Learning cities and cultural diversity

7 April 2017

Cultural diversity is an important, highly topical issue in Italy. The country received over 10,000 asylum applicants in 2016 alone; new ways in which to integrate the refugees and asylum seekers fleeing conflict and violence in different parts of the world must therefore be explored. It is for this reason that Roma Tre University, with the support of the Italian National Commission for UNESCO, organized the conference Learning Cities and Cultural Diversity in February 2017.

Overloaded boats carrying hundreds of people arrive in Italy every day. ‘It is totally our moral obligation to help,’ General Commander of the Coast Guard, Admiral Inspector Vincenzo Melone explained at the conference. ‘But we will need to find solutions to solve the problems in the long run.’ Exploring ways to increase opportunities for continuing education and skills development in formal and non-formal settings across Italy is one of these solutions.

Participants at the conference agreed that efforts to improve learning opportunities should be directed towards suburban areas in particular, where most refugees settle. Learning programmes that contribute to unlocking refugees’ potential and increasing their opportunities were also encouraged. Language and literacy skills development should therefore be supported by local communities as well as by regional and national government and educational institutions.

Fostering learning cities in Italy would benefit asylum seekers and the community as a whole. Multicultural environments can produce discussions and shared understandings of, for example, social justice, cultural diversity, social inclusion and safety, peace development, equity and democracy. Following this perspective, Mo Wang, Programme Specialist at the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), provided insight into the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities. She highlighted the fact that learning city development does not just rely on the education sector; instead, it requires a cross-sector approach.

Using the learning city concept to promote cultural diversity is a step towards long-term solutions to the challenges Italy is now facing. In particular, providing learning spaces to foster mutual understanding and providing platforms for dialogue and communication are key to securing social cohesion.