“The thriving cities of the future will be learning cities”: UNESCO helps shape the future of cities
More than five hundred mayors, city education executives and experts from over 100 countries met at the International Conference on Learning Cities from 21 to 23 October in Beijing to discuss how to make cities more responsive to the learning needs of citizens. The Conference concluded with a call by delegates for UNESCO to establish a Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC). The conference, co-organized by UNESCO, the Ministry of Education of China and Beijing Municipal Government, was opened by Ms Liu Yandong, Vice Premier of China, Mr Yuan Guiren, Minister of Education of China, Mr Wang Anshun, Mayor of Beijing Municipal Government, and Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO. Numerous senior international figures addressed plenary sessions and regional panels. Discussions focused on the stages of development necessary to transform cities into learning cities: communities that nurture active citizenship, promote economic and cultural prosperity, and lay the foundation for sustainable development. In her opening speech, Ms Bokova spoke of the “need to place lifelong learning at the heart of all our work to build inclusive knowledge societies, at the heart also of the post-2015 global development agenda”. She compared the structural components of a city – such as infrastructure, water and energy supply – to the hardware of a computer system, with education as the software: “[it] is the way to unlock the potential of every society”.
The main outcome document of the conference, the Beijing Declaration on Learning Cities affirms the vital importance of education for the future of human communities: “Lifelong learning confers social, economic and cultural benefits to individual learners and communities and should be a primary focus of cities, regions, nations and the international community.” The Declaration also expresses the commitment of the assembled delegates to “the task of nurturing lifelong learning, in order to empower individuals, to promote social cohesion, economic and cultural prosperity, and to foster sustainable development”. It concludes with a ‘Call to Action’, urging UNESCO “to establish a global network of learning cities to support and accelerate the practice of lifelong learning in the world’s communities. This network should promote policy dialogue and peer learning among member cities, forge links, foster partnerships, provide capacity development, and develop instruments to encourage and recognise progress”. The Beijing Declaration also invites foundations, private corporations and non-governmental organisations to become active partners of the global network of learning cities, and invites cities and regions in every part of the world to join this network.