As Nelson Mandela said that ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’. Suwon city is vitalizing itself with the weapon called ‘learning’. We have developed lifelong learning through lifelong learning facilities and libraries as well as community centers. Our city encourages citizens to lead learning policies and to know the joy of learning. I hope Suwon can share these experiences and inspire cities around the world.
Tae-Young Yeom, Mayor of Suwon
Building a learning city
In Suwon, everyone can be a learner, and almost everyone is. With more than 790,000 learners in a city of 1.2 million, Suwon’s Learning City strategy has dramatically increased the number of inhabitants participating in non-formal and informal learning activities. Between 2011 and 2016, the city more than doubled the number of people taking part in a variety of learning opportunities. With the foundation of a school for senior citizens, learning benefits inhabitants throughout their whole lives.
Successful efforts to build public participation in developing Suwon’s Lifelong Learning City strategy have been key to fostering inhabitants’ interest in these learning activities. Suwon has met the demands of all of its citizens and reached a broad public by promoting learning through multiple networks, on digital platforms, in public facilities and in local communities.
Building a learning city has not only increased learners’ skills and knowledge. It has also helped to revive communities in Suwon’s vibrant metropolitan area and the country’s largest province, Gyeonggi-do. Learning has contributed to the success of the Village Renaissance project, which aims to foster community autonomy. To date, 600 of Suwon’s facilities have been shared nationwide as examples of good practice. Initiatives include education schemes for local residents, cultural and arts programmes, and local community-building projects.
Suwon has facilitated the emergence of a comprehensive learning ecosystem across the city. Efforts to multiply the number of educational venues were driven by the belief that a library, social or community centre should be no more than a five-minute walk from every citizen’s home. This enables Suwon’s numerous learners to easily satisfy their thirst for knowledge. In addition, massive open online courses (MOOCs) are available free of charge, offering universal access to 900 different lectures on community matters, foreign languages, job-related skills and a wide variety of topics proposed by the city. Furthermore, MOOCs allow access to learning while fostering interest in new technologies.
Suwon has devoted its attention to providing adapted learning opportunities for all. Literacy classes have helped foreigners and illiterate adults to integrate into society. The city is also supporting marginalized young people who want to re-enter education, thus offering them better chances in life.
The Republic of Korea has an ageing population. Suwon has consequently developed two innovative participatory school projects, one focusing on senior citizens and their learning needs, and the other focusing on intergenerational and cross-topical education for all. These schools encourage participation and enable citizens to become both teachers and learners; resolve the issue of unequal access to education; create jobs; and improve participants’ skills and employability.
2. Developing a learning city
Suwon’s learning city strategy aims to create a lifelong learning city by promoting the joys of learning and sharing. By establishing district task forces and through experts in learning centres across the city, it has created a network of lifelong learning facilities, fostering cooperation and tackling unequal access. To reinforce this network, it has increased the number of learning spaces from 525 in 2011 to 614 in 2016, ensuring that local people never have far to go to access such facilities citywide.
Suwon also strives to create jobs, combat illiteracy and counteract the challenges faced by an ageing population. The Morado Hakgyo (Anything School) enables senior citizens to study whatever they like, adapting its curriculum to suit the needs and demands of the elderly. Nuguna Hakgyo (Anyone School) is open to anyone who wishes to teach or learn, encouraging participation by enabling citizens to share their skills, and to engage with a huge variety of topics.
By paying special attention to promoting informal classes centring on the humanities, in general, and the city’s historical heritage, in particular, it is Suwon’s aim to receive the title of ‘Outstanding Humanities Destination’ from the Republic of Korea.
3. Creating a coordinated structure involving all stakeholders
Over the past year, Suwon has built a comprehensive educational network. In accordance with the principle of ‘Citizen-led Lifelong Learning’, it has, from the very start, encouraged citizens, experts and civil society to participate in its plan to become a learning city. The municipality held initial workshops, bringing together 500 inhabitants to define the plan’s initial objectives. Ever since, it has worked to sustain cooperation with citizens, experts on lifelong learning, NGOs and associations by organizing a variety of committees to share information on lifelong learning.
The responsibility of coordinating the Learning City process lies with the Suwon Lifelong Learning Council, which oversees the participatory development, implementation and evaluation of related activities. The network that promotes learning in Suwon is made up of numerous organizations. These include, among others, the University Council, the Lifelong Learning Association, the Suwon Humanities Advisory Committee, the Suwon Literacy Teacher Council and the Eco-Mobile Community Organizing Committee/Environmental Education Committee. To support the Lifelong Learning Council at neighbourhood level and to ensure that projects are implemented effectively, a municipal task force of experts has been established in each of the city’s four districts.
The Suwon Lifelong Learning Council regularly liaises with the Municipal and National Councils for Community-Building to exchange information on education-based community-building activities. Its partners also promote the city’s progress at local, national and international levels. Furthermore, the city shares its best practice with regional and national organizations through the Korean Association of Lifelong Learning Cities and the Gyeonggi Working Council for Lifelong Learning.
4. Mobilizing and utilizing resources
Over the past five years, Suwon has provided 202.9 billion Korean won (178.1 million US dollars) of funding to operate more than 42,000 different programmes in an effort to expand learning facilities and operate sustainable education programmes. Furthermore, Suwon has developed an innovative measure to encourage the development of learning activities by its citizens. Individuals or groups who are motivated to share their skills and knowledge often lack a dedicated space in which to do so. To overcome this problem, the Water Village Open Learning Space programme allows local learning groups or clubs to access 614 Suwon learning venues for free when they are not being used for their initial purpose. The programme illustrates Suwon’s will to empower its citizens to teach and learn anywhere. ‘Hopeful Message Boards’ displaying educational messages related to culture, history and the humanities have been placed at bus stops and various locations across the city so as to reach city-dwellers as they go about their daily lives.
To efficiently mobilize human resources, the municipality has launched digital platforms connecting learners with individuals willing to share their knowledge on a voluntary basis. A ‘lecture bank’ system provides a database of professional human resources from among Suwon’s population. The city has also laid the foundation for a volunteer programme linking quality education with employment opportunities.
To further expand the wide range of learning opportunities across the city, the municipality of Suwon is committed to continuously increase its political and financial efforts.
5. Making learning accessible to all
Several learning projects illustrate Suwon’s ‘triple A’ approach: learning for Anyone, Anywhere, in an eAsy way. The city is home to a network of learning facilities, and citizens are free to make use of all of its learning venues in their spare time. This network of facilities thus makes it possible for each and every resident to access a learning space within five minutes’ walk and at almost any hour.
An online lifelong learning portal and various PR media channels ensure that citizens can readily acquire information about learning opportunities and networks. Lifelong Learning e-Classes (a system of MOOCs offering more than 900 lectures) allow anyone resident in Suwon to attend online lectures free of charge. These lectures address a variety of topics, such as community matters, foreign languages and issues of accreditation/certification. Overall, the MOOC system helps learners to find programmes that allow them to combine life, work and learning.
Furthermore, Suwon provides a special support service for homeless people who have lacked access to learning, so that they can exercise their right to education, return to learning and re-enter society. The city also offers active assistance to other underprivileged groups, including women, disadvantaged families and those on basic welfare. Suwon’s success with such projects at the local level has made the city a leader in Korea’s projects for community renaissance nationwide.
6. Organizing celebratory events
Suwon’s efforts to promote lifelong learning started before the city officially announced its aim of becoming a learning city. Since then, it has enhanced its image as a learning city by providing local residents with information about learning opportunities through a wide variety of channels, including print and broadcast media, social networking, booklets on lifelong learning, and real-time accounts of lifelong learning by citizen reporters. Citizens were also included in the process of developing medium and long-term learning plans for their city. The opinions of individuals and communities were gathered during roundtable meetings attended by as many as 500 citizens. Local community forums were also organized to encourage the majority of inhabitants to participate.
A ceremony was held in 2005 to celebrate this process and Suwon’s goal of becoming a sustainable learning city. Since then, Suwon has organized various forums and academic conferences on the topics of civic and senior education. Lifelong learning festivals are held annually. To promote its rich cultural and historical heritage, Suwon also organized a Humanities City Festival in 2016 and was the host city for the World Humanities Forum in 2016. These events underline Suwon’s ambition to become a learning city while simultaneously promoting a shared sense of identity.
7. Monitoring and evaluation
Suwon has developed two sets of learning-city evaluation indicators, to establish a transparent and fair evaluation of the Learning City and ensure that outcomes are continuously monitored. The first cover the foundations for a lifelong learning city (7 items). The second pertain to performance (16 items). Surveys on lifelong learning organizations and citizen satisfaction are used to set the course for the learning city, expand lifelong learning opportunities for residents and enhance the quality of education services. Such surveys help create a learning city tailored to Suwon’s specific needs, and are based on studies that analyse the city’s unique regional features.
Both the Suwon Lifelong Learning Council and the Humanities City Advisory Committee are made up of representatives from non-governmental civil society organizations, education experts and representatives from the city’s Education Office. They hold workshops, forums and performance evaluations to measure in detail Suwon’s progress towards becoming a learning city. Evaluations consider the extent to which projects foster collaboration between civic experts and citizens; whether projects fit citizens’ needs; and whether projects accommodate Suwon’s unique identity based on its specific regional features. The findings inform the planning of future projects.
On completion, projects are evaluated in line with agreed procedures for accommodating feedback and identifying future improvements. The city has also produced learning-city outcome booklets, and runs a course to train residents as lifelong learning monitors. This ensures that the voices of learners and other stakeholders in Suwon’s learning organizations and programmes are heard, and that these voices are reflected in policies designed to promote the learning city’s development.
8. Achievements and the way forward
Building a learning city in Suwon led to a rapid surge in the number of learning activities and venues available. There are now more than 600 related facilities in locations across the city. This has had a positive impact on the number of learners, which has been growing exponentially. Between 2011 and 2015, the total more than doubled, from 376,000 learners to 791,000.
Consequently, Suwon has taken giant steps towards realizing its vision of becoming a city without illiteracy, where learning is easily accessible to all. The literacy rate is approaching 100 per cent, also among disadvantaged families. Furthermore, citizens are becoming increasingly aware of the impact that their actions have on the environment: to date, 156,400 have participated in one of the 5,522 ecological education programmes that Suwon has organized across the city. With the development of a citywide learning community, individuals have been able to react more promptly to changes in the job market. Moreover, the learning sector itself has created many jobs, especially in the areas of teaching and course certification. Finally, the increase in learning opportunities centred on local culture and history has instilled a shared sense of pride in Suwon.
With its compelling learning offerings and efficient network, Suwon has succeeded in making a positive impact on the daily lives of its inhabitants. The benefits of learning are felt in all parts of the city and create a strong commitment to public life.
Lifelong Learning Specialist
Official city websites