plays a huge role in analyzing the relationship between spoken Chinese languages and poverty. China’s last national census reported that the nation has more than 1.38 billion inhabitants, many of whom are located in the urban areas of Eastern China. Studies of China’s urbanization trends also reveal a migration of the nation’s various ethnic groups. The ethnic group that populates urbanized cities most often determines the main language in those places. With 91.51% of the Chinese population being Han Chinese, standardized Mandarin is the language that most people speak across the nation.

The remaining 8.41% of the Chinese population comprises 55 other ethnic groups. This part of the population, though a minority in terms of the general population makeup, accounts for the majority of those who are located in rural Chinese areas. The Chinese central government has identified 14 of these rural provinces as areas of concentrated poverty. These areas have their own distinct languages and cultures, speaking one of 200 dialects from five main dialectical groups, out of which Mandarin Chinese is only one. Furthermore, around 30% of these ethnic minorities are illiterate and unable to speak Mandarin, the main language in the country. As such, many of these ethnic minorities remain isolated from provincial opportunities that may help them rise out of poverty.

Government’s Work

There has been an increase in attention from regional and local Chinese governments in terms of addressing the education gap between urban and rural communities. One expert, Zhu Weiqun, even states that the Chinese government needs to do more to teach these ethnic groups standardized Mandarin, as this has been a primary influencer in the development and urbanization of cities like Beijing. This type of education will provide these ethnic minorities with the lasting ability to access other jobs apart from farming, that will enable them to earn enough money to feed and clothe themselves without such a strong dependency on governmental programs.

Challenges

Understandably, there is also the problem of resistance from certain ethnic minority groups, particularly Muslims, who feel that their language is integral to their cultural identity. As such, the government is tasked with encouraging the standardization of its most commonly spoken dialect in a way that does not simultaneously alienate any one ethnic group. This cycle of promotion and rejection is integral to the way that language continues to affect poverty in China.

– Jordan Washington

Photo: Unsplash

The Importance of Native-Language InstructionIn schools across the world, students find themselves at an inherent disadvantage because their classes are not taught in their native language. Native-language instruction is crucial to optimize a student’s success, for many reasons.

Development of a student’s first language facilitates development in a second language. In other words, it is far easier to learn a second language when students already have a strong foundation in their first language. Knowledge and skills are also completely transferable from one language to another.

Native-language instruction also benefits a student’s overall well-being. Students enjoy school and are happier and more successful when they are taught in their own language. Conversely, students who are taught in a language other than their first language are more likely to fail early grades or drop out of school completely.

Girls are more likely to go to school and stay in school when the language of instruction is their first language, and parents are more likely to be involved in their children’s schooling. On a larger scale, native-language instruction emphasizes the importance of that language and its culture, and preserves the language for future generations.

Schools are typically taught in one of the national languages of a country. For example, Burundi recently declared that English was one of its national languages, so an increasing number of schools are now taught in English. This privileges urban students over rural ones. Urban students are more likely to already speak the national language or at least to have been exposed to it. Rural students are far more isolated and often enter school knowing only the language spoken at home.

In countries with large indigenous populations and a multitude of languages, the lack of resources is a barrier to adequate native-language instruction. It costs money to employ teachers who are fluent in each of the native languages, and to provide textbooks that are in those languages and are culturally appropriate.

In Mongolia, the Kazakhs are the largest minority. Until 2005, teachers were only given textbooks written in Mongolian, even when they were teaching in Kazakh. In Botswana, schools teach exclusively in English and Setswana, the national languages and the languages of the ethnic majorities. These languages are also core subjects in the national curriculum, and thus students are required to take and pass exams in those languages. This disadvantages indigenous children who enter school with no prior knowledge of English or Setswana.

There are many programs targeted at addressing bilingual students and bridging language gaps. In the Bronx, there are schools which alternate teaching in English and Spanish every other week, meeting the needs of students who are fluent in both languages and enhancing their bilingualism.

In the U.S. alone, 175 indigenous languages are still spoken. All but 50 of these are projected to be extinct by 2024. Project SEED (Scholarships for Economic and Educational Development) and AILDI (American Indian Language Development Institute) develop curriculum in, teach and work to preserve native languages. In Cameroon, indigenous peoples have created a culturally sensitive education policy called ORA (Observe, Reflect, Act) which is tailored specifically toward young Baka children.

For curriculum to be most effective, especially for disadvantaged and marginalized students, it should be in their language, culturally sensitive and incorporate indigenous culture and traditions.

Olivia Bradley

Photo: Flickr

Education in Malaysia
Whether in textbooks or spoken in lectures, language is crucial in effective education. Without a common means of communication, many students will be left behind. While education in Malaysia has predominantly used Malay, the country’s official language, in its classrooms, some Malaysian schools also include more English, Chinese and Tamil cultures into their curricula.

In most instances, immense diversity is a privilege to instill greater global awareness, but, in the Malaysian education system, it has hindered progress, especially in keeping up with other countries’ educational opportunities. To keep up in an ever-changing economy and job market, education in Malaysia needs to establish a common language for all schools.

Despite its linguistic differences, Malaysian education is goal-driven and focused on improving itself. The government released an ambitious Malaysia Education Blueprint in 2013. The detailed plan hopes to achieve universal access and full enrollment of all children from preschool to upper secondary school, improved student test scores, and reduced urban-rural, socio-economic and gender achievement gaps, all by 2020.

To meet such high standards, however, promoting a mother tongue language for education in Malaysia is key. The benefits of doing so include higher enrollment and success rates, especially for girls and rural-based students, and greater parent-teacher communication. The students that tend to feel the most marginalized, those from poorer households, are more likely to attend school, retain information, and participate in their learning.

Other countries in the region with similar struggles serve as examples of how to overcome potential language barriers. Laos has dozens of diverse languages that are mainly spoken in rural, impoverished communities. However, with education requiring fluency in Lao, the official language, children from different ethnic backgrounds were left out. With UNICEF’s support, the government took a “Schools of Quality” approach that starts children in their native language and slowly transitions them into Lao. The change has been a successful way to boost student morale and attendance.

Such benefits of a mother-tongue-based education will propel Malaysia to become a world leader in a digital economy. Students who face language barriers in their education have limited opportunities to reach their full potential. If students fall behind in understanding their studies, they will also fall behind when facing an increasingly technical-based economy. Acquiring skills in technology and STEM-related fields requires a quality, forward-thinking education as a foundation. That education appropriately requires a cohesive language to teach and learn.

Education should be an accessible service to every person, regardless of their language, ethnicity or socioeconomic status. Education in Malaysia is on the right path to improving its system, but an important step forward will involve overcoming language barriers. Other countries in the region serve as testaments to the positive growth in preserving the mother tongue, and, with continued support, Malaysia too can experience this progress.

Allie Knofczynski

Photo: Flickr

A Non-Traditional Way to Reduce Poverty
The U.S. Government employs a variety of strategies to combat global poverty. Over the past decade, U.S. foreign assistance has reformed to include less traditional measures to reduce poverty such as the funding of educational and cultural nonprofits.

In 1946, President Truman established the Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs (OIC), which is the first U.S. sanctioned effort to reduce poverty in a non-traditional way.

In 1979, reducing poverty in a non-traditional way became the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). The ECA now funds a variety of international cultural, educational and athletic interactions to accomplish the objectives of the 1961 Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act.

The 1961 mandate stipulates that the U.S. government will fund public diplomatic efforts “to build friendly, peaceful relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through academic, cultural, sports and professional exchanges, as well as public-private partnerships.”

Notable ECA efforts to reducing poverty in a non-traditional way include the Critical Language Scholarship, which provides study abroad scholarships to students who are interested in learning languages deemed critical by the Department of State — Swahili, Urdu, Persian and Bangla.

Applicants are required to demonstrate their plan to apply the language in an impactful way — translating for a nonprofit, working with the local community, or researching for developmental programs.

U.S. efforts to reduce poverty in a non-traditional way also include the Future Leaders Exchange, which selects an exemplary high school to serve as a cultural ambassador around the world. The program includes intensive community service efforts in which the American student-ambassador lives.

The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs also oversees inbound and outbound inter-cultural exchanges to promote cultural understanding, which is one of the strongest measures to countering the attractiveness of joining a violent extremist movement in impoverished areas.

Youth For Understanding (YFU) is at the forefront of this laudable public diplomacy. YFU is an international nonprofit consisting of over 50 international partners to provide a variety of inter-cultural immersions to students of all ages.

In 1951, the nonprofit was started by Rachel Andresen with the mission to repair the disjointed global community after the devastating consequences of World War II. YFU has since become a global leader in the fight to reduce poverty in non-traditional ways.

Poverty reduction efforts of YFU are best embodied by their six approaches to intercultural exchanges: caring: personal and people-oriented, learning for life, valuing diversity: inclusive and fair, volunteering: engaged and dedicated, cooperating in international solidarity, and promoting quality, transparency and sustainability.

YFU is just the beginning of innovative approaches to reduce poverty in non-traditional ways. To truly end global poverty, however, the U.S. must continue to encourage the private and public sector to tackle public diplomacy in unique ways, along with increasing foreign assistance to the countries who need it most.

Adam George

Photo: Flickr

The use of Kiswahili as an Official Language of the East African Region
Language plays a pivotal role in creating a country’s identity. The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) has decided to reclaim its identity by passing a resolution to make Swahili the second official language of Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

The resolution promotes the use of Kiswahili as an official language in domains like offices, hospitals and schools.

Kiswahili has been an official language of the African Union since 2004, and the language will help define the EALA as a union. An agreement between EALA members to speak the same language will represent a stalwart bond between them.

Kiswahili’s roots are in the Bantu language, a language spoken by about 50 percent of the African population. The language’s prevalence will make Kiswahili easier to integrate into society.

In all EALA countries except Uganda, Kiswahili is commonly spoken among the general public. The assembly is looking for help directing the education of Ugandan youth, women and civil societies in the language.

Unifying the EALA’s official language will help create a shared East African identity among member countries.

The language of Kiswahili will facilitate all goings-on in the EALA, from government activities to the tourism industry. In addition to this, according to Rwandan legislator Patricia Hajabakiga, “besides promoting unity among the EAC populace, Kiswahili is a critical medium of communication that will facilitate trade in the region.”

Mariana Camacho

Photo: Flickr

Education in Rwanda
Education in Rwanda has blossomed in the years following the Rwandan Genocide of 1994, currently boasting the highest primary school enrollment rates in the entire continent of Africa. The challenge now is to increase secondary school enrollment, which was only 28 percent in 2011 and get more students to enroll in higher education.

Rwanda’s educational system operates on a 6-3-3-4 system; there are six years of primary school, three years of junior secondary school, three years of senior secondary school and four (optional) years of university to obtain a Bachelor’s degree.

Children are instructed in three different languages in Rwanda: Kinyarwanda, English and French. Kinyarwanda is a Bantu language spoken by around seven million people in Rwanda. These official languages were established after the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) gained control of Rwanda’s government in 1994; many of the RPF’s members grew up in English-speaking Uganda and Tanzania.

Kinyarwanda is the primary language of instruction during the first three years of primary school. When children enter secondary school, most of their classes are taught in English. Prior to 2009, French was the principal language of instruction after year three of primary school. Now, French can be taken as an elective in both primary and secondary school.

Fluency in English, Claver Yisa of the Rwandan education ministry said, will help strengthen Rwanda’s ties with their English-speaking trade partners Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, as well as help attract foreign investors in education in Rwanda—most of whom will speak English.

The switch from instruction in Kinyarwanda to English is difficult for some teachers, which is why Rwanda launched STEM (Supporting Teachers’ English proficiency through Mentoring). For effective learning, teachers themselves needed to be more fluent in the language they must teach. Their innovative and effective program earned Rwanda the prestigious Commonwealth Education Good Practice Award in 2015.

Yet there is still a long road ahead of Rwandan teachers, as they work to improve the English skills of students and themselves so more students can go on to further education in Rwanda and abroad. Students’ immersion in the English language has positioned them to be larger contributors to the global economy and will no doubt play an important role in defining Rwanda in the coming years.

Bayley McComb

Photo: Flickr

Conflict in Thailand
Since 2004, 6,500 people have died as a result of cultural conflict in Thailand between Malay Muslims and Thai Buddhists in the ‘Deep South’ (Thailand’s three southernmost provinces). The culture clash stems partly from the majority Muslim area’s desire for autonomy, a hot topic in Thai politics. On numerous occasions, public schools have been targeted for attacks, leaving educators concerned about their students’ safety.

In the Deep South, four out of five individuals identify as Muslim, compared to Thailand’s overall 93 percent Buddhist population. Many of Thailand’s Muslims believe the country’s public education system, which is geared toward Buddhists, only serves to exacerbate the ongoing conflict. Although Malay Muslims’ first language is often not Thai, all public school classes are taught in it.

Professor Suwilai Premsrirat of Thailand’s Mahidol University has spent the past 10 years working to integrate the Patani-Malay language into public-school curriculum in the Deep South through a pilot program to deter cultural conflict in Thailand.

Although Premsrirat faces criticism from both sides for incorporating elements of the opposing group’s language, she believes the bilingual approach is the key to success. Primary school teacher Mrs. Hareena promoted the pilot program, saying “you can see [the students] are understanding better now.”

Hopefully Premsrirat’s initiative will also serve to reduce cross-cultural violence in the Deep South by promoting understanding and diversity. “We want to make it [clear] we respect [Patani-Malay language and culture],” Premsrirat said, speaking for the Thai public school system.

According to Asia Peacebuilding Initiatives, incorporating the Malay language into the public school system may discourage Muslim families from sending their children to private Muslim schools. More Malay children attending public schools will result in increased diversity and mingling between the two cultures. This in turn may help promote national unity and reduce cultural conflict in Thailand.

Asia Peacebuilding Initiatives is quick to point out, however, that while language integration is a major step, the ultimate goal is to shift educators’ perspectives on the importance of diversity in language and religion.

Because of the cultural conflict in Thailand, many Malay Muslims feel alienated by their native tongue. Hopefully, incorporating their language into Thailand’s public school curricula will provide Malay Muslims a sense of belonging and Thai Buddhists an opportunity for understanding.

Carrie Robinson

Photo: Flickr

Learning to be Smarter: How Bilinguals Have a Cognition (and Communication) Advantage
Charlemagne once said, “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” Learning a language is something most of us strive to do. Whether it’s travel, business, new friends or even literature, learning a new language is something that appeals to people for a wide variety of reasons. At its core, language learning is kind of like finding a key that unlocks new countries, cultures, and people.

However, recent studies have shown that there’s an advantage to being bilingual beyond the ability to immerse oneself in new places. Researchers have found that those who learn a second (or third, or fourth) language have more gray matter in the “executive control areas” of their brains in the frontal and parietal regions. This extra tissue supports memory management, reasoning, planning and problem-solving. The cognitive control required to determine which language is spoken in what context requires increased tissue growth that leads to better control over other brain functions as well.

The study, led by Dr. Olumide Olulade, found that this advantage was only present in individuals who spoke both languages out loud. English-American Sign Language bilinguals did not have increased brain matter while English-Spanish bilinguals did. Communication, the greatest part of language learning, is key to increased development.

Beyond enforced executive control skills, people who speak more than one language have been shown to have improved listening skills, multi-tasking abilities, attention spans and vocabulary in their mother tongue. Beyond this, they learn to perceive the world in a whole different way and come into contact on a deeper level with a greater number of people.

And the fastest, easiest way to learn a new language? Visit a new country. Live amongst new people, visit local haunts, read books in the new language. Fully immerse yourself not only in a new language, but a new way of life. That way, when you become proficient enough to speak to your new friends, you’ll be a true inhabitant of this new place. Becoming a global citizen not only means being able to interact with people from around the world, but also sharing their mindsets, cultural references and perspectives. Global citizens are knowledgeable and, more importantly, compassionate about people in all corners of the world.

Jenny Wheeler

Sources: PsyBlog 1, PsyBlog 2
Photo: ZDNet