A learning city mobilizes resources to develop, promote and improve the learning of new competencies among its citizens. In Mexico City we seek to build a more resilient society where everyone has access to the learning tools that enable better social, economic and environmental skills to address the challenges this twenty-first century brings.
The Government of Mexico City wishes to play a more active role in shaping the learning opportunities available to its citizens. While formal education continues to be regulated by Mexico’s National Government, the process of building a learning city has enabled the local government to create non-formal and informal initiatives that respond to the complex challenges facing this megacity. Partnerships with NGOs and corporations have helped the city find innovative learning-based solutions to issues ranging from obesity, illiteracy and social inequality to natural disasters.
It is hoped that implementing lifelong learning activities across all of these areas will promote a more participatory and democratically mature society.
Measuring 1,495 square kilometres and with a population of about 8.851 million (21.1 million if we take into account the greater metropolitan area), Mexico City – also known as the Federal District or México, D. F. – is the capital of Mexico, one of the world’s major emerging economies. In 1997, Mexico City achieved greater autonomy from the national government when residents won the right to directly elect the head of government and representatives of the Legislative Assembly of the Federal District. However, some areas, including education, remain largely under the control of the national government. Until recently, the activities of the Federal District’s Ministry of Education (SEDU) were mainly limited to promoting equality and non-formal education and ensuring the retention of students within the education system. Building a learning city will enable SEDU and the Government of the Federal District to play a more active role in shaping the learning opportunities available to citizens of all ages in Mexico City.
Main issues to be tackled
The Government of the Federal District’s General Plan for Development for the years 2013 to 2018 identifies a number of challenges currently facing the city. It is hoped that the learning city approach can help tackle these challenges.
The first challenge is rising rates of obesity, which are putting a significant strain on Mexico City’s health services. According to UNICEF Mexico, the country has the highest rate of childhood obesity in the world (UNICEF Mexico, 2015). Creating integrated health and education policies will be essential for reducing obesity.
The second challenge is illiteracy. At present, 140,000 adults in Mexico City (i.e. 2.1 per cent of the city’s population) are unable to read or write. The Government of the Federal District wishes to combat illiteracy in order to protect these people’s rights and citizenship.
The third issue the city seeks to address by building a learning city is the growing gap between rich, highly educated citizens on one hand, and poor, lowskilled citizens on the other. This gap is being exacerbated by the city’s rapid growth. Poor urban planning is leading to increased marginalization of socially disadvantaged residents, who often live in overpopulated yet remote parts of the city with inadequate infrastructure, a lack of amenities and public services, and no access to learning opportunities.
Finally, it must be remembered that Mexico City is a city with a very high population density located in an area of high susceptibility to natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, landslides and volcanic eruptions. Mexico City is also suffering from the effects of climate change, pollution, the overexploitation of resources and water shortages. Such conditions demand a strategy for managing crisis situations and developing learning programmes that ensure the highest possible standards of civil protection. Such programmes were stepped up following the devastating earthquake of 1985.
Motives for becoming a learning city
Mexico City has two main reasons for becoming a learning city. The first is to create better coordination and integration of the city’s existing learning policies and programmes. The second is to promote the concept of lifelong learning and to ensure that it becomes a key component of other public policies and government actions, including those relating to urban development, the environment and health. It is hoped that implementing lifelong learning activities across all of these areas will promote a more participatory and democratically mature society.
Learning city policies and strategies
Becoming a learning city also means creating a variety of communities of learning, reflection and experimentation and promoting a transition to a new culture of public and private management with a greater focus on learning.
Definition of a learning city
Becoming a learning city will enable the Government of the Federal District to play a more proactive, dynamic role in shaping the lifelong learning opportunities available to its citizens. More specifically, the Federal District is developing learning programmes that go beyond the traditional curricula of formal education to include a greater focus on subjects such as art and nutrition. Becoming a learning city also means creating a variety of communities of learning, reflection and experimentation and promoting a transition to a new culture of public and private management with a greater focus on learning. Furthermore, public areas are being transformed into inclusive learning spaces that promote respect for diversity and encourage learners to share their skills and knowledge. Finally, building a learning city involves becoming more sustainable by increasing environmental awareness.
Vision and objectives
By encouraging multisectoral participation, Mexico City aims to develop a complex network of public spaces that make lifelong learning opportunities accessible to all residents and promote diversity, multiculturalism and basic rights. Mexico City’s chief objective is to enhance the skills of citizens of all ages. This will promote individuals’ sense of wellbeing and personal satisfaction, reduce inequality in the city and promote greater social integration.
The Political Constitution of the Mexican United States establishes the state’s obligation to provide free and compulsory education at preschool, primary and secondary levels. Major national education reforms in 2013 and 2014 aimed, among other things, to promote the right of children to a comprehensive, inclusive and quality education, and to strengthen teacher training and competence assessment. Also at the national level, the Federal Labour Law guarantees employees the right to continually enhance their skills, stipulating that companies are obliged to provide their workers with training to improve their job skills.
Although the Government of the Federal District has limited influence on the education system, one of the main objectives of the 2013–2018 General Plan for Development is to achieve equity and inclusion for human development. Thus the city has various laws guaranteeing citizens equal rights to education. Examples include a law on children’s right to education (Asamblea Legislativa del Distrito Federal, 2000a), a law on young people’s right to education (Asamblea Legislativa del Distrito Federal, 2000b) and a law on older people’s right to education (Asamblea Legislativa del Distrito Federal, 2000c). There is also a law promoting reading (Asamblea Legislativa del Distrito Federal, 2009) and a law encouraging the development of science and technology (Asamblea Legislativa del Distrito Federal, 2013).
Governance and partnership
The Federal District’s Ministry of Education (SEDU) has primary responsibility for initiating, designing and building the learning city. However, the process of building the learning city also involves transversal collaborations between many other local and national government agencies and stakeholders. For example, a number of national agencies, such as the National Institute for Adult Education, the National Institute of Public Health and the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition are actively involved in SEDU programmes and initiatives. At the municipal level, the SEDU works closely with the Federal District’s Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Labour and Employment Promotion, Ministry of Health, Institute for Sport, Institute for the Care of the Elderly, Guaranteed Education Trust and School for Public Administration, as well as with the authorities of the Historic Centre of Mexico City, who are working towards turning the city’s historic centre into a learning space.
In order to boost its learning actions, the Federal District has also established partnerships with some of the country’s best higher education institutions. The most prestigious is the National Autonomous University of Mexico, where almost 80 per cent of research in the country is carried out and with whom the SEDU has many collaboration agreements. Other important public and private institutions involved in building the learning city include the National Polytechnic Institute, the Autonomous Metropolitan University, the Ibero-American University, the Colegio de México, the Centre for Economic Research and Teaching and the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences.
In addition, a wide range of partnerships with non-governmental organizations has been formed. Examples include partnerships with Mexicanos Primero (which promotes the right of all Mexicans to quality education), Cocina y Huertos Concretos (which promotes healthy eating), the Mexican Dental Association, the Policy Institute for Transportation and Development (an international not-forprofit organization that works with cities to implement transport solutions that cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce poverty and improve the quality of urban life), the Aspen Institute Mexico (an educational and policy studies organization), UNESCO and UNICEF. Partnerships have also been established with corporations such as Telmex, Google, Coca-Cola FEMSA and Colgate. All of these partnerships have proven to be advantageous for both the city and the country as a whole.
Provision of lifelong learning
This section describes just some of the major programmes that the city government has implemented as part of its evolution as a learning city.
The Federal District’s Department of Civil Protection offers free civil protection courses. Once a year, the entire city participates in a ‘massive drill’ (a simulated mass evacuation).
The Federal District’s Ministry of the Environment runs a cycling school called Bici Escuela. This educates citizens on the rights and obligations of all road users and traffic rules for cyclists in the city. The programme runs alongside the city’s ECOBICI bicycle sharing scheme and Muévete en Bici (Move by Bike) scheme. Meanwhile, Road Safety and Crime Prevention is a programme offering training, conferences and workshops that help citizens to be safer on Mexico City’s streets. Vamos a separar (Let’s Separate), which is also run by the Ministry of the Environment, provides training on recycling and composting waste.
The Federal District’s Ministry of Education also offers several learning programmes. Ciudad Lectora (Reading City), for example, encourages citizens to read. Literacy Programme aims to reduce the illiteracy rate among citizens aged 15 years and over. School Violence and Culture of Peace aims to reduce discriminatory practices that generate exclusion, abuse and violence in schools and families. The Ministry of Education also runs programmes promoting the use of new technologies in secondary schools. In addition, it works with the National System for Integral Family Development and the city government’s Guaranteed Education Trust to provide financial support for disadvantaged children so that they can complete their basic and secondary education.
Example of innovation or good practice
SaludArte aims to improve the health, nutrition, personal hygiene, well-being and civic awareness of public primary school children in some of the most disadvantaged areas of Mexico City.
Main target groups
Primary school children between the ages 6 and 13 are enrolled by their parents in the programme, which takes place after normal school hours. Participation is voluntary. The schools were selected on the basis of three criteria: poor school performance; location in an area of high deprivation; and willingness to participate.
From September 2013 to June 2014, SaludArte operated in 100 disadvantaged public schools in Mexico City. In that time, it provided 2,700,000 tasty and nutritious meals to 21,781 children. It also offered tens of thousands of workshops in drama, music, dance, art, nutrition, sport and fitness, hygiene, healthy lifestyles and citizenship. These workshops are mostly run by young people; in total, the programme currently employs 1,814 facilitators. It is expected that by the end of 2015 the programme will be offered in 120 schools.
The programme has been possible thanks to the support of many institutions and governmental and non-governmental agencies. For example, the Ministry of Health of the Federal District, the National Institute of Public Health and the National Institute for Nutrition and Medical Sciences have monitored the creation of healthy and nutritious food plans for children. The National Institute for Educational Evaluation, the Mexican Dental Association and the Mexican Collective for Cooking have also donated resources.
Mobilization and utilization of resources
In 2015, 3.59 per cent of the Federal District’s total government budget was allocated to education. An additional 8.09 per cent of the city’s budget for social development was invested in education. The city government is not the only source of funding for learning city initiatives, however. As noted above, additional support comes from non-governmental organizations and the private sector; for example, Coca-Cola FEMSA has donated 312 drinking fountains to 78 schools in the city, while Colgate donated toothbrushes and toothpaste to SaludArte.
Monitoring and evaluation
The Government of the Federal District uses the Logical Framework Approach to evaluate its learning city actions. In addition, it has established an advisory council to guide the building of the learning city, and is currently developing a set of indicators based on the Key Features of Learning Cities.
Impacts and challenges
Learning city initiatives have helped people of all ages throughout Mexico City to become healthier, develop greater civic and environmental awareness, and be better prepared for natural disasters. The SaludArte programme, in particular, has had a marked impact on children’s lives, as an evaluation conducted by the National Institute of Public Health has demonstrated (Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública, 2014). This evaluation found that the programme increased children’s physical activity, as demonstrated by the fact that the time they spent watching television fell by 7 per cent. There was also a notable decrease – from 21.3 per cent to 17 per cent – in the levels of obesity among children in schools participating in the programme. In addition, children’s dental plaque decreased by 9 per cent, and almost 15 per cent of the children participating in the programme acquired the habit of washing their hands before and after eating.
The main challenges in terms of planning the learning city include developing a definition of ‘learning city’, using this definition to create coherent policies, and achieving consensus among the many different partners and stakeholders involved. The Federal District is also tackling the challenge of developing a set of indicators that are based on the Key Features of Learning Cities, yet are also adapted to local circumstances. With regard to implementation, one of the chief challenges lies in effectively communicating the learning city concept to citizens so that they develop a sense of ownership over the learning city and play an active role in building it.
With regard to implementation, one of the chief challenges lies in effectively communicating the learning city concept to citizens so that they develop a sense of ownership over the learning city and play an active role in building it.
Lessons learned and recommendations
Mexico City has two key recommendations. Firstly, communicating with other learning cities is extremely important. The development of a learning city in the Federal District has benefited enormously from sharing ideas and best practice with other cities, for example during the 1st International Conference on Learning Cities in Beijing. Secondly, Mexico City has found that while the city government should play a leading role in building the learning city, it is very important to establish synergies and share resources with the private and NGO sectors.
Alejandra Barrales Magdaleno
Secretary of Education of Mexico City
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Asamblea Legislativa del Distrito Federal. 2000b. Ley de las y los Jóvenes del Distrito Federal. Available at: http://www.aldf.gob.mx/archivo-0146c7b61079b40938d46fe977aec2a7.pdf [Accessed 20 January 2015].
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