UIL: What can you tell us about the development of Ybycuí as a Learning City?
Carmen Benítez Díaz: Ybycuí is the first city in Paraguay to join the Learning Cities initiative, and we have developed an integral process which includes the participation of educational, public and private service institutions, as well as the leaders of rural communities in 43 districts. Citizens take part actively and with a lot of enthusiasm in each activity we set up; we have created a number of activities in partnership and with the involvement of all citizens in general.
UIL: Could you please give us an example of a programme or action through which your city promotes lifelong learning?
Carmen Benítez Díaz: One example of activities are the ones we implement with senior citizens, whom we recognise as “living libraries”. We build on the knowledge of senior citizens which can be transferred to benefit children and young adults. We organise festivals, meetings and educational presentations, which also aim to maintain the customs, the traditions of our community, things we have lost and that we are now try to revive Through these spaces senior citizens can teach, children can learn, and young adults can understand our culture, or part of our traditions that have been forgotten. Today we can revitalise them thanks to the participation of our senior citizens. We also have activities such as “Even though I can’t yet read, I learn” which we implement with young children who have not reached school-age yet. But with fun activities, through drawings, images, storytelling, puppet shows, we teach them to appreciate the value of reading. We organise these days in public open spaces like squares, near schools – in any place appropriate for offering learning opportunities to them.
UIL: Now that the President of your country has expressed his interest in promoting that more cities in Paraguay join the process of becoming a learning community, what do you think this message means in real terms? How can you support this process?
Carmen Benítez Díaz: It means both a deep commitment and a challenge because spreading the concept of Learning Cities to other cities in Paraguay also reflects our own interest. I wish that other cities would implement and develop their own process of becoming Learning Cities, develop programmes and strategies to promote lifelong learning. As the Mayor of Ybycuí, I am collaborating with the Organización Paraguaya de Cooperación Intermunicipal (OPACI) [the Paraguayan Organization for Cooperation among Municipalities] to share the experience of Ybycuí and thus motivate other mayors so that they embrace this lifelong learning initiative. At the moment, the Municipality of Ybycuí, the Organization of Ibero-American Countries for Culture, Education and Science (OEI), and the Ministry of Education and Culture of Paraguay, are jointly working on designing a strategy which will allow us to replicate the experience of building a learning city in other cities across the country, adapted to their own context.
UIL: What would be the main suggestions you would like to share with other learning cities which are just beginning their process?
Carmen Benítez Díaz: Identify and recognise that there are other forms of learning which develop outside the classroom and school. Value formal, non-formal, and community learning, we can all share knowledge. Promote inclusive learning from basic education to higher education, revive the learning that happens within families and in the communities. Although in the municipal government in Paraguay we do not have a legislation which officially appoints local administrators for specific functions in the field of education, this is not an impediment for us. We, here in Ybycuí, work together and mobilise both financial and human resources, as well as collaborating with other institutions and other actors, in order to improve and promote leaning in the city.
UIL: How do you plan to sustain the process of developing a learning city in future?
Carmen Benítez Díaz: The process of creating a Learning City in Ybycuí is sustainable thanks to the fact that citizens of all ages are involved in this experience. Children are growing up in a learning city, young adults hold activities to strengthen/support their learning outside of school; they are growing up with the awareness of being part of a learning city. Senior citizens participate in activities where they share experiences they have gone through during their life. At this moment, this city can count on an involved population, people have made their commitment to convert Ybycuí into a Learning City. The enthusiasm, involvement and commitment of all stakeholders will sustain this project.