UNESCO learning cities' responses to COVID-19 – outcomes of webinar on 6 May


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24 May 2020

On 6 May 2020, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) hosted a webinar on open distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, as part of its ongoing series for members of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC). Presentations were provided on open and online learning for marginalized youth and adults in Thailand and open and distance learning in the learning city of Limerick in Ireland.

On behalf of UIL, Jonghwi Park opened the webinar, explaining that the session would address how adult learning centres, providers and cities are coping with adults’ demands for online distance learning. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an ongoing need to accommodate the requirements of adult learning in different modalities, and so this timely webinar looked at the modality of online distance learning around the world – particularly for the most vulnerable citizens.

Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, Thailand

Ms Kamolrat Intaratat, Director and Founder of the Research Center of Communication and Development Knowledge Management (CCDKM), began her presentation with an introduction to the work of the centre, which is based at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University in Nonthaburi, Thailand. It provides open distance learning, meeting ‘prioritized demands’ by targeting vulnerable groups to help them earn a living, improve their welfare and  empower them with dignity. This is achieved through the implementation of creative and e-economy initiatives, e-services and the fostering of independent and lifelong learning. In Thailand, a national massive open online learning platform called ‘Thai MOOC’ focuses more on formal education, which. is now complemented by CCDKM’s creation of an online platform that aims to reach out to and benefit vulnerable groups. This platform is called ‘SMART MOOC Lifelong Learning’ and targets groups of learners who cannot attend courses in learning centres, such as Buddhist monks who reside in remote temples but nevertheless have access to technological devices. Ms Intaratat closed her presentation by highlighting that open distance learning for marginalized populations is functional and thus useful in local communities.

UNESCO learning city of Limerick, Ireland

Ms Eimear Brophy, representative of the Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board and Chairperson of the Learning Limerick Steering Group, provided participants with an insight into open distance learning initiatives in Limerick, Ireland. For almost a decade, the annual Limerick Lifelong Learning Festival has been bringing the people of Limerick together to celebrate lifelong learning. The tenth edition is scheduled for September 2020 and, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be a virtual one. In 2019, Limerick also launched an online platform named LearningLimerick.ie and, across the city, this has resulted in a tenfold increase in the use of Microsoft Teams and a doubling of the use of Limerick’s Moodle Virtual Learning Environment. Furthermore, the city has implemented an online course in infection prevention and control. This three-week course equips learners with skills to prevent and control infections in a variety of settings. Additionally, there has been an inter-agency focus on digital inclusion and exclusion: Smart Limerick Working Groups have been established for citizen engagement, data, digital inclusion and energy, as part of the ‘Smart Limerick: Building Ireland’s First Digital City (2017–2020)’ plan. The digital inclusion working group has focused on developing a better understanding of what it means to be ‘digitally included’ and ‘digitally excluded’, as well as developing collaborative initiatives for inclusion.


Ms Park (UIL) opened the debate by asking speakers how we might reach the people who do not have access to technological devices. Ms Brophy reported that, in Limerick, some devices are available for marginalized populations, but more funding is needed to achieve wider coverage. In response to a further question on how to ensure the outreach of learning to as many people as possible, Ms Intaratat referred to the situation in mountainous regions of Thailand. There is limited electricity and internet access in these regions, so partnerships have been formed to provide additional laptops and extend internet coverage. Ms Park shared the list of distance learning solutions that UNESCO compiled for both online and offline (and low-tech) environments. Ms Park closed the webinar by highlighting three points to take away: (1) the need for comprehensive policy planning at the national level with adult learning as an integral part, (2) the importance of the piloting and evaluation of innovative initiatives before expanding their scope at scale, and (3) multi-sectoral collaboration and partnership to ensure inclusive access to quality adult education and lifelong learning for all. 

GNLC webinars

The online event was part of the GNLC webinar series ‘UNESCO learning cities’ responses to COVID-19’. Devised as an opportunity for members of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC) to share successful local initiatives during the pandemic, the webinars regularly attract hundreds of city representatives and other stakeholders. Cities from different world regions give presentations, and participants engage in thought-provoking debates about how best to deal with the current situation – namely, how to mitigate its worst effects and, in some way, seize unexpected opportunities. Click on the links below to read summaries of the eight previous webinars.

UNESCO learning cities’ responses to COVID-19: Mental health, health and well-being. Outcomes of webinar on 29 April

UNESCO learning cities’ responses to COVID-19: Measures developed by cities for migrants and refugees. Outcomes of webinar on 22 April

UNESCO learning cities’ responses to COVID-19: Higher education institutions’ support for local communities. Outcomes of webinar on 15 April

UNESCO learning cities’ responses to COVID-19. The cases of Mexico City (Mexico), Bogotá (Columbia), Lima (Peru). Outcomes of webinar on 9 April

UNESCO learning cities’ responses to COVID-19: Family learning and community support. The cases of Gdynia (Poland) and Cork (Ireland), as well as insights by experts from Germany and Pakistan. Outcomes of webinar on 8 April

UNESCO learning cities’ responses to COVID-19: Equity and inclusion. The cases of Espoo (Finland), Chengdu (People’s Republic of China), Swansea (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). Outcomes of webinar on 1 April

UNESCO learning cities’ responses to COVID-19. The cases of Osan (Republic of Korea), Wuhan (People’s Republic of China), Turin (Italy), São Paulo (Brazil). Outcomes of webinar on 24 March

UNESCO learning cities’ responses to COVID-19. The cases of Shanghai and Beijing (People’s Republic of China), Fermo (Italy), Kashan (Islamic Republic of Iran). Outcomes of webinar on 19 March

Don’t miss the opportunity to join our upcoming webinars. Further details can be found at https://uil.unesco.org/event/gnlc-webinars-unesco-learning-cities-response-covid-19.

Watch our video interviews with mayors and other representatives of UNESCO learning cities on responses to COVID-19 at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLivu_GCiL2mjYQOp64hcvzGNsC75QKSLw