With the adoption of the Yeonsu Declaration at the fifth International Conference on Learning Cities (ICLC), UNESCO learning cities from around the world pledged to place lifelong learning for health and the development of resilience at the centre of their agenda.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 1,500 conference participants – mayors, further city representatives and experts – committed to strengthening local learning initiatives and strategies for health. Cities will further develop learning opportunities to support their inhabitants to better understand information about health, adopt healthier lifestyles by making informed choices, and ensure easy access to healthcare. Participants also agreed to strengthen the resilience of cities, communities and learning systems by putting local people at the centre of decision-making and ensuring the city serves as a strong link between learning institutions and communities. Furthermore, cities pledged to allocate adequate funds to ensure the realization of these activities, and to conduct a research-based review of their COVID-19 response to prepare for future crises.
“With more than half of humanity living in urban areas, cities have a central role to play in providing everyone with learning opportunities and are, at the same time, at the frontline of global crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” David Atchoarena, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, told the conference.
Call on national governments for new policies for lifelong learning
During his keynote speech former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon underlined “We need to create a cultural climate that allows lifelong learning for everyone in the world." To create a thriving environment for local action towards healthy and resilient cities through learning, conference participants called on national governments to adopt new policies for lifelong learning for health and support the development of resilient cities in UNESCO Member States, as stated in the Yeonsu Declaration.
When explaining the comprehensive approach taken by the Republic of Korea to enable learning continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms Yoo Eun-hae, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education of the Republic of Korea, underlined: ‘We need to provide lifelong learning opportunities for all. Only then will we be able to solve global challenges.’ Nam-Seok Ko, Mayor of the host city of Yeonsu, added: ‘We need to go beyond the realm of learning simply to acquire knowledge and seek to promote learning to make citizens' lives healthy.’
UNESCO learning cities success stories
During the COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO learning cities around the world have shown how to boost learning for health and resilience. Ten of them have been honoured with the 2021 UNESCO Learning Cities Award for their outstanding progress in providing lifelong learning opportunities for their citizens. Irrespective of whether they are megacities or smaller urban areas, all of the awardees have shown how learning opportunities empower citizens of all ages when suitable policies and programmes are put in place. The Laureates are: Al Wakra (Qatar), Belfast (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), Clermont-Ferrand (France), Damietta (Egypt), Dublin (Ireland), Huejotzingo (Mexico), Jubail Industrial City (Saudi Arabia), Osan (Republic of Korea), Shanghai (People’s Republic of China), and Wyndham (Australia). They were selected by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), on the recommendation of an independent jury of international experts.
Learning cities are key drivers towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They promote good policy and practice, and foster sustainable development at various levels, notably through lifelong learning. The UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities, coordinated by UIL, supports and improves the practice of lifelong learning in member cities by promoting policy dialogue and peer learning, documenting effective strategies and good practice, fostering partnerships, providing capacity development, and developing tools and instruments to design, implement and monitor learning cities strategies.