Online conference: strengthening citizenship education at local level
On 12 and 13 November 2020, UNESCO learning cities from around the globe met virtually to share strategies, experiences and challenges relating to citizenship education. The event was organized by the UNESCO learning cities of Larissa (Greece) and Yeonsu-Gu (Republic of Korea), supported by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL). Over 200 participants joined online and followed the presentations.
A number of renowned experts were involved in the conference. Their keynote presentations covered aspects of citizenship education that included, amongst others, human rights, environmental sustainability, social inclusion and issues arising from rapid advances in digital technologies. The presentations showed that citizenship education is a holistic concept that can help to solve many of the challenges currently faced by cities and countries around the world. Good citizenship refers to citizens who act responsibly, fulfil their social and democratic duties, and actively participate in creating a healthy and peaceful society. One of the major challenges faced by many urban communities has been to get vulnerable groups involved in citizenship education by encouraging them to become active citizens, and to learn about and embrace their rights.
In the course of the event, city representatives offered insights into: how citizenship education is being integrated into their local communities; which institutions are involved; how responsibilities are being shared; which specific target groups and issues are being addressed; and what forms and modalities of citizenship education have proven particularly successful.
During the opening session of the conference, the cluster’s coordinating cities, Larissa and Yeonsu-gu, presented their activities and achievements in the field of citizenship education. Yeonsu-gu has to date implemented a number of citizenship initiatives designed to enhance civic engagement, build community resilience and foster direct democracy. The city representative introduced Yeonsu-gu’s ‘online multi-family housing management platform’ as one example of the initiatives introduced to date. The platform supports an exchange of information on local communities and enables direct participation in decision-making processes at the local level, at any time and from any location.
The representative from Larissa highlighted the Citizens’ University, established in 2018, which, among other initiatives, has established ‘parents' schools’, language courses for refugees and immigrants, a disability awareness programme for municipal councillors, computer courses for older learners, and training opportunities for providers of art-based education.
Further examples were shared by the city of Escazú, Costa Rica, which has set up a ‘Municipal Women’s School of Citizenship and Leadership’. The city is also carrying out projects to help migrants and refugees integrate into society, and has established a local Social Corporate Responsibility network. The Polish city of Gdynia, meanwhile, manages its citizenship education activities though an Urban Lab, which includes an Urban Café that serves as a space in which citizens and city officials can engage in open dialogue and discussions. Gdynia also offers lectures on a wide range of themes (e.g. climate change), as well as debates and film screenings (e.g. on the history of plastic). Video recordings are available online, showcasing these and many more examples of citizenship education initiatives shared by city and youth representatives during the two-day conference:
Day 1 – 12 November 2020: https://www.youtube.com/embed/jmUpM5Gmn1Q
Day 2 – 13 November 2020: https://www.youtube.com/embed/yiWbVzce_Ck
The conference’s main message was that citizenship education is a form of ‘learning to live together’ and must be strengthened further. To achieve this requires the continuous commitment of various stakeholders, including municipal governments, formal and non-formal education institutions, NGOs, the private sector and youth groups, among many others. Partnerships between these stakeholders need to be established and continuously reinforced. Citizenship education is relevant to people of all ages, and it is vital that it be actively promoted in order to achieve the global goals laid down in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
During the closing session of the conference, the coordinating cities overseeing the GNLC citizenship education cluster joined with UIL to encourage member cities to continue their active engagement in the cluster’s work by sharing best practices, responding to a cluster survey and exchanging knowledge. Drawing on the expertise and examples shared during the conference, the next cluster meeting, which is scheduled to take place this December, will be dedicated to drawing up a road map in preparation for the fifth International Conference on Learning Cities in autumn 2021.