​In the days of 23-27 November 1953, UNESCO launched a new project called Scheme of Co-ordinated Experimental Activities in Education for Living in a World Community, with 33 secondary schools in 16 Member States.

The project was rooted in UNESCO's mission to promote education for international understanding, co-operation and peace, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948):

"Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of Peace."[1] -- Article 26

Since 1947, UNESCO had organized several international meetings and seminars for educators to drive this agenda forward. Small groups of "pioneers" started experimental ventures at schools engaging teachers and students. To enable a systematic follow up of those experiments, the 7th General Conference of UNESCO (December 1952) authorized the Director General "to assist Member States to carry out educational experiments within the framework of an international plan" (Resolution 1.3411) "in order to encourage the development of education in the aims of the United Nations and the Specialized Agencies, and in the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Resolution 1.341)"[2]. The foundation was set for the official launch of the scheme in November 1953.

Common goals for the project were formulated, exchange between schools vitalized and evaluation methods established. Teacher training institutions joined in 1958, followed by primary schools in 1965 and pre-primary schools in 1976. By then, over 1.000 schools in 65 Member States participated in the UNESCO Associated Schools Project.

A legacy born out of UNESCO's mission was the 1974 Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The Recommendation and the Associated Schools Project were interlinked. Several paragraphs of the recommendation refer to the project as a model in the field of international education:

"Member States should take advantage of the experience of the Associated Schools which carry out, with Unesco's help, programmes of international education. Those concerned with Associated Schools in Member States should strengthen and renew their efforts to extend the programme to other educational institutions and work towards the general application of its results. In other Member States, similar action should be taken as soon as possible […]."[3] -- Paragraph 23

Many additional countries and schools joined the project. In 1998, when ASP officially became the UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network [4], 4.224 schools in 137 countries were involved. Quality Education (2000 Education For All, Goal 6) and the Four Pillars of Education (1996 Learning: The Treasure Within) continued to advance the agenda of the network: Learning to know, Learning to do, Learning to be and Learning to live together became the new dimensions for innovative learning experiences at schools and exchange across regions.

Over the years and throughout the world, Associated Schools have carried out a vast and ever-increasing range of pilot activities. The project has developed into a unique network connecting more than 11,500 educational institutions in 182 countries, today.

Under the Framework of the Agenda 2030, especially Sustainable Development Goal Target 4.7, ASPnet continues to drive innovation and transformative learning experiences towards Global Citizenship Education, Education for Sustainable Development and intercultural learning at schools around the world.

Let us celebrate 66 years of the UNESCO Associated Schools Network and the commitment of millions of students, teachers and principals to promote fundamental rights and human dignity, gender equality, social progress, freedom, justice and democracy, respect for diversity and international solidarity – UNESCO's core values!

[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26

[2] 7 C/Resolutions, CPG.52.VI.7, p. 21.

[3] Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Cooperation and Peace and Education Relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by the General Conference at its 18th session, Paris, 19 November 1974, Paragraph 23.

[4] Approved Programme and Budget for 1998-1999, Document 29 C/5, Paragraph 06028, UNESCO, 1998