On a night when she was celebrated for her eight-year tenure as Director-General, Irina Bokova was made a Distinguished Associate of Education International, only the second person outside of the organisation to receive the honour.
As diplomats, dignitaries and staff gathered in anticipation of Bokova’s official send-off, Tribute to Irina Bokova, on Friday, 10 November, the two-term Director-General sat down with EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen for the final time at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
Her dedication to quality education and close working relationship with EI were behind the reason to make Bokova a Distinguished Associate of the organisation. The only other person bestowed with the honour is former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke.
Van Leeuwen credited Bokova with making UNESCO a leading voice in education, something that wasn’t necessarily the case with her predecessors.
“You are the first Director-General of UNESCO who has made it clear that education is the responsibility of the state and that education is not a commodity, and we are grateful for that,” said van Leeuwen. “We think that the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4 and its targets have been, to an important extent, [UNESCO’s] achievements… There’s no doubt in our mind that you have been in the forefront of that battle.”
He thanked her for her commitment to the teaching profession as well as her decision to return focus to the role education plays in tightening cultural and social binds.
During their discussion on the future of education, Bokova dismissed much of the focus on technology as the solution to classroom woes.
“I have always said that nothing can substitute a good teacher, because children need guidance, people need guidance,” she said.
Bokova will step down on 15 November, giving way to Audrey Azoulay, who was elected UNESCO Director-General on 10 November for a five-year term.