UNESCO: International Conference on Learning Cities – hosted in Cork – Day 1 Report

18 September 2017
By Bryan T. Smyth

(left/right) Rebecca Loughry, Specialist Social inclusion – HSE/CCC, Lord Mayor Cllr. Tony Fitzgerald, and Stephen Murphy, HSE, pictured at the official launch of the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Third International Conferences on Learning Cities, which took place earlier in the Summer. The actual event is now underway, and spans 3 days.
Photo: Cathal Noonan

More than 650 delegates from 92 countries across the world attended the opening day of the UNESCO’s third International Conference on Learning Cities, which opened today in Cork, Ireland. It is the first time that this global UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Conference has been hosted in a European country, so there is great excitement for Ireland and in particular Cork as the world’s top education influencers descend on Cork City Hall from Monday 18th to Wednesday 20th September 2017.

More than half the world’s population live in cities, with the proportion expected to rise to two-thirds by 2050. To achieve all-round development, the central role of cities in creating change, fostering inclusion and promoting sustainability must be fully recognised and explored. This conference brings together key city stakeholders to share and discuss their experiences and identify good practice in using education and learning as drivers of sustainable development.

‘Cities are key actors for peace and development in the century ahead – our challenge is to ensure that this peace is lasting, that this development is sustainable,’ said Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, in her conference message. She added that ‘lifelong learning stands at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, noting that lifelong learning is more than adult education and technical vocational education, and should be understood as going beyond the walls of classrooms, to include non-formal and informal learning.

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) has been instrumental in building the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities. The network was established in 2013 and currently comprises more than 200 member cities from across the world. The network is open to all cities of the world so long as they foster education and lifelong learning in their pursuit of development and sustainability. The city of Cork joined the global network in 2015 and is an example of a learning city that has evolved progressively in providing learning opportunities to its citizens. It is also holder of the prestigious Learning City Award, which it received in 2015. Until today Cork was one of 12 cities worldwide to receive this award and only one of three in Europe.

The UNESCO Learning City Award is conferred on cities in the network that have made outstanding progress in building learning cities by implementing UNESCO’s Key Features of Learning Cities. This year, 16 cities from around the world received the award during the conference this morning in Cork. The cities awarded were:

  • Bristol (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  • Câmara de Lobos (Portugal)
  • Contagem (Brazil)
  • Gelsenkirchen (Germany)
  • Giza (Egypt)
  • Hangzhou (China)
  • Larissa (Greece)
  • Limerick (Ireland)
  • Mayo-Baléo (Cameroon)
  • N’Zérékoré (Guinea)
  • Okayama (Japan)
  • Pécs (Hungary)
  • Surabaya (Indonesia)
  • Suwon (Republic of Korea)
  • Tunis (Tunisia)
  • Villa María (Argentina)

The Chief Executive of Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board, George O’Callaghan said at the conference that;

‘Limerick applied for the award on the basis of progressing and developing the city for the future. The concept is that the region looks to the city and a learning city benefits from employment and an educated and skilled workforce for the future.

We want to emphasise that all citizens have a right to education and all citizens can upskill and train.  The initiatives put in place this year which helped us win this UNESCO award were all about educational setup and economic progress that has taken place with the rejuvenation of the city over the last number of years.

We are proud to say that as a result of our efforts so far, the mid-west is the fastest growing region outside of Dublin and that our journey to increasing a skilled and educated workforce across Further Education and Training as well as Higher Education is well underway.’

As leaders, experts and stakeholders gather in Cork, it is important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of cities in creating inclusive, resilient and sustainable societies. UNESCO calls upon local governments to embrace education and lifelong learning as a foundation for sustainable development and to contextualise global goals into their various localities, communities and societies. This is essential for cities seeking to maximize their impact on the lives, livelihoods and wellbeing of their citizens and for us all in achieving, together, our shared global vision of a better world for this and future generations.

For more information on the UNESCO Third International Conference on Learning Cities and to see the full conference programme go to the website www.learningcities2017.org or keep up to date with live online updates by following #learningcities2017 or check out Facebook pageCorkLearning or Twitter @Corklearning

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