It is a timely moment to tackle the challenge of creating a city where people take the lead in formal, non-formal and informal education promoting social inclusion. Learning that addresses the needs of children, young people and older people can contribute to professional development and an improvement in the quality of life for families. Undoubtedly, education is crucial to the fight against poverty. Today we are all contributing to Paraguay’s first learning city.
Ybycuí has been experiencing severe economic difficulties since the decline of its cotton industry in the 1970s. Unemployment is high, but the political situation has improved in recent years thanks to a generation of leaders who have invested in the city’s social, cultural and economic development. However, citizens themselves need to play a more active role in developing their city. Having participated in the first International Conference on Learning Cities in Beijing in 2013, Ybycuí has adopted a policy of lifelong learning in order to promote this civic engagement. The city is therefore currently intensifying its efforts to become a learning city and launched a project entitled Ybycuí Learns and Develops in March 2014.
One of the city’s main motives for becoming a learning city is the opportunity to learn from the experience of other learning cities.
Ybycuí is a city with a fairly good infrastructure, modern telecommunications services, essential public services, relatively good public education and health systems, and an economy based on agriculture, livestock breeding and commerce. Industrial activity comprises cotton fibre, textiles, oil and soap, as well as meat, leather and dairy processing businesses. Around 60 per cent of the city’s citizens are employed. Ybycuí’s main languages are Spanish and Guarani. The city has a vibrant cultural life: its cultural centre includes the Historic Museum of the Park La Rosada, the Ybycuí Iron Foundry, the General Bernardino Caballero Museum in Tacuary and the Don Mauricio Cardozo Ocampo Museum. The city also has a youth symphony orchestra, twelve sports clubs, a martial arts academy, a horse-riding centre and an open-air gym.
The education system in place in Ybycuí is the same as that implemented throughout the Republic of Paraguay. It covers the initial level of pre-nursery and nursery education (which lasts two years), basic school education (nine years), intermediate level (three years) and higher level (lasting between three and seven years). The city has sixty-three educational institutions that are dependent on the Ministry of Education and Culture (MEC). There are also five universities and a cultural and educational centre in which professional training courses are offered. In addition, the Permanent Inclusive Education Resources Centre is located in the nearby city of Paraguarí. This is a technical operating unit of the Directorate General of Inclusive Education. It comprises a team of teachers and psychologists who provide educational support for children and young people with special educational needs. The Permanent Inclusive Education Resources Centre also provides assistance to teachers in the form of guidance on adapting curricula and learning materials for children with special needs.
Main issues to be tackled
The central issue that Ybycuí wishes to address is unemployment. The city intends to combat this problem and thereby generally improve citizens’ quality of life by enhancing the city’s human capital through formal, informal and non-formal learning. As well as creating a highly skilled workforce that will boost Ybycuí’s competitiveness, the city hopes to promote entrepreneurship by giving its citizens the skills needed to establish micro enterprises.
Motives for becoming a learning city
One of the city’s main motives for becoming a learning city is the opportunity to learn from the experience of other learning cities. The municipal administration believes that this will encourage citizens to embrace lifelong learning as a means of promoting sustainable community development.
Learning city policies and strategies
For Ybycuí, a learning city is one that is committed to its citizens’ development, where everyone both teaches and learns from each other.
Definition of a learning city
For Ybycuí, a learning city is one that is committed to its citizens’ development, and where everyone both teaches and learns from each other. A learning city encourages its citizens to learn throughout life and promotes formal, non-formal and informal learning.
Vision and objectives
The city’s vision is to implement a policy of lifelong learning through the creation of formal, non-formal and informal learning spaces that promote the development of the community by harmonizing the participation of all sectors of society. More specifically, Ybycuí’s objectives can be summarized as follows:
• to promote inclusive learning in the education system;
• to develop activities that stimulate inter-generational learning;
• to offer job and professional training opportunities;
• to create a culture of lifelong learning; and
• to support formal and non-formal education.
Several articles of the National Constitution (1992) deal with education and learning at the national government level. Article 73 states that all citizens have the right to education, and it describes the ends of Paraguayan education. Article 74 establishes that all citizens have the right to learn and to equal opportunities without discrimination. This article also guarantees the freedom to teach, the only requirements being aptitude and ethical integrity. According to Article 75, education is the responsibility of society, in particular the family, the municipality and the state.
At the city government level, the Municipal Constitutional Law No. 3966/10 (2010) establishes in its third section the municipality’s responsibilities with regard to education, culture and sport. According to this law, the municipality’s duties as a provider of educational services include creating education plans, promoting culture, sport and tourism and increasing civic awareness. Ordinance No. 239/2014 establishes the learning city programme as a policy for strengthening citizen education and culture in the entire district of Ybycuí.
Governance and partnership
Ybycuí’s learning city project, Ybycuí Learns and Develops, is being run by the Municipality of Ybycuí. The City Government has therefore made significant contributions to various learning city activities.
The national Ministry of Education and Culture offers activities for older people as part of the Ybycuí Learns and Develops project, including workshops on aspects of growing older such as biological processes, healthy lifestyles, myths and realities about old age, nutrition and active citizenship.
Ybycuí’s Youth Ministry grants scholarships to disadvantaged university students, runs activities for young people and cooperates with activities developed within the framework of the Ybycuí Learns and Develops project.
The government of the nearby city of Paraguarí supports Ybycuí’s schools by funding meriendas escolares (school snacks and lunches) for disadvantaged children. It also grants scholarships to university students and provides financial contributions to farmers’ and women’s groups participating in the Ybycuí Learns and Develops project.
The National Professional Promotion Service, an offshoot of the Ministry of Work, Employment and Social Security, provides professional training courses.
The Agrarian Extension Directorate provides free technical assistance, training and a forum on soil management to rural educational institutions as part of the Ybycuí Learns and Develops project.
The Catholic Church, in particular the San José de Ybycuí parish church, provides education on values to families and young people. It also provides financial assistance to disadvantaged people in order to help them participate in the Ybycuí Learns and Develops project.
The Ybycuí Body of Voluntary Firefighters offers lectures on fire prevention and rescue as part of the Ybycuí Learns and Develops project.
Sonidos de la Tierra (Sounds of the Earth) is a social and community integration programme that uses music to encourage civic responsibility and eradicate poverty. Founded in Ybycuí over ten years ago, it benefits young people, helping them to combat violence and construct a better society through music.
The Organization of Ibero-American States supports local institutions in Ybycuí in implementing learning city activities, for example by providing experts to help develop strategies and create synergies between local, national and international institutions.
The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) plays a key role in the development of the initiatives. It offers spaces for debate and exchange, and motivates and supports the promotion of the learning city concept. Plan International, an international development organization, organizes workshops promoting children’s rights.
Provision of lifelong learning
In 2006, the restoration of a former local market resulted in the creation of the Dr Julio César Fanego Cultural Centre. Since its foundation, this centre has offered free courses for the entire community. The centre is supported by the Municipality of Ybycuí, which provides qualified teachers, technicians and instructors and also contains a college for adults which is associated with the Secretariat of Culture of the Republic of Paraguay and is part of the Ybycuí Learns and Develops project. The cultural centre offers the following courses to people of all ages: secretarial skills, information technology (including CorelDRAW graphic design software, Photoshop software and computer maintenance), technical drawing, motorcycle maintenance, manicuring, hairdressing, cookery, manufacturing of leather items, making children’s clothes, fish farming and tractor driving. The centre also offers workshops on social harmony, public speaking and human resources.
The Ybycuí Learns and Develops project runs several other activities, including a reading day involving pupils from all the schools in the city; a food safety programme; and a writing competition on the topic ‘Ybycuí of yesterday, today and the future’.
In 2014, Ybycuí held a festival entitled ‘Spring in the Learning City’, which included a parade with floats depicting images of lifelong learning and a ‘Miss Spring’ contest that promoted the idea that everywhere can become a learning environment. Thousands of people participated in the festival, which also promoted recycling and the conservation of the environment. In addition, the names of the winners of the writing competition were announced and outstanding young people in art, music, sport and intellectual work received awards. The festival strengthened the pride and sense of community of Ybycuí residents.
One of the innovative mechanisms implemented by the city is advertising spots giving historical information about Paraguay from a learning city viewpoint. These are broadcast on the radio twenty times a day and aim to arouse interest in the history of the country, to encourage citizens to learn more, and to strengthen their sense of belonging and identity.
Example of innovation or good practice
Day of Government of the Municipality of Ybycuí and the Government of Paraguarí
To implement activities in the framework of the Ybycuí Learns and Develops project
Main target groups
All members of the visited community and the principal participants
The Day of Government of the Municipality of Ybycuí is a day event in which representatives of the municipal government visit remote communities. Educational talks are offered throughout the day. For example, a mobile clinic empowers citizens by helping them learn about their own bodies and health issues in general. Information events on children’s and adolescents’ rights are organized by the NGO CODENI, and education on gender equality is provided by Paraguay’s Ministry for Women. Such learning events aim to create well-educated citizens who are able to understand and address the challenges they and the city as a whole face. Another highlight of the Day of Government is that it organizes a reading day for children, young people and adults. Residents of remote communities are encouraged to visit mobile libraries in order to take part in reading day activities. The aim is to motivate people to read and write in both Spanish and Guaraní about topics dealt with during the Day of Government. The use of both languages reflects a recognition of the importance of promoting literacy skills in the indigenous language.
Mobilization and utilization of resources
The Municipality of Ybycuí is committed to mobilizing its resources in an effective manner in all sectors of society. The Organization of Ibero-American States supports the city in creating mobile public libraries by donating books. This in turn has facilitated the implementation of two reading days.
Social media play an important role in promoting the learning city initiative. They provide online platforms where people can share their experiences. This helps build a sense of community. It also offers transparency regarding the activities organized as part of the Ybycuí Learns and Develops project.
Monitoring and evaluation
The Dr Julio C. Fanego Cultural Centre maintains information on the entry and exit of people who take part in training courses there. Recent figures suggest an increase in the number of people taking part in lifelong learning opportunities such as these, and unemployment is falling in Ybycuí. However, to date there has been no systematic evaluation of links between increased participation in lifelong learning and increasing employment figures.
Citizens are given the opportunity to provide feedback on learning city initiatives on a radio programme entitled ‘Puertas abiertas’ (open doors). This programme provides information on the activities carried out within the framework of the Ybycuí Learns and Develops project, and members of the public contribute their suggestions to the programme by sending text messages. The programme is broadcast at the weekend, which ensures that the lifelong learning message reaches a very wide audience, while the interactive element enables citizens to have their voices heard and to play a valuable role in shaping their learning city.
Impacts and challenges
Impacts on individual and citizen levels
The main impact can be seen in the involvement of various institutions and citizens of Ybycuí. Schools are becoming important promoters of learning spaces through talks, literacy campaigns and community activities that motivate learning and bring people of different ages and generations together. In addition, the Ybycuí Learns and Develops project has received national recognition and the backing of the president. On 28 March 2014, the launch of Ybycuí Learns and Develops was celebrated in a public ceremony attended by the President of Paraguay, municipal authorities of the City of Ybycuí, city government representatives, and representatives of the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Youth and the Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI).
The main challenge that Ybycuí faces is convincing its citizens that education is the cornerstone of sustainable development. It is important that educational centres, cultural and artistic institutions, cooperatives, social organizations and individual citizens work together. Other challenges for Ybycuí include empowering citizens and encouraging them to play a role in learning city initiatives; creating a better appreciation for older people and their potential as both teachers and learners; developing the city’s economy and human capital; and improving evaluation processes.
Lessons learned and recommendations
Ybycuí has learned that tools for tracking and monitoring progress against indicators are very important for improving its learning city project. More generally, Ybycuí recognizes the importance of learning throughout life. The city has found that this is more fruitful when all citizens work together with local authorities. Ybycuí recognizes that all individuals or members of the community, including children, young people, adults, older adults and people with different levels of education, have an important role to play and that no one should be excluded.
Maria del Carmen Benitez Diaz