Achieving equity and inclusion through lifelong learning in Wolverhampton
A recent member of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC), Wolverhampton, located in the West Midlands region of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, has recently been named one of the 10 fastest-growing cities in the country*. However, in the past, not all of its roughly 257,000 residents benefited from the city’s economic growth. With highly diverse communities, Wolverhampton faces challenges with regard to skills development, with a shortage of higher-skilled workers a particular concern. In addition, a large percentage of the population depends on unemployment benefit and the number of children in jobless families is almost double the national average. Young people in Wolverhampton, in particular, need support to realize their aspirations and find meaningful employment.
This is why the city has made ‘education for all’ a top priority. ‘We are proud to focus on equity and inclusion,’ explains Cllr Claire Darke, Mayor of Wolverhampton. ‘Wolverhampton is for everyone. Our aim is to connect people, places and communities to unlock potential and create positive change.’
Enlisting diverse stakeholders is needed to transform Cllr Darke’s words into action. ‘We have a wide range of organizations working together to place learning at the heart of the city in order to tackle social and economic challenges by enlisting education and learning,’ she says. Among these partners are the University of Wolverhampton, the City of Wolverhampton Council, adult education centres and learning communities.
This learning city team has agreed on three key crosscutting priorities: helping young people to realize their aspirations, building a skilled workforce, and engaging adults in learning how to improve their health and well-being. A community-based lifelong learning and skills development programme that responds to the learning needs and interests of residents has been developed and, thanks to a GBP₤50 million investment,a section of the city centre has been transformed into a ‘Learning Quarter’ and the Springfield Campus project brings together regional businesses and the education sector to maximize impact on the economy.
Other learning activities taking place in the city are promoted through learning festivals. ‘They are the perfect way to celebrate and foster a city-wide culture of learning throughout life, encouraging involvement and making learning accessible to all. They are also an opportunity to promote Wolverhampton’s initiatives for sustainable development,’ explains Cllr Darke.
The UNESCO learning city of Wolverhampton has made great strides in transforming itself into a hub for excellence in education. The UNESCO GNLC will continue to provide inspiration to motivate the city to initiate further developments and, at the same time, looks forward to sharing its successes with other members of the network.
About the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities
Learning cities are key drivers to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They promote good policy and practice, and foster sustainable development at various levels, notably through lifelong learning. The UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities, coordinated by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, supports and improves the practice of lifelong learning in member cities by promoting policy dialogue and peer learning, documenting effective strategies and good practice, fostering partnerships, providing capacity development, and developing tools and instruments to design, implement and monitor learning cities strategies.