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The United Nations Matters

Post date: 
Thu, 24/10/2013 - 12:00

The United Nations Matters

Today is United Nations Day. Commemorated on 24 October each year, the day marks the entry into force of the UN Charter in 1945.

This year, the United Nations Association – UK (UNA-UK) is celebrating a particular success: the fact that teaching about the UN will be retained in the Citizenship curriculum, something that we, together with our partners in ACT, campaigned for vigorously.

Some of you may well ask why. Is it really necessary for young people in this country to learn about an organisation that seems so far removed from their daily lives?

The story of the United Nations is an important part of British and world history. It is essential to understanding the impact of the Second World War and the trajectory of the following decades. During this period, millions of people have benefited from the UN's life-saving humanitarian assistance, from its development programmes and peacekeeping missions. It has helped to solve conflicts the world over and facilitated the peaceful transition to independence in scores of former colonies.

The very idea of an “international community” expected to tackle shared challenges and obliged to find diplomatic compromises is an achievement of the UN. And the UN has a direct impact on people in this country, through a collective decision to intervene in a conflict, for example; a treaty protecting the rights of UK citizens; or an international trade agreement.

If we want to equip young people to navigate our interconnected world, we must teach about the UN. They should understand how the UK operates internationally, and how global issues and international decisions can affect their lives. They should be empowered to take meaningful action not just in their own communities but as the global citizens they are.

This includes learning about the major challenges that their generation will face, such as food security, environmental degradation and migration. These are not problems that countries can address individually – concerted global action is needed and the UN will continue to be central to these efforts.

Below are some UN teaching resources to get you started. If you need more information or advice, please do get in touch with UNA-UK. We have a schools outreach programme aimed at 13 to 18-year-olds and lots of materials on our website.

Natalie Samarasinghe is Executive Director of UNA-UK

UN teaching resources

UNA-UK’s own resources are a good starting point for teaching about the UN from a UK perspective. Our ‘United Nations Matters’ teaching pack provides a basic overview of the organisation and its role in maintaining international peace, promoting human rights and alleviating poverty. It features five lessons that can be run independently or as a full scheme of work, with teacher’s notes, lesson plans and handouts.

Created to support Key Stage 3 and 4 Citizenship (England) and Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship (Wales), the pack is also relevant to Learning for Life and Work (Northern Ireland), One Planet and Sustainable Development (Scotland), as well as Geography; History; Local and Global Citizens; Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education; Politics; and Religious and Moral Education. Free hard copies can be requested by contacting

The final lesson of the pack is a Model UN simulation. Model UN builds key skills such as public speaking, problem solving and research. It offers teachers a creative debate format, and enables students to explore issues through role-play. They become world leaders discussing a crisis, diplomats negotiating a resolution or UN officials working on a new treaty. It is enormously popular with schools the world over, and several conferences take place in the UK each year. To support new and seasoned ‘Model UNers’, UNA-UK has created a Model UN portal for organisers and participants. It features information on how to run a Model UN event, template rules and issue briefings, as well as FAQs and links to further information.

The UN itself has produced some great teaching materials, many of which are available for free online. Cyber School Bus is the best place to find resources on general topics such as the history of the UN, bodies like the General Assembly and Security Council, and specific issues like hunger or child rights. It also features a number of online quizzes and games, including ‘WebQuests’ where students are guided through tasks such as tackling the issue of child soldiers. Teachers should pay attention to the dates of materials, as some of the statistics and examples are a little dated.


For those looking to explore issues in more detail, various UN agencies have produced teaching resources on their particular areas of work, such as the World Food Programme and Food & Agriculture Organisation. UNICEF UK has extensive resources and activity ideas tailored to the UK context, and the UN Refugee Agency has produced excellent materials on topical issues such as asylum in the UK and migration in the European Union.

The International Monetary Fund, meanwhile, has a raft of materials on global trade, economics and how it, the World Bank and World Trade Organisation are structured. This includes interactive lessons and quizzes on topics such as ‘what is money’ and a game where the key players are commodity traders around the world. The lesson plans are written for US schools but are easy to adapt.

There are also some excellent resources to help teachers and students evaluate the UN’s successes and limitations, and learn about some common criticisms and campaigns for reform. Examples are the UN’s own pages on 60 ways it makes a difference, on the Rwandan genocide and on UN reform, as well as these lesson plans produced by the American broadcaster PBS News, and these materials posted on

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