The UNESCO HQ Internship Experience

Dawn Adrian

I remember when Dr. Neuman called me into her office regarding internship matching, she asked me if I was still interested in indigenous education and I said ‘Yes!’. Next thing I knew, I was matched with the Inclusive and Gender Equality team in the Education Sector of UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France. A Parisian summer? Let’s go! I remember my first day at UNESCO, it felt – for lack of a better word – official. I was called into the office to get my photo taken for my official UNESCO badge.

I took the elevator to the fourth floor – where the education sector was – and each department was down either a yellow, red, or blue corridor. I met my supervisor and the team and I began my internship.

The Work

My internship lasted six months beginning in May 2022 and ended in November 2022. The internship was matched to my research interest which focused on indigenous education and language and my supervisor, Noro Andrimesza, was working in the area of Small Islands and Developing Nations (SIDS).

A lot of my work was rooted in mother-tongue based multilingual education (MTB-MLE). MTB-MLE is about the use of the mother tongue as language of instruction in the classroom. The purpose of MTB-MLE is to provide children with a strong linguistic foundation in the language they know best to support their transition, acquisition and use of national and international languages (Asia Multilingual Education Working Group, 2014). According to UNESCO, half of the world’s 7000 languages will be gone by the end of the century and that over 2000 of these languages are spoken by less than 1000 native speakers. With these glaring statistics, it is pertinent to find ways to support MTB-MLE for our most marginalized students. As such, my internship was broken down into the following three:

Conference image

Small Islands and Developing Nations Database

My primary efforts was establishing a database on the language policy and practice in SIDS. Small Islands and Developing Nations are a distinct group of 38 UN Member States and 20 associated ones in the following geographic areas: Asia-Pacific, the Caribbean, the Atlantic and Indian Ocean and South China Sea. There is a focus on SIDS in UNESCO for its cultural and linguistic diversity, but also because they face unique challenges when it comes to sustainable development. UNESCO’s own action to support SIDS is rooted in culture, social sciences, communication, and education among others. My task specifically was looking into the language policies in SIDS to support mother-tongue based multilingual education and extracting best practices and policies. My findings showed that dominant language of instruction and climate change risk posed a threat to endangered and mother-tongue languages.

The Implementation of the International Decade of the Indigenous Languages (IDIL)

My secondary effort was supporting the administrative and logistical affairs of the Working Group of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL). Fortunately, my internship began in 2022 – the year when IDIL was launched – and I was at the heart of the beginning phases. In 2019, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a resolution to promote indigenous languages in the international decade1 of 2022-2032. It was chosen on the basis of the erasure of indigenous languages which puts cultures and knowledge systems at risk especially at the rate we are losing languages. During my research, I learnt that it was predicted by the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity’s Endangered Languages Project, that the Amazon rainforest, sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania, Australia and Southeast Asia will lose the most languages. As I continued to research, I also learnt that this was more than just about languages but what comes with erasure is the possibility of negotiating with our identities.

Education in a Multilingual World Position Paper

Lastly, I helped with the writing of the updated version of Education in a Multilingual World Position Paper. The first publication was in 2003 where it aims to “clarify some of the key concepts and issues that surround the debate and presents in a simplified and synthetic form the many declarations and recommendations that have made reference to the issues of languages and education”. It is broken down into two parts, the first part discusses key concepts to define terminology and meaning as it relates to multilingual education and the second part delves into normative frameworks. When I started my internship, this project was led by my co-worker Laura Ramos a consultant who is also part of the team. My role was to help support the updating of the document. I provided support in collecting data through a virtual language experts’ meeting for the background paper to the revision and as well helped with the editing. The virtual language experts’ meeting led by my team was a part of the rewrite where experts provided updated work and efforts. One of my highlights from this meeting was working with Filipino experts who shared how MTB-MLE has become a part of the curriculum in the Philippines.

Outside of Work

Outside of work there was a lot of time to explore Paris itself! I got around using an electric scooter a lot, going from one district to the next. Being in a place with so much history, I had a long list of places I wanted to see and thing I wanted to do going to Sacre-Coeur, the famous cemetery in Paris, the Parisian independence day parade; going to Giverny to see Monet’s water lilies. One weekend I went to Disneyland, the next weekend I was in Auvers-sur-Oise (Van Gogh’s resting place). It was hard to fit all I wanted to do in just the three months. What I couldn’t stop obsessing over were the French supermarkets and bakeries. It was hard not to say no to the freshly baked goods. Though, the only thing I couldn’t beat was the heat. Paris was experiencing tremendous heat waves during this period and there was no AC either at the flat or the office.

Dawn with her friends

Regardless, being in Paris during summer was nothing short of amazing. I had the opportunity to be there with 3 of my other IEDP cohort mates, one of which I shared a flat with just 5 minutes from the headquarters. I had the opportunity to meet people from all around the world during the Transforming Education Summit – youth advocates, ministers of education – who were all gathered in this one space because we were all driven by the same passion, education for all. It has been a great learning experience on the research and advocacy end too. I was very fortunate to have my IEDP internship align with my passion and research in indigenous education.

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