Education is one of the priorities of Câmara de Lobos, considering that this is the fundamental means to promote human development, understood as the basic condition for quality of life. Given that Câmara de Lobos is one of the largest and youngest educational communities on Madeira Island, we considered it important to focus on lifelong learning.
Pedro Coelho, Mayor of Câmara de Lobos
Building a learning city
With almost 36,000 inhabitants, Câmara de Lobos is the third most populous municipality in Madeira after the region’s capital, Funchal, and the municipality of Santa Cruz. It comprises five towns located across a mountainous region celebrated for its beauty. Câmara de Lobos has great developmental potential thanks to its environment, cultural and historical heritage, and young population. It is a small municipality with big learning goals. Drawing on an excellent understanding of the needs of its citizens and the particularities of the region, it has been able to harness its limited resources to strengthen the positive outcomes of its learning strategy. This strategy centres on skills development for workers, health-related skills acquisition, access to learning opportunities for all and environmental preservation.
Câmara de Lobos is the first municipality in Portugal to join UNESCO’s Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC). It is strongly committed to promoting learning in communities and families. To increase the impact of learning on both individuals and the regional economy, and to fully understand the needs of all involved, Câmara de Lobos has developed an innovative and flexible learning strategy based on constant dialogue with citizens and local associations and on the use of dynamic workshops. This ongoing exchange is led by the Grupo Dinamizador (Steering Group), which was created to facilitate dialogue among local institutions and citizens. The Carta Educativa (Educational Charter) – a strategic document created by the municipality to guide its learning strategy – is continuously evolving. It is updated regularly to provide citizens with adequate learning opportunities that meet their current needs. This agile strategy, a thorough understanding of the local issues at stake and ongoing dialogue are the three pillars underpinning the success of Câmara de Lobos’s efforts to build a learning city.
All of Câmara de Lobos’s actions are integral to a people-oriented approach to building a learning city. The municipality values dialogue with its citizens and is constantly liaising with not-for-profit organizations, such as Casas do Povo (Community Houses), in order to increase its impact on the community. As well as communicating directly with its citizens, Câmara de Lobos has been increasing its presence on social media to reach a wider public and promote learning opportunities more efficiently.
Câmara de Lobos draws on the potential of non-formal learning workshops and activities, particularly with regard to the development of key health-related skills for young people and parents. It has, for example, targeted vulnerable groups by offering them activities designed to improve parenting skills and promote healthy behaviours. Other activities are made available to the population as a whole, such as Andar Pela Saúde (Walking for Health), which organizes free walks all year round in cooperation with the hiking association, Club Pés Livres.
Initiatives such as Andar Pela Saúde not only promote healthy behaviours; they also allow individuals of all ages to feel connected to their local area and rich environment. This is another aspect of the municipal learning strategy: it encourages sustainable growth and supports social entrepreneurship by encouraging citizens to make full, sustainable use of local resources.
The region’s tourist industry is crucial to its economy, and Câmara de Lobos has identified a high potential for growth in this area. The municipality is thus building on its tourism assets and providing its citizens with the tools to access better job opportunities. It offers a range of courses (e.g. in foreign languages and computer literacy) to support adult learners’ professional goals.
Finally, the municipality has been focusing on making its learning opportunities and venues accessible to all. It has worked to link rural areas and urban centres, and stresses the importance of giving people with disabilities the same access to learning as everyone else, notably by acquiring a wheelchair-accessible minibus and making it available to schools and associations.
- Developing a plan
The municipality of Câmara de Lobos faces various challenges related to public health, well-being and social inclusion. Another substantial challenge is the promotion of learning activities in a rural context, characterized by mountainous terrain and a population spread across fivedifferent towns.
The municipality drafted a learning action plan to tackle these specific challenges. One of Câmara de Lobos’s first objectives was to gain a clear overview of its citizens’ needs. To do this, the municipality exchanged extensively with local associations and schools. It created a dedicated structure, the Grupo Dinamizador, involving local institutions and citizens to exchange information on well-being indicators. To achieve its second objective – to encourage a healthy lifestyle among citizens – it has targeted key groups: young people at risk, parents and children. The municipality has been working to make learning activities accessible to all by taking immediate action through the provision of a wheelchair-accessible minibus, which schools and associations can use according to need.
In early 2010, Câmara de Lobos adopted Local Agenda 21, a non-binding action plan to promote sustainable growth, with a focus on tourism. It has incorporated the action plan guidelines into its learning strategy, resulting in the creation of activities such as the Dia Eco-Escolas (Eco-Schools Day); efforts to increase community awareness of environmental issues; and Brincadores de Sonhos (Dreamcatchers) workshops that encourage entrepreneurship among pupils and, by extension, their families.
Câmara de Lobos is thus engaged in an ongoing process to connect individuals and foster their participation in municipal life in the long term.
- Creating a coordinated structure involving all stakeholders
Câmara de Lobos’s Grupo Dinamizador coordinates the actions of local stakeholders, fostering dialogue that centres on education and well-being.
Partners involved in the Grupo Dinamizador include the Regional Employment Institute; the Regional Social Security Institute; the Regional Education Service; Housing Investments Madeira (a private company); and the Regional Health Service. The group was tasked with pioneering a Diagnostic Survey on Social Participation and a 2016–2017 Action Plan for Social Cohesion in the Autonomous Region of Madeira, involving 120 social partners and 238 citizens. Participatory methodologies were fostered throughout, using a combination of workshops and SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analyses.
Local partners involved in these participatory processes include associations and sports clubs; schools; rural municipalities; social solidarity initiatives; youth groups; employment support centres; child and youth protection services; security forces; and other community groups.
In terms of the results achieved and needs identified, the municipality has concluded that citizens (including young people) value community and participatory initiatives most highly, leading to strong participation and involvement rates. Effective and targeted action has been taken following a close analysis of individual needs carried out by the Grupo Dinamizador.
In addition, Câmara de Lobos has identified groups of individuals and neighbourhoods with specific educational needs. Its lntervenção Social Participada (Social Participation Intervention) forms part of the municipality’s non-binding Local Agenda 21 action plan, implemented to support sustainable growth in the tourism sector.
- Mobilizing and utilizing resources
The building of a learning city in Câmara de Lobos essentially depends on public funds. However, not-for-profits and associations also play a role, particularly in supporting access to education for the municipality’s most disadvantaged groups.
Madeira’s regional government is responsible for educational policies and funding across the board. The Secretaria Regional de Educação (Regional Secretary of Education) and Direção Regional de Educação (Regional Directorate of Education) implement regionwide policies for pre-school, primary and secondary schools. These policies aim to increase learning quality and student success rates to ensure that citizens acquire individual, social and professional skills.
An additional support initiative spearheaded by municipal bodies, regional authorities and local institutions aims to promote children’s access to schools and educational attainment. Depending on their incomes, families receive financial support to cover the cost of students’ meals, transportation to and from school, learning materials and fees.
Other financial resources are provided by private schools and not-for-profits such as the Instituições Particulares de Solidariedade Social (Private Social Solidarity Institutions). They aim to promote and provide financial support for learning activities and initiatives for disadvantaged groups.
Sharing is essential if a city is to make full use of its resources. In Câmara de Lobos, associations and municipal authorities organize learning activities in a number of shared spaces, including the Casas do Povo community centres and the municipal library. In addition, the municipality’s wheelchair-accessible minibus is another example of how Câmara de Lobos mobilizes resources.
- Making learning accessible to all
In order to tackle the – primarily social and health-related – challenges facing the municipality, Câmara de Lobos has, among other things, established initiatives to promote health among disadvantaged families and communities. These initiatives aim to reduce child neglect and help the municipality’s most vulnerable young people. More broadly, Câmara de Lobos’ social and health-related projects focus on fostering an inclusive community through learning.
In 2015, the municipality launched a series of training courses to educate parents, which achieved a twofold target: to reduce child neglect by teaching parenting skills; and to improve the integration of socially marginalized families. Following the success of these initiatives, Câmara de Lobos launched new courses and activities in a number of neighbourhoods in 2016 and 2017.
Many other initiatives exist to help young people from poor neighbourhoods integrate into society. Equipa de Rua (Street Team), for example, focuses on young people with drug addictions or family issues, while Esc@Up supports them in their studies. In schools across the municipality, meanwhile, more than 400 students have participated in citizenship-related activities.
Lifelong learning activities include a University of the Third Age programme delivered through the Casas do Povo association; literacy and computing workshops; and courses adapted to the specific needs of disabled people.
All of the workshops on offer encourage mutual support among learners, thereby creating social connections and fostering a culture of exchange within the community. This culture of exchange serves to increase the dissemination of knowledge among the municipality’s inhabitants.
- Organizing celebratory events
Câmara de Lobos organizes several annual events to promote learning. Every year, an education seminar, Seminário de Educação, invites experts and the general public to join forces to explore the topic of education and learning. It focuses on sharing and reflecting on citizens’ and stakeholders’ involvement in developing individuals’ skills in and out of school. During the 2016 event, professionals and individuals discussed the outcomes of innovative municipal projects such as Esc@Up, the Carta Educativa and Brincadores de Sonhos. The seminar brings together regional and local stakeholders, and supports the dissemination of best practices in the Madeira region.
In addition, a series of workshops and public presentations was held in 2015 and 2016, during which social partners and citizens collaborated to present the municipality’s action plan for an inclusive learning city.
The municipality also promotes education, learning activities and exchange programmes during its annual Children’s Day and Youth Week celebrations, which it uses as an opportunity to organize multiple awareness-raising events and learning conferences. Moreover, it stages one-off events to promote specific topics. Notably, its Dia Eco-Escolas (Eco-Schools Day) aims to teach environmentally friendly practices to children while improving energy efficiency in schools. Child-centric events have a significant rebound effect in that they boost awareness and knowledge among families and across the community as a whole.
- Monitoring and evaluation
Câmara de Lobos’s development as a learning city is evaluated by the Municipal Council for Education (CME). Created in 2015, the CME comprises members of the education board and various partners. The CME meets at regular intervals to analyse and monitor the municipality’s education system. Based on this evaluation, the CME proposes improvements to ensure that learning resources are used effectively and education is supported in the long term.
During these meetings, the CME defines the priorities to be included in its strategic municipal charter (Carta Educativa) and Diagnostic Survey on Social Participation. The municipality thus collects key data to evaluate the learning conditions and education level of its population. It analyses indicators such as the number of students according to grade; adult literacy and illiteracy rates; transition rates; repetition rates according to grade; pupil-teacher ratios; educational attainment for the population aged 25 years and above; youth literacy rates; adult participation in lifelong learning; early-leaver rates (education and training); and school attendance rates according to age.
The Carta Educativa, developed following a participatory forum that brought together multiple learning partners, is constantly evolving. This innovative approach to monitoring the learning city process allows Câmara de Lobos to be flexible in its actions and to adapt dynamically to learners’ demands.
Periodically, CME executives also visit schools and other educational institutions, and meet with stakeholders in order to closely monitor learning progress across the municipality.
- Achievements and the way forward
The municipality has already witnessed a number of extremely positive outcomes in the process of building a learning city. It recognizes the role of learning activities in empowering citizens, especially with regard to the acquisition of health-related skills, and their positive impact on families.
Since the launch of Câmara de Lobos’ learning strategy, a learner-friendly environment and a wide range of tailored courses have ensured that attendance rates for adult learning classes continue to rise. Courses that aim to increase individuals’ working skills have proved particularly successful, especially in the case of language courses (e.g. English or German) and computer training.
The municipality will continue to build on the successes of its learning city strategy. Câmara de Lobos is in the process of establishing scholarships for university students who are struggling financially, as a means of reducing school drop-out rates and improving young people’s qualifications regardless of their economic background. Moreover, during the 2016/17 school year, the municipality has striven to expand its distribution of textbooks to students not currently covered by the Ação Social Educativa welfare programme.
Sónia Maria de Faria Pereira
Official city website