Landmark Members’ Meeting of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities held in Hangzhou

22 November 2016

From Jordan to Denmark, the republic of Korea to Sint Maarten; world cities gathered in the culturally rich city of Hangzhou in China for the first ever Members’ Meeting of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC). On 15 and 16 November, over 150 city representatives, including 22 mayors and deputy mayors, shared and showcased their various innovative initiatives aimed at providing opportunities to improve their citizens’ lives. In their discussions, participants particularly stressed the importance of inclusive and equitable resource allocation and shared effective ways of providing quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

The Mayor of Hangzhou City, Mr Zhang Hongming, opened the meeting saying ‘Hanghzhou recognises the importance of providing lifelong learning for all and the need to learn from other cities as a basis for building a learning city’. The delighted Mayor added that, the city was ‘undertaking a systematic approach to providing education for all, in both rural and urban communities, young and old, and in all spheres of life, be they social, cultural, economic or environmental.’ Hangzhou, a pioneering learning city in China, it’s country’s the first city to have joined the UNESCO GNLC.

Discussions addressed ways of decentralising resources to reach both urban and rural populations and ensure that vulnerable groups are not left out; the need to use information and communications technology (ICT) to advance learning and enhance accessibility; and the need to develop parameters of monitoring and evaluating the development cities are undergoing in order for them to exercise responsible governance and reach their respective target populations. Following the discussions, these issues constituted the main points used by participants of the meeting to develop the Hangzhou Statement of the Members of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities , which was subsequently endorsed by all members.

The UNESCO GNLC currently comprises more than 160 Member Cities which joined the network since membership was officially launched in 2015. Despite their similarities and differences, all Members’ commitment to improving the quality of life of their constituents, through lifelong learning was clearly expressed by their official city representatives in the dedicated aim to work towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The GNLC has its secretariat at the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), which together with the City of Hangzhou and the UNESCO National Commission for the Peoples’ Republic of China organised this inaugural meeting. Stressing the significance of the meeting and therefore of the network, UIL’s Director, Mr Arne Carlsen said, ‘the UNESCO GNLC aims to bring cities together, promote lifelong learning; ensure that cities unite, share experiences, challenges and ponder ways, innovative ways, to help address the challenges of inclusive sustainable urban development and find solutions to contemporary challenges in their various cities.’

The Director’s words were echoed by Mr Yue Du, UNESCO’s Secretary-General for the People’s Republic of China, who urged Members to join hands in promoting the work of learning cities, emphasising that ‘sharing knowledge and resources among learning cities brings about larger benefits that transform societies by creating overall wellbeing, thereby creating a world where peace and prosperity can thrive’. In closing, Mr Timothy Owens, the Chief Executive of Cork Education and Training Board, took the opportunity to welcome all Members to participate in the 3rd International Conference on Learning Cities, in Cork, Ireland 18-20 September 2017.

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