Cover image: United Nations

United Nations

Learning about organisations such as the UN can give young people an insight into the complexity of some global issues and the processes of decision-making at the highest levels.

What is the United Nations?

“The United Nations officially came into existence on 24 October, 1945, as the Second World War came to a close. October 24 is now celebrated as United Nations Day. The United Nations was established in particular to 'save succeeding generations from the scourge of war'. The aims of the United Nations are:
  • to keep peace throughout the world
  • to develop friendly relations between countries
  • to work together to help poor people live better lives
  • to remove poverty, disease and illiteracy in the world
  • to stop environmental destruction
  • tnd to encourage respect for each other’s rights and freedoms.
The head of the United Nations is called the Secretary-General. This post is appointed by the General Assembly (the meetings of all member state representatives), on the recommendation of the Security Council. The current Secretary-General is António Guterres from Portugal, appointed in October 2016. The Secretary-General stands for five years, and can be reappointed. The United Nations and UN Secretary-General won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000. The Security Council is a very powerful body in the UN. When the UN was established in 1946, it consisted of the five super-powers: United Kingdom, United States of America, France, China and the Soviet Union (now Russia). These five countries are still the only permanent members but there are now 10 further members elected for two-year terms. Each Council member has one vote and nine of the 15 members need to be in agreement for action to take place; of these nine votes, the five permanent members need to be in agreement. The United Nations is often criticised, but it is an association of independent states. It is only effective if its members agree and co-operate, and its secretariat organises and carries out decisions efficiently.” Text mostly taken from the Under the UN Flag - Assemblies for Citizenship in Secondary Schools , Unicef, 2005.

Why teach about the United Nations?

Learning about international institutions such as the United Nations enables pupils to gain a deeper understanding of the democratic process that affect the world around them. Young people can see in practice some of the complex problems and challenges in the world today, such as how to resolve conflicts and combat disease.

Teaching resources

Browse through teaching resources about the United Nations and other international organisations >>

Useful website

United Nations Association - UK (UNA-UK) Founded in 1945, UNA-UK is the country’s foremost advocate for UK action at the UN; the UK's leading source of analysis on the UN; and a vibrant grassroots movement of 20,000 people from all walks of life. It is the only charity in the UK devoted to building support for the UN amongst policymakers, opinion-formers and the public. It advocates strong government support for the UN - political and financial - and seeks to demonstrate why the UN matters to people everywhere. UNA-UK's website has a wealth of resources and background information for teachers about the United Nations, including: