Okayama City will enhance a ‘whole-city approach’ to education for sustainable development (ESD) in partnership with various stakeholders. That is because human development through ESD is key to the solution of complex issues which cities are facing, and to building a sustainable city. I believe the actions of cities around the world significantly contribute to the realization of SDGs.
Masao Omori, Mayor of Okayama City
Building a learning city
In 2005, Okayama City started to plan for its sustainable development by establishing the ESD Promotion Commission with various stakeholders, based on the principles of education for sustainable development (ESD). This laid the foundations for an environmentally aware, economically vibrant learning city that would be developed for and with local communities.
The city is rich in cultural heritage, and is home to one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens, a number of temples and shrines, and Okayama Castle. Its surroundings provide a natural habitat for fireflies. Alongside its thriving modern culture and technologies, Okayama City has made these historical and natural assets the backbone of its learning city strategy.
To increase the impact of its actions, Okayama City leverages its human and financial resources through a network of stakeholders, including private companies and citizen-led associations that provide inhabitants with learning opportunities. Through various projects advocating learning and sustainability, key actors in the network promote sustainable activities, as well as more local production and consumption of goods.
In the city of Okayama, formal, non-formal and informal learning go hand in hand with balanced community and environmental development. This not only guarantees citizens easy access to learning opportunities, it also benefits the economy and local ecosystem.
Formal educational institutions, operating from early childhood to higher education, as well as non-formal educational institutions such as Kominkan (community learning centres), libraries, museums and thematic centres, enable citizens of Okayama to learn according to their needs. For example, there are 37 Kominkan citywide and they provide a broad range of courses, including Japanese for foreigners, computer classes for disabled people and community training for disaster risk reduction.
Kominkan support another of Okayama’s strategic learning city goals: to foster citizens’ commitment to their communities and to public life. The learning venues can be used as a space for citizen-led learning activities. Members of the community are invited to initiate their own learning programmes.
Since the inception of the ESD Promotion Commission, Okayama City has served as its secretariat, providing human and financial resources. Within the framework of the Okayama ESD Project, the commission provides subsidies; carries out capacity-building through training; disseminates information; and organizes the ESD Okayama Award showcasing ESD practices worldwide. Twenty-four companies participate in the commission among more than 260 member organizations and provide active learning opportunities, with a focus on sustainable development, to employees and other citizens.
2. Developing a plan
In order to reach its long-term objective of building environmentally friendly, inclusive and economically sustainable communities, Okayama City has based its activities on the principles of ESD. It believes that the kind of formal, non-formal and informal education that results in a shift in inhabitants’ beliefs and behaviours is the key to realizing sustainable development.
Consequently, Okayama City worked with 47 stakeholders to establish the ESD Promotion Commission in 2005. As of June 2017, 268 organizations were involved in the commission. A number of institutions, such as universities with research and education budgets, organizations promoting civic activities, and enterprises practising corporate social responsibility (CSR), currently deploy their resources to support ESD projects. Between 2005 and 2014, projects completed within the framework of the Okayama ESD Project Master Plan succeeded in harnessing formal and informal learning to extensively promote environmental conservation, multicultural cohabitation and sustainable behaviours for companies and consumers alike. Thirty-seven Kominkan and more than 50 schools have developed ESD programmes and informal learning opportunities for people of all ages.
The new Okayama ESD Project Master Plan (2015–2019) has defined eight concrete priorities to enable it to develop a vision for sustainable communities, and to foster commitment to learning among the city’s young people and in the private sector. The city’s sixth Comprehensive Plan, issued in March 2016, goes further still. This plan shares much common ground with the learning cities concept. It consolidates the pillars of a learning city, for example through the following goals: to help people who think, learn and act to contribute towards building a sustainable future; to develop the city through civic engagement and collaboration; to create a new culture based on local traditions by encouraging intercultural exchange; to manage the city’s rich environmental legacy; and to develop a strong economy for a vibrant city. Education is recognized as a key factor in achieving these objectives. In particular, Okayama City has been promoting ESD intensively in order to build a learning city that equips its citizens to acquire values and pursue a life shaped by an awareness of sustainable development.
3. Creating a coordinated structure involving all stakeholders
The ESD Promotion Commission is in charge of enabling cooperation between organizations in Okayama. It supports formal, non-formal and informal activities that put ESD principles into practice.
The commission offers subsidies and training to organizations, and organizes forums and events to facilitate networking between them. It promotes ESD to attract further organizations across the city. As of June 2017, the commission represented 268 organizations, including private companies involved in corporate social responsibility activities. They work together to develop more effective ways of using their resources. They also promote learning in the workplace to their employees and provide them with activities that match their desire to continue learning throughout their careers. Two committees are responsible for formulating and applying the commission’s policies: the executive committee and the steering committee. Each comprises around 20 organizations representing the municipality, educational institutions, civic organizations and key private actors, such as media companies. Okayama City, currently the ESD Promotion Division, serves as the secretariat. The financial resources for the commission are mainly allocated by the city.
The region of Okayama is part of the global ESD Regional Centres of Expertise (RCE) network, made up of more than 150 RCEs worldwide that facilitate learning towards sustainable development in local and regional communities. Municipal community learning centres are part of a national network of Kominkan, but also work to build links with other community learning centres in the Asia-Pacific region. The 2014 Kominkan International Conference on ESD, organized by Okayama in cooperation with international institutes, fostered international exchange and the local dissemination of best practices.
Okayama City is a key partner of the UNESCO Global Action Programme on ESD, which focuses on generating and scaling up ESD actions at all levels, in all areas of education, and across the sectors.
To further encourage individual involvement in public life, the office of the Civic Centre to Promote Collaboration was opened in Okayama City Hall in 2016. The centre provides an exchange platform, bringing together local citizens, city representatives and other actors to promote dialogue and help resolve municipal issues. Since its foundation, it has significantly strengthened links and improved collaboration between key stakeholders in the city.
4. Mobilizing and utilizing resources
Okayama City uses a leverage mechanism to mobilize resources for the creation of a learning city. The ESD Promotion Commission invests its resources in ESD projects through subsidies distributed to schools and civic organizations. Other organizations use their own resources to finance ESD initiatives and informal learning activities. The private sector, through its participation in the ESD Promotion Commission, is investing resources in the development of ESD schemes.
By providing strategic subsidies and organizational support, Okayama City amplifies the impact of its learning strategy while spreading the benefits of learning across the whole population. It also coordinates activities to ensure the best possible use of members’ resources.
To further support organizations that provide ESD-related learning opportunities on a voluntary basis, Okayama City finances training sessions for project leaders and coordinators. In order to promote learning opportunities and to support organizations further, the city is passing information on to its inhabitants through monthly magazines distributed to all households, as well as through a dedicated website and social media. A Kominkan newsletter is distributed locally to inform inhabitants of current learning activities.
Finally, it is important to note the significant contribution that the Kominkan make towards fostering a culture of lifelong learning in local communities. They provide spaces that host non-formal and informal learning activities and various events all year round, and play a crucial role in conveying the benefits of learning to inhabitants.
5. Making learning accessible to all
Okayama City strives to assure learning opportunities for all of its citizens. As regards municipal schools, the city has 89 public elementary schools and 38 junior high schools. The enrolment rate is close to 100 per cent. There are also four special schools for out-of-school children and students with special needs. In addition, the city has 64 kindergartens, more than 120 nursery centres and one high school.
In Okayama City, Kominkan settled in each junior high school catchment area play a central role in making learning accessible to all.
To supplement its 10 municipal libraries, Okayama City operates four mobile libraries, which provide reading opportunities for all, especially people with disabilities, senior citizens and children below school age. Besides, a newly established system enables citizens to borrow library books from their local Kominkan. Furthermore, the city is home to two municipal museums; five centres covering all aspects of lifelong learning, health and public welfare; and 12 thematic centres, including environmental centres.
Most of these lifelong learning centres are free of charge to participants, and are used by about 1.72 million citizens in total each year. Disabled people are entitled to attend some fee-paying institutions for free.
Citizens are informed of the range of learning programmes on offer through a variety of communication channels: monthly public relations magazines; websites; and social media, including Facebook. Each Kominkan also produces a regular newsletter containing detailed information for the local area.
6. Organizing celebratory events
Events promoting learning, environment and culture are organized throughout the year at the neighbourhood and city levels.
Kominkan have their own annual festival, planned by an executive committee of learners and citizens, to celebrate the success of their learning projects. By presenting the yearly outcomes of activities hosted by these community-based spaces, the Kominkan foster a culture of civic participation at neighbourhood level. This in turn creates stronger ties among citizens participating in learning initiatives, raises learners’ motivation, and attracts new learners from the local community by celebrating the benefits of learning.
Local Kominkan also organize a Waste Reduction and Recycling Week, held in late May/early June each year. Each of them hosts a series of lectures for residents to share information and best practices with families and communities in the neighbourhood. In 2015, the project brought together 3,300 inhabitants to discuss issues related to waste management and the efficient use of resources.
At city level, an ESD week is organized each autumn. Its events are scheduled by various regional stakeholders. 65 events took place in 2015, including an ESD forum and an ESD fair to promote local production and consumption.
Lectures, forums and workshops on gender equality are held to mark the annual Gender Equality Promotion Week, which usually falls in June or July. In 2015, 37 such events took place, attracting around 3,800 participants.
Every year, the Okayama Art Festival celebrates a wide range of arts, from traditional to modern, offering cultural and citizen groups the opportunity to promote their activities.
7. Monitoring and evaluation
Each Kominkan in Okayama City regularly reviews its projects at the neighbourhood level. These assessments take place annually and are carried out by a steering committee made up of learners and local stakeholders. They meet to discuss issues facing the community, measures to address these issues, and the Kominkan’s strategic vision for the following year. These yearly meetings allow local needs to be monitored on an ongoing basis.
Additionally, the city of Okayama has defined concrete indicators in line with the Key Features of Learning Cities. These are used to review the progress of each of the plans implemented to date, including its Comprehensive Plan.
To understand the impact of its learning strategy, Okayama City has, among other things, reviewed the level of education in families and local communities, and measured citizens’ satisfaction with their lifelong learning environment, and their use of lifelong learning institutions, in particular, as a means of assessing the city’s progress in fostering a culture of learning throughout life. Other indicators, including the rate of participation in local or volunteer activities, in cultural activities and in the establishment of voluntary disaster prevention groups, have been assessed to highlight the positive outcomes of the city’s learning strategy on citizens’ empowerment and social cohesion. The environmental benefits of learning are also evaluated through indicators such as the amount of daily waste generated per capita, the number of natural habitats for fireflies, and the number of ESD programmes and events offered. The number of organizations involved in Okayama ESD projects and the number of people participating in ESD coordinator training workshops are other key indicators of their success.
8. Achievements and the way forward
Through its strategy to build a learning city based on the principles of ESD, Okayama City has successfully created a network of stakeholders. In collaboration with private companies and associations, the city has established a rich learning environment accessible to citizens throughout their lives.
Okayama City has fostered the development of independent ESD projects. A fruitful educational collaboration between a local high school and a large retail company has led to the manufacturing of an environmentally friendly, fair-trade umbrella now sold all over Japan. A proportion of the profits from this joint venture are channelled back into the education system. Increased collaboration between the city and its citizens has also helped to raise environmental awareness and engagement. For instance, the conservation project to protect the natural habitats of local species started off in two areas has expanded to 13. In addition, citizen groups are organizing regular fair-trade local markets; the number of solar-powered facilities has increased; and daily usage of community bike schemes has risen.
The city will continue working steadily to implement its sixth Comprehensive Plan (2016–2025), which prioritizes the enrichment of educational opportunities, alongside economic growth and environmental conservation. Drawing on this plan, the city will enhance human development through lifelong learning and community-based ESD. Okayama City will also develop frameworks and implement measures to achieve sustainable development, for example by revitalizing the city’s central district; promoting renewable energy; and improving resilience among local communities. In addition, it will strengthen its network, building links with other learning cities to share experiences and further progress.
Senior Staff, ESD Promotion Division, Okayama City
Official city website