In Memoriam of Ydo Yao: A Man of the People

Ydo Yao was the Director General of UNESCO's International Bureau of Education for three years, until he became sick and, just a few days ago, passed away in Geneva.

Having succeeded Mmantsetsa Marope in 2021, Ydo brought a passion for education on the African continent with him to UNESCO-IBE, a mission clearly wrought from his own experiences as a Burkinabe dedicated to the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Quality Education), wishing to see a more relevant, indigenised and student-centred curriculum along with the levels of teacher development and student support necessary to empower the learning of the world's fastest growing youth population.

One of the powerful projects Ydo was involved in was the publication of UNESCO’s General History of Africa, told by African voices, free of the colonial narrative that historically has encapsulated so much story telling about Africa, where it is viewed as an object rather than a subject, a part of European history rather than the source of its own historical narrative. Another central prerogative that Ydo held to his heart dearly was the question of the language of learning. He pointed out frequently that African education systems would be truly liberated the day when local languages would be much more prevalent and the language of curriculum instruction and textbooks would bear local references. Indeed, educational achievement data need to be understood within the pressures of context, and when learning is taking place in a foreign language, impediments are multiple.

Ydo was opening the gates to a true decolonisation of education in Africa when he left us so tragically, at a young age and far too young.

He stood firmly by the institutional relationship Ecolint has with UNESCO-IBE and he allowed for much of the expertise at UNESCO to strengthen our approach to learning through the Universal Learning Programme (ULP), the Learner Passport, and our approach to technology which has been reinforced by technical expertise from UNESCO. La Grande Boissière staff will still remember his keynote at our last ULP Summit, so full of wit and dynamism.

Ydo was a striking figure; handsome and bold, humorous and relievingly feisty. He had not allowed the dullness of bureaucracy to dim the strong light that shone from his core. He would engage with everyone around him, was in no way ever pretentious despite his illustrious career and degrees. To me, Ydo exemplified that powerful African value of Umoja  (Swahili for unity): he was a people's person, a friend and a beautiful soul.

The world of education has lost a much loved member of its family. Let us put aside some time to reflect on Dr Ydo Yao’s work and ensure that together we continue his legacy for a more equitable, just and inclusive future. Ecolint stands with the UNESCO-IBE community and its leader Svein Oesttveit in solidarity and mourning for the passing of a scholar, a leader and an educator.

Conrad Hughes
Director General
18th of April, 2024