Many cities from GCC countries, particularly Doha, have a huge potential to become part of Unesco’s Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC), Unesco’s Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) director David Atchoarena has said.
“We see great potential for further cities from the region to join the network and offer our support for the application of any city with a strong commitment to lifelong learning,” he told Gulf Times.
The director hopes that cities such as Doha who commit to lifelong learning will join GNLC in the future, saying that up to three cities in a country can be nominated by the Unesco Commission each year.
Unesco announced Tuesday the inclusion of Al-Sheehaniya in Qatar to the network, together with 55 other cities from 27 countries, which brings the total number of members to 230.
Atchoarena noted that three areas of focus reflect the fundamental conditions for building a learning city: strong political will and commitment; governance and participation of all stakeholders; and mobilisation and utilisation of resources.
“Without these foundations, it is very difficult to make a learning city sustainable in time,” he said.
“All GNLC members strive towards realising their vision of lifelong learning and they do so by mutually learning from each other. Each city sets individual goals that are adequate for the respective national or regional environment,” Atchoarena said. “These are described in their application and are at the same time the basis for the progress evaluation that takes place every two years.”
About measuring the success of output or goals, which can be replicated by other members especially in the area of sustainable development, he said that “lifelong learning is a continuous process; there is no magic line over which a city will pass in order to become known as a learning city.”
“There are, however, attributes by which a learning city can be recognised, mainly in terms of what it does rather than what it is. The construction of a learning city entails an operational and pragmatic approach to the implementation of lifelong learning,” the director said.
“It is not an abstract theory. If a city has the political will and commitment to build a learning city, the network provides a set of indicators or key features against which it can monitor its progress,” he added.
According to Atchoarena, member cities are requested to submit a biennial progress report detailing how they are implementing their learning city strategy. The collection of submitted reports serves to support the monitoring of the concrete achievements of member cities by underlining effective policies, strategies, measures, partnerships and progress.
Cities, he said, differ in their cultural and ethnic composition, in their heritage and social structures.
However, the director said many characteristics of a learning city are common to all. The initiative on learning cities developed by the UIL defines a learning city as a city which effectively mobilises its resources in every sector to promote inclusive learning from basic to higher education, revitalise learning in families and communities, facilitate learning for and in the workplace, extend the use of modern learning technologies, enhance quality and excellence in learning, and foster a culture of learning throughout life.
“In so doing it will create and reinforce individual empowerment and social cohesion, economic and cultural prosperity, and sustainable development,” he said.
About coping with the current situation (Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on local and national economies), particularly in implementing UIL’s activities and programmes that need the active participation of network members, Atchoarena said many Unesco learning cities from around the world have shown that they are well placed to make lifelong learning a reality, also under harsh conditions.
“I would say that in particular due to the urgency of finding solutions to the challenges of educational provision, health education and economic pressure during the pandemic, the GNLC has shown its full power,” he said.
“Enabled through the UIL, members of the network worked together virtually on finding solutions to the pressing questions they had and rapidly learned from experiences made in other countries or world regions. This is what the GNLC is all about,” the director said.
“The crisis has shown with a new sense of urgency how important it is to make education systems resilient. Hence, education needs to be included in all Covid-19 response plans. We will continue to support the GNLC members with the latest research and strategies available to ensure that this is the case,” Atchoarena added.