Learning cities in Latin America and the Caribbean

  • When:
    11 April 2016
  • Who: Jorge Sequeira, UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean

UNESCO GNLC Team: Can you tell us about the actions you have planned to implement the Education 2030 agenda in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC)?

The Incheon Declaration of May 2015 and the subsequent Framework for Action (adopted in November 2015) both take into consideration regional, national and sub-national realities and allow for ‘contextualization’, the key word in the design and implementation of Education 2030. While the onus to implement Education 2030 is on Member States, we are there to assist them in achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which centres on education, by 2030. UNESCO is providing effective systems, instruments and programmes and working with all partners and convenors to this end.

The notion of contextualization was already present in the Ministerial Declaration of Lima (October 2014), which also set out a set of guiding principles to unify our vision and perspective. The Declaration was adopted by all LAC Ministers of Education and sets the regional framework, including specific themes for educational development in LAC, for the cycle 2015–2030.

The four guiding principles for Education 2030 in LAC, as adopted by the Ministers, are:

  1. Education is a fundamental human right, a basis for guaranteeing the realization of other rights, and essential for peaceful, inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth and prosperity in the LAC region.
  2. Since a major challenge to social progress in the region is inequality, a driving principle of the post-2015 education agenda should be to contribute to the reduction of inequality and poverty through the provision of inclusive quality education and lifelong learning for all, and we value the rich cultural diversity of the LAC region.
  3. Achieving equity and inclusion necessitates securing the right to education of all children, young people and adults, and their rights within and through education to realize their potential and aspirations. It is also important to respond to the diversity of needs of all learners by increasing their participation in learning and reducing exclusion from and within education.
  4. In the quest to meet the right to inclusive quality education for all, Member States have made notable progress. It is therefore important to take stock of the unfinished tasks which will lead to renewed efforts for a more contextualized and expanded vision of education and learning that recognizes and values the multicultural and multilingual diversity of the region as well as the respective national development processes towards sustainable development.

UNESCO GNLC Team: What role can learning cities play in achieving Education 2030?

A significant contribution to educational development in recent years has come from the learning city initiative. More than 1,000 cities around the world, including some in the LAC region, describe themselves as ‘learning cities’. This means that they are generating enabling conditions for their citizens and institutions to meet the Education 2030 challenges in a holistic manner.  

The objectives of the learning city initiative are aligned with those of Education 2030 and by extension with the SDGs. These objectives focus on the promotion of inclusion, equity and gender equality; on building sustainable communities and cities; and on promoting quality lifelong learning opportunities for all, in all settings, and at all levels of the education system.

UNESCO GNLC Team: Can you tell us a little bit about how learning cities are progressing in LAC?

A critical moment in the development of learning cities in LAC was the 2nd International Conference on Learning Cities, hosted by Mexico City in 2015. The event was attended by a number of participants from LAC. The participants analysed how the initiative was progressing in cities of the region and worldwide. They also reaffirmed their commitment to providing quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all

Three cities from LAC – Mexico City, Sorocaba (Brazil) and Ybycuí (Paraguay) – were presented with the UNESCO Learning City Award in recognition of the progress made in implementing the Key Features of Learning Cities to improve their citizens’ quality of life.

Mexico City has adopted the ‘social capital’ concept, which encourages citizens to participate in cooperative projects, thus contributing to social development and well-being. The city has also launched a series of programmes for promoting lifelong learning.

Sorocaba has sought to strengthen participative democracy, and to motivate the participation of its citizens in the learning city initiative, by fostering cooperation between the public and private sector as well as by investing in lifelong learning projects.

Ybycuí launched the ‘Ybycuí Learns and Develops’ project, which focuses on how lifelong learning can create a better future for all when it harnesses the enthusiasm, involvement and commitment of all citizens.

Other cities in LAC are starting to acknowledge the importance of the learning city initiative and related concepts. Two examples are Contagem and Jaboatão dos Guararapes in Brazil. Both cities recently joined the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities and are sharing ideas on how lifelong learning can help tackle diverse challenges. We expect that many more cities in LAC will follow suit.

Turning to Colombia, the capital Bogotá provides another good example of how lifelong learning can address urban issues. For example, the city has improved its educational structures and invested in public libraries to promote sustainable lifestyles. As part of its transformation, Medellín has linked education and community development, using infrastructure and architecture as enablers for social development.

UNESCO GNLC Team: How do you foresee the future development of learning cities in the region?

In spite of the many efforts of UNESCO and its partners, the importance of lifelong learning in a world that is constantly changing is not sufficiently understood and prioritized in the cities of the region. We hope for a long-term commitment from cities’ leaders, their institutions (both public and private), and especially their citizens to pursue the common objective of building inclusive and sustainable learning cities in the context of SDG 4 and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. As I mentioned earlier, there are already good examples in the region that point the way. These good practices serve as a source of inspiration for other cities, thereby broadening the concepts of the learning city initiative in the region.

Learning cities are an integral part of the regional education programme of UNESCO Santiago, in line with our collaboration with the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. UNESCO Santiago will promote the learning city initiative and link it to other relevant areas such as global citizenship education, education for sustainable development, youth and adult education, and technical and vocational education and training (TVET).

UNESCO Santiago will also promote cross-sectoral partnerships and innovation to foster lifelong learning by gathering and disseminating experiences in citizen participation, promotion of youth engagement and empowerment, and support for start-ups that invest in skills for the sustainable development of cities.