Citizenship education key to building sustainable and healthy communities, finds workshop
UNESCO learning cities from around the world underscored the importance of citizenship education, especially in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, at a workshop on 17 June 2021.
Almost 100 participants discussed strategies and programmes on the workshop theme, Citizenship Education for Healthy and Sustainable Communities. The event was spearheaded by the UNESCO learning cities of Gdynia (Poland) and Tongyeong (Republic of Korea), the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning and the coordinators of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC) cluster on citizenship education, the cities of Larissa (Greece) and Yeonsu (Republic of Korea).
Strengthening community confidence to combat the pandemic through global citizenship education
Participants acknowledged the key role of citizenship education in driving collective participation and engaging the passions of citizens, entrepreneurs, and civil society in building a better, healthier and more sustainable quality of life in cities across the globe.
Dr Eun Kyung Park, Chairperson of the Tongyeong Education Foundation for Sustainable Development
Delegates argued that innovation will play a key role for cities and communities in managing present and future crises, and noted the key part education has to play in supporting this.
Mr Jarosław Józefczyk, Deputy Director at the Municipal Social Welfare Center in Gdynia
Citizenship education: A pillar of sustainability
In the context of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on education, citizenship education drives collective action in promoting sustainable communities. To achieve sustainability, cities must provide concrete actions in terms of providing effective and efficient policies, democratizing access to knowledge, and involving stakeholders such as students, teachers and civil society. Proactive community and citizen engagement approaches are also needed.
Ms Kim Jung Ae described how, in the city of Gwangmeong (Republic of Korea), citizenship education and participation in creative activities, such as through Net Zero Cafés, were crucial to addressing urban restructuring and the demolition of natural spaces.
Ms Han Ae Lee (Republic of Korea) underlined how promoting inclusive and welcoming societies was reflected in Yeonsu city’s intergenerational lifelong learning programme to integrate new migrants and enable community engagement.
Citizenship education: Fostering health and well-being
Innovative and creative practices that promote dialogue and participation and support bottom-up initiatives sustain cities’ well-being. In the City of Gdynia, the Social Innovation Laboratory and the Green Hub were created as avenues to drive people’s participation on issues related to the environment and climate change. Ms Anna Posłuszna of the Gdynia Emigration Museum explained how opening a digital platform to showcase the museum’s work through active social media engagement enabled engagement with thousands of citizens.
Fostering the well-being of the citizens, digital infrastructures, expanded health services and outreach through citizenship education are also crucial. Mr George Bagakis, from the City of Corinth (Greece), emphasized how teachers need to be supported so they can fulfil their roles effectively.
Challenges at a time of crisis
During the pandemic many citizens have experienced feelings of loneliness, isolation, lack of trust in institutions, and declining mental health. However, the pandemic also brought new perspectives on how to better work with technologies and communities, and to establish more positive collaboration and communication among people. Therefore, customized approaches to address the needs of vulnerable groups are also critical to restore and sustain the health and well-being of communities.
Citizenship education will play a key role in supporting the recovery and resilience of cities, building further solidarity and empowering excluded and vulnerable groups. More dialogue among stakeholders, better collaboration and exchange of best practice among institutions and cities, and continued capacity- building are needed to realize the potential of citizenship education in promoting sustainable and healthy cities. More insights will be presented and discussed when Yeonsu hosts the Fifth International Conference on Learning Cities from 27–30 October 2021.