UNESCO conference without UNESCO
notes of a participant
From: Serguei Badaev
Date of document: 6 January 2002
In the summer of 1999 Dr
Art-ong Jumsai, director of the Institute of Sathya Sai Education (ISSE), Thailand,
publicly announced that there would be a significant UNESCO conference devoted to human
values education to be held in Prashanti Nilayam.
Since 1969 the Sai Organisation has been conducting an
educational activity in the frame of SSEHV program (Sathya Sai Education in Human Values),
which is aimed at character and spiritual development in children and based on Sai Baba's
teachings. In spring 2000 forms and programs for participants were distributed to the
national organisations, and every country started looking for appropriate candidates.
Every country was supposed to sponsor 2 or 3 participants, non-members of the Sai
Organisation. The list of VIPs, such as professors, ministers and former ministers, etc.,
was compiled separately.
The goal of the conference as it was publicly declared by Dr
Jumsai, was to present the program of moral and spiritual education SSEHV to the world,
first of all to those who may influence decisions in the field of educational policy in
their respective countries. However the official title of the conference was as follows:
"Strengthening Values Education: Innovative Approaches to Teacher Education for Peace
and International Understanding". It seemed that it was not quite the same idea that
had been declared previously.
The conference was declared to be co-organized by UNESCO,
Institute of Sathya Sai Education (ISSE, Thailand) and the Flinders University Institute
of International Education (Australia), and was scheduled for 25 till 29 September 2000 in
Prashanti Nilayam, Sai Baba's main ashram in India.
Absence of UNESCO and Flinders University not explained.
At the height of the conference preparation, a letter was
distributed throughout the Sai Organization informing readers that UNESCO and the Flinders
University had withdrawn from participating in the conference. No reasons were given to
explain their sudden decision. Those who were involved in inviting participants for the
conference, especially VIPs, found themselves in a very awkward situation: they had to
inform the candidates about UNESCO and the Flinders University withdrawals but they had no
information to explain what had happened. (At the time I did not know that a letter from
the UNESCO headquarters in Paris concerning this conference was posted on the Internet.
This letter contained the information that UNESCO had withdrawn from the conference and
was concerned about the allegation of sexual abuse involving youths and children that were
levelled at Sathya Sai Baba.
naturally, some candidates refused to take part in the conference, and the organizing
committee allowed the Sai Organization members who were involved in the SSEHV program to
join the conference. As a result, about half of the participants were members of the Sai
No theoretical or practical aspects discussed, no current
During the conference, most of the speakers emphasized the point
that education should lead to character development and that numerous problems of the
modern world are not the result of lack of knowledge, but lack of morals and spirituality.
Among the speakers were only a few people involved in SSEHV activities. None of them
considered any theoretical or applied aspects of the SSEHV program in their speeches. None
of them reviewed the history of the SSEHV program development in India and overseas, nor
was the current situation with the work of the Sai Organization within framework of the
SSEHV program analysed. No statistical data were presented. Another strange fact was that
the director of the European Sathya Sai Institute (ESSE), T. Meyer, supervising this
activity of the Sai Organization in Europe, was not on the list of speakers, although he
was present at the conference.
As the final document a declaration was adopted which emphasized
the significance of human values for all spheres of the human life, especially for
education. This declaration was to be sent to all major international organizations,
including UNESCO. Dr Jumsai prepared a draft of the declaration and when it was
distributed to participants, quite naturally, different points of view appeared in regard
to formulations. The participants were told that the conference had not had enough time to
work collectively on the text of the declaration, so two alternatives were suggested:
either the conference would have no final document, or all comments in written form would
be directed to Dr Jumsai who would try to integrate them into the final version. The last
suggestion was accepted after all and the next day the final version of the declaration
was distributed to all participants.
Exchange of ideas and experience is encouraged in theory only.
It is worth noting what the declaration says about need to
establish contacts and interaction among educators involved in teaching values, to promote
ideas and experience exchange. In a draft of the declaration the Institute of Sathya Sai
Education (Thailand) suggested to play the role of a co-ordinator or the Secretariat for
the creation and maintaining the information exchange network. Similar proposals were
announced repeatedly during the previous other seminars. Up to now such a network has not
been established even inside the Sai Organization. Moreover, my non-sanctioned contacts as
a national educational co-ordinator with other educators from different regions were
forbidden by the zonal chairman T. Meyer. My requests, addressed to him, to help me to
come in touch with SSEHV teachers working in Europe were left without answer.
The goal of the conference is not met.
Generally this conference did not meet the proclaimed goal.
Perhaps there were some hidden goals that were not proclaimed. Some participants felt that
the very presence of so many people in the holy atmosphere of the ashram and divine
vibrations of Sai Baba could be considered as a great achievement. All speakers talked
about the significance of human values in general terms as if someone among the audience
had some doubts in this regard or had a different point of view. When I arrived back in
Russia, I often found myself in an awkward situation, because many Sai Baba devotees
considered this conference as a sign of some dramatic changes coming into the world on the
threshold of a new millennium. I was awfully sorry being unable to convey to them any
information which could satisfy their expectations.
Have you been to one of these gatherings, then you know them
It is interesting to note that this conference seemed very
typical of the conferences and seminars which were conducted earlier by the Sai
Organization in Prashanti Nilayam and abroad. Before the 2000 conference I had taken part
in two seminars for teachers and teacher trainers in Prashanti Nilayam in 1998 and 1999 as
well as in a number of seminars conducted by European ESSE Institute. Their characteristic
feature is a rather low professional level. It might be due to the fact that few people
working in the SSEHV program were professional educators. As for the content: all those
seminars were designed as if everybody in the audience heard about the SSEHV program for
the first time. So after the first of my seminars I could not learn anything new for me
during those activities. At those seminars and conferences I was always surprised at the
fact that we did not talk about children. Speakers often presented quotations from Sai
Baba but never related to the world pedagogical heritage. It seemed that all this work was
going on in a sort of a pedagogical vacuum, in complete isolation from what had been done
in this field by humanity as a whole
Sometimes I felt that the SSEHV program was presented in such a way as if it was the only
program of spiritual and moral education in the world.
A short visit to one or more schools is never on the program.
There is another very confusing detail concerning educational
seminars and conferences that have been conducted in the Prashanti Nilayam ashram. Despite
of the fact that all these educational forums have been held in the ashram, where in the
neighbourhood there are primary and secondary schools founded by Sai Baba, as well as the
Institute of Higher Learning, deemed University, the Chancellor of which is Sai Baba
himself, I know of no occasion when within the framework of those seminars and conferences
(including September 2000) visits to the schools or the Institute were arranged. This is
especially strange as those schools and Institute have often been held up to be
educational models for the world. This point has come to my mind just recently and I
wonder why it did not come earlier.
Neither well-focussed nor informative.
So, it is clear that although the September 2000 conference was
held in the ashram Prashanti Nilayam and Sai Baba delivered inaugural and valedictory
addresses, it could not avoid some very serious shortcomings. From an academic point of
view it was neither well-focused nor informative. From a devotional point of view it made
many participants, Sai Baba devotees, listen to long talks without mentioning Sai Baba or
his teachings and even sometimes sacrificing their darshan time, i.e. time when they could
see Sai Baba in the temple area. Obviously, this conference should be considered as a
failure, because it could not meet the declared goals.
Mistakes and failures not acknowledged.
It seems to be extremely difficult for the Sai Organization to
acknowledge its mistakes and failures. It might be a result of a literal following of Sai
Baba's instruction "to see only good, to hear only good, etc." It might also be
a desire to keep its reputation and save its image of an organization which can't fail
because the Lord of Lords himself is its spiritual leader.
UNESCO's name misued.
Anyway, after all that happened to the so called UNESCO
conference in September 2000, it was not quite correct for "Sanathana Sarathi"
to publish that "Dr. Leonarda Jekantaite, Secretary General of UNESCO (Lithuania)
presented the Keynote Address." (Sanathana Sarathi, vol. 43, October 2000, p.
317). Though she was 'Secretary-general' of the Lithuanian branch of UNESCO, she was not
accredited to represent UNESCO at the conference. This she confirmed to Robert Priddy by
e-mail when he had investigated the matter with UNESCO. She stated that she had been there
as a private person interested in Eastern values education. Giving her full UNESCO title
"Sanathana Sarathi" made readers think that she was an official UNESCO
This amounts to face-saving deceit.
It was also very strange and confusing to read in the inaugural
speech of I. Shah, the international president of the Sathya Sai Organization, at the 7th
World Conference (November 2000, Prashanti Nilayam) the following words: "In this
context, let me share with you that US magazine "Week" has chosen to give
respect to the UNESCO conference held in Prasanthi Nilayam highlighting the message of
Bhagawan on 'Values for All'". (20.11.2000. Materials of the 7th World Conference
of the Sai Organization). It does not matter whether the "Week" has published
anything about the conference or not. The matter is that I. Shah has consciously deceived
his spiritual brothers and sisters using UNESCO's name for the conference, whereas UNESCO
had nothing to do with it.
letter of withdrawal from UNESCO. (The same as at the top of this page.)
UNESCO WITHDRAWS FROM CONFERENCE
Paris, September 15 - UNESCO has decided it will no longer
sponsor nor take part in a conference it had been due to co-organize with the Institute of
Sathya Sai Education (ISSE, Thailand) and The Flinders University Institute of
International Education (Australia), in Puttaparthi, India, from September 25 to 29. The
decision means UNESCO is no longer associated in any way through sponsorship, organization
or participation of any kind with the conference on Strengthening
Values Education: Innovative Approaches to Teacher Education
for Peace and International Understanding.
UNESCO's withdrawal was prompted by several factors. Certain
decisions were taken by the ISSE without consultation, such as plans to hold some of the
sessions at the Ashram of the Sathya Sai movement in Puttaparthi, and the inclusion of
some speakers in the conference program without their previous consent. Furthermore, the
Organization is deeply concerned about widely-reported allegations of sexual abuse
involving youths and children that have been levelled at the leader of the movement in
question, Sathya Sai Baba. Whilst it is not for UNESCO to pronounce itself in this regard,
the Organization restates its firm moral and practical commitment to combating the sexual
exploitation of children, in application of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of
the Child, which requires States to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation
This document has been downloaded from
http://www.exbaba.com, section "Letters".
not available anymore)
European Sathya Sai Education Institute (ESSE) is located in Denmark. Its director, T.
Meyer, is a top official of the Sai Organization, namely a Zonal Chairman of the 4th zone
(Northern Europe and the countries of the former Eastern Block). The Institute was founded
not later than in 1990. The Institute's activity consists in conducting teacher training
workshops by a team of international instructors (5-7 people). Now the Institute is going
to be reorganized into an Academy.
According to the article from "The Hindu" newspaper the
Institute of Sathya Sai Education (ISSE) in Thailand was founded in 1998. Its Indian
branch was opened in Bombay in 1999, and its African branch was opened in Zambia in 2000.
It is claimed in the article that many countries opened their own branches of this
Institute, but no additional information is given.
European ESSE Institute is not mentioned in the article at all
("The Hindu", September 25, 2000, p.15). This fact together with the fact that
T. Meyer was not included in the list of key speakers of the Conference might be
interpreted as signs of strong competition and struggle for spheres of influence between
European (Denmark) and Asian (Thailand) Institutes of Sathya Sai Education.
Here follows the text of the declaration adopted by the conference.
Prashanti Nilayam Declaration
29 September 2000
Human Values for All through Education.
Six hundred and fifty participants from 78 countries gathered
in Prashanti Nilayam in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh, India, between 25th-29th September to
attend the International Conference on "Strengthening Values Education". The
Conference provided a venue for interactive participation during five days, thereby
contributing to the development of international networking and information exchange.
The participants are united in their desire and intent to
strengthen values education in the world, and agree that in five days it is not possible
to thoroughly consider the diversity of all perspectives, cultures, and local conditions
affecting the means of accomplishing this important goal. From the diversity of
well-considered opinions expressed during the conference, there is unity in belief that
all children and youth should have positive values in education.
IT IS HEREBY DECLARED
All children have a right to equal opportunity to receive the
best and free education that would bring about good character and human excellence; and,
Human values must be an integral part of all subjects taught
in the education systems of the world; and,
All governments should be encouraged to develop and implement
laws and policies which enables values in education to be an integral component of teacher
education, professional development and student learning experiences; and,
Education in human values, peace, and international
understanding should be taught across the entire teacher education curriculum; and,
In order to implement the above, a voluntary network of
educators sharing the education goal of human excellence will be established for educators
to exchange ideas, experiences and promote values education.
The Prashanti Nilayam Declaration will be submitted to UNESCO,
the United Nations, and other international organizations for further consideration and
A fact speaking for itself is that in the EHV hall in the
premises of the North Indian (Punjabi) canteen, where sessions of the conference were
held, there is enough room only for 200-300 people. So the number of 650 participants
mentioned in the declaration seems unbelievably high.
 In the
field of moral development there are several fundamental theories: (a)
cognitive-developmental theory (J. Piaget, L. Kohlberg, etc.); (b) social learning theory
(E. Durkheim, B.F. Skinner, etc.); (c) psychoanalytic theory (S. Freud, etc.). Moral
education, especially in the frame of schooling, relates in one way or other to some of
these theories and may include the following approaches: (1) values clarification; (2)
value analysis; (3) set-of-values approach, etc. (Encyclopaedia of Education. Pergamon
Press, 1985; Encyclopaedia of Ethics. St. James Press, 1992). The SSEHV program can't be
internationally acknowledged until it finds its place among existing theories and
approaches in moral and values education.