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Spreading the Word About the UN in Classrooms


A model UN conference presented by the International Telecommunications Union, a specialized UN agency, in January 2014.
A model UN conference presented by the International Telecommunication Union, a specialized UN agency, at its headquarters in Geneva, January 2014. C. RAINSBY/ITU

Bill Yotive’s job is to educate young students all over the world on how the United Nations functions and to teach them about its current agenda on global affairs. His work requires capturing youngsters’ attention, which can naturally drift, so Yotive must grab the moment and make it last.

Yotive is a manager in the UN Department of Public Information, where he is working on a global teaching and learning project, creating with staff members educational resources that can be used by schools across the world.

As a previous director of research at the Sesame Workshop in New York City for more than a decade, Yotive’s educational TV programming and outreach background helps him and his team spread the word to students about the UN — a complicated place that even adults have trouble understanding. Yotive and his team hope to make young people more UN literate through a new curriculum.

“The UN is the most important intergovernmental body in the world, but it is not adequately taught or included in school curriculums,” Yotive said. His assertion is also based on a 2002 United Nations Association of the USA report, “Textbooks and the United Nations,” which offered similar conclusions about the role of the UN in classrooms.

Yotive talked about his work at the UN to an audience of roughly 200 teachers and others gathered at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., recently for this year’s Teaching the World Forum conference. The program was sponsored by the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, with a focus on making educators and students more globally competent.

The curriculum project that Yotive is piloting is being done with Rutgers faculty members and other experts, including Dr. Mary Curran, an associate dean for local-global partnerships at the Graduate School of Education, and Maryella Hannum, a senior program administrator in the Office of International Programs at the university.

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Yotive and Dr. Curran lead the project, which aims to bring the UN curriculum into kindergarten to 12th grade classrooms. They recognize that teachers are unsure of how to incorporate the UN into their lessons and to meet their entire curriculum expectations and standards at the same time.

Yotive and Dr. Curran have begun by first developing a database, or an online platform, where teachers all over the world will be able to find and post useful curriculum projects about the UN. The content of the curriculum units is initially being written by teachers from New Jersey. In February, primary- and secondary-school teachers representing different districts were recruited by Rutgers to go to the UN to begin writing the curriculum for the digital platform. Editing of the curriculum is underway, and both the platform and content are expected to be done by the end of this year.

Each curriculum unit or project will conform to these guidelines: global connections; work of the UN; curriculum connections; inquiry-based projects; and assessment and taking action. The final component, taking action, is particularly important to the project.

“It’s not enough just to learn,” Yotive told the conference audience. “We want to drive students towards action, towards social justice.”

The intent is to establish a global community for teachers at no cost to teachers, Yotive said. The Graduate School of Education at Rutgers has partnered with the Longview Foundation for World Affairs and International Understanding, which promotes global awareness among American students, to finance the project. The foundation was established by a World War II veteran, William Lawrence Breese, in 1966.

The Highland Park School District in Highland Park, N.J. — a small, culturally diverse district serving more than 1,500 students in four schools — is involved in the initial phase of the project and has plans to create a seal of global citizenship. To earn the seal, high-school students will be offered a menu of courses and activities to complete.

Adam Gold, a social studies teacher at Highland Park High School who advises Model UN programs and Model Congress clubs, incorporates UN resources in his history and personal-finance classes. At the conference, Gold, who spoke alongside Yotive, discussed the importance of students developing financial literacy skills to compete in a global economy and labor force. As part of his curriculum, Gold engages students in résumé building and cover-letter writing and interviewing work.

“Students are definitely receptive to the idea of learning about how to compete in a global marketplace,” he said.

But the UN must be part of that dynamic. “We cannot insert global citizenship into schools — into the curriculum, without also including the UN as an institution,” Yotive said. He cited past failures like Rwanda’s genocide, which slipped past most of the world’s attention as it unfolded, as well as the need for people to know how the UN operates and what it does well.

“It is the only thing we have,” Yotive said.

The project’s goals are aligned with the UN’s post-2015 development agenda, as put forth through such advisory groups as Education for All and the Global Education First Initiative. Both are focused on improving the quality of education for children now that school enrollment gains have been made in many countries and regions through the Millennium Development Goals, although sub-Saharan Africa still has a long way to go toward achievement.


Danielle M. Bennett is a former teacher of college-preparatory classes in history at the Pascack Valley High School in Hillsdale, N.J. She is a graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and received both a master’s degree and a bachelor’s degree in special education from the University of Maryland.

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