“Issues of science, modern technologies and real cultural development are organically connected to education […] The modern age requires heads of state, academics and educators to make a careful choice of priorities in education development,” declared Askar Akayev, the President of Kyrgyzstan, during an address today before the 190 Member States of UNESCO gathered in Paris for the Organization's 32nd Session of the General Conference, presided over by Michael Abiola Omolewa of Nigeria.
For President Akayev, “education and knowledge determine not only spiritual and intellectual potential of the nation but its place in the future world order.” He drew attention to his country’s progress in this area, as the number of universities in Kyrgyzstan has risen from nine to 40 in just ten years, and the number of graduates in information technology has been multiplied by 2.5 over the past five years. “The development of education and information technologies,” he said, “coincides fully with the goal of poverty reduction,” which, he emphasized, is one of his government’s priorities, alongside the development of democracy.
The President of Kyrgyzstan paid tribute to UNESCO’s work in his country. “During hard times it helped sustain spiritual and intellectual development and revival of the country and its successful integration in the global community,” said President Akayev. An example of this, he said, was the establishment of six UNESCO Chairs in Kyrgyz universities, dedicated to environmental education, sustainable development in mountainous regions, gender equality, cultures and religions throughout the world, democracy, and intercultural dialogue in a multi-ethnic society.
President Akayev also spoke of the signing of an agreement on a UNESCO Plan of Operations for the Preservation of Silk Roads sites in the Upper Chuy Valley of Kyrgyzstan, which is financed mainly by the Japanese government. This agreement was signed after the President’s address, in a yurt – the traditional tent of Central Asia’s nomads – erected for this occasion on the Piazza in front of UNESCO Headquarters.
On this occasion, UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura declared that this Plan of Operations was part of a larger programme to preserve important heritage sites all along the Silk Roads of China and Central Asia. “These include the planned conservation of Krasnaya Rechka (formerly known as Navikat), particularly the Second Buddhist Temple Complex, and the emergency conservation activities that will be undertaken at the adjoining sites of Suyab and Balasagyn (known today as Ak Beshim and Burana). Preliminary work,” he continued, “will begin this autumn and, all things being equal, should be completed in the year 2006.”
In his speech to the General Conference, the President of Kyrgyzstan also spoke of the organization in 2004, with UNESCO, of an international conference in his country on the theme of “Eurasia in the 21st Century: Dialogue among Cultures or Conflict of Civilizations?” This conference is expected, said President Akayev, to open a broad discussion between distinguished scholars, cultural and religious leaders and politicians. Kyrgyzstan has already hosted UNESCO forums, notably on “Culture and Religion in Central Asia” (1999), “Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue as an Intrinsic Part of Dialogue between Civilizations” (2001).
Emphasizing his commitment to the aims and ideals of UNESCO, President Akayev concluded with a proposition to establish a University of UNESCO in Kyrgyzstan, similar to the United Nations University in Tokyo. “This university,” he said, “could become one of the most authoritative institutes of higher education in the world,” and distance-learning programmes could make it widely accessible.