Cities of inclusion: The winners of the UNESCO Learning City Award 2019

Photo: David Atchoarena, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, and Federico Gutiérrez, Mayor of Medellín

Ten cities from around the world received the 2019 UNESCO Learning Cities Award on 30 September in Medellín, Colombia on the eve of the opening of the Fourth International Conference on Learning Cities.

"The Award is a recognition of exemplary progress made by cities in promoting inclusive education and lifelong learning in local communities," said David Atchoarena, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. "It is a means to honour our network member cities as they have demonstrated remarkable progress by implementing the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC) guidelines."

Coordinated by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, the UNESCO GNLC is an international policy-oriented network providing inspiration, know-how and best practice.

"Only with education do we close the social gaps and overcome the vicious circle of violence and poverty," said Federico Gutiérrez, Mayor of Medellín, as he accepted the Award on behalf of his city.  A number of innovative programmes in the city were recently implemented, including one that has helped to successfully reintegrate over 7,000 school drop-outs by engaging with them on a one-to-one basis. "Medellín is a city that is known for rising from its darkest hours. Its people have found in education a possibility of resilience and transformation," stated the Mayor of the host city.

The city of Ibadan in Nigeria was honoured for its festival of learning, offering interactive and varied activities and workshops for different target audiences that are reinforcing the concept of lifelong learning in the community. "Ibadan is continually striving to turn the ideal of ‘inclusive education’ into reality," said Oluseyi Abiodun Makinde, the Governor of Oyo State.

Chengdu, China, combined learning with walks around the city, each route focusing on a different subject area such as regional features, traditional cultures and modern industry, demonstrating a smart use of public and non-public resources. Xianyi Zhou, the Secretary-General of the Municipal Government of Chengdu, stated that his city "firmly believes that learning makes life more wonderful and a city far stronger."

The Egyptian city of Aswan has developed a strategy that integrates a variety of projects, including gardening and water-conservation programmes in schools, as well as diverse entrepreneurial training opportunities for all groups of society.  Ahmed Ibrahim Mohamed, Governor of Aswan said: "We will continue to build a learning city that supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals by linking education to the needs of society."

The Greek city of Heraklion implemented the ‘Fit for All’ programme to bring citizens and refugees residing in the city closer together by promoting equity and inclusion through sports and educational activities based on subjects such as local culture and tradition. «We fully believe that such an important social good ought to be protected, enhanced, and that it should remain a driving force in our city," said Nikolaos Angelakis, the Deputy Mayor. 

The Mexican city of Santiago, provided citizens with access to a great range of free classes, including robotic courses for children and anti-bullying training. "Our mission and vision is to promote learning as the guiding principle of municipal action," said the Mayor, Javier Caballero Gaona.

Petaling Jaya in Malaysia, provided free bus services across four city routes as an improvement to access public learning spaces. The Mayor, Sayuthi Bakar, said: "Our city continues to seek partnerships with corporations, organizations and individuals for community projects that enhance the city’s sustainable social, environmental and economic development."

The Ukrainian city Melitopol retrained displaced people. "Lifelong learning can address some of the problems facing Internally Displaced Persons and can change perspectives, so that Melitopol’s citizens see them as an opportunity, and not as a problem," said Serhii Pryima, the city’s Vice-Mayor.

Seodaemun-gu, in the Republic of Korea, took advantage of its many high-rise apartments by creating small learning communities in which each year 50 courses are taught in citizens’ living rooms. "We will continue to provide learning programmes that meet global standards to improve the quality of life of our citizens," announced Seok-Jin Mun, the Mayor of the city.

"Fostering lifelong learning is a core endeavour, which we achieve through strong political commitment, partnerships and quality education," said Erik Lauritzen, Mayor of Sønderborg, Denmark. The city implemented a so called ‘4–17–42’ strategy, where ‘4’ stands for the city’s four political commitments (environmental, economic, social and cultural), ‘17’ represents the city’s commitment to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals and ‘42’ represents the 42 features included in the UNESCO GNLC’s Key Features of Learning Cities.

From 1 to 3 October, government officials, city representatives and education experts from around the world are gathering in Medellín to identify, exchange and discuss effective lifelong learning policies and practices that lead to inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities.