Learning cities: Drivers of inclusion and sustainability


Today, more than half of humanity - 3.5 billion people - live in cities, and 5 billion people are projected to live in urban areas by 2030. Many cities around the world are facing acute challenges in managing rapid urbanization, which has a severe impact ensuring quality education for all. Learning cities enable people of all ages, and socio-economic and cultural backgrounds to benefit from inclusive quality education and lifelong learning opportunities.

What is a learning city?

Learning cities provide good policies and practices fostering sustainable development at various levels, notably through lifelong learning. They are more equitable, cohesive, and peaceful and eventually become more sustainable. Cities can be hubs of public policies where local governments empower communities and social actors to engage in lifelong learning strategies and programmes.

A learning city:

  • effectively mobilizes resources in every sector to promote inclusive learning from basic to higher education,
  • revitalizes learning in families and communities,
  • facilitates learning for and in the workplace,
  • extends the use of modern learning technologies,
  • enhances quality and excellence in learning,
  • and fosters a culture of learning throughout life,
  • thereby enhances individual empowerment and social inclusion, economic development and cultural prosperity, and sustainable development.

What do learning cities do to achieve equity and inclusion?

To achieve equity and inclusion, learning cities:

  • provide alternative educational opportunities for all citizens, in particular for vulnerable groups who are not in formal schooling or training, enabling them to acquire literacy and other basic/vocational skills as well as to participate in continuous adult education,
  • offer online learning classes that allow people to attend free lectures on a range of topics relevant to their local community,
  • establish migrant colleges enabling migrant workers to obtain professional qualifications, thereby helping them to integrate into society,
  • promote intergenerational learning initiatives bringing schoolchildren and adults together,
  • provide career guidance, particularly for women, to encourage them to pursue higher qualifications that will allow them to assume leadership positions,
  • set up mobile libraries providing reading opportunities for all, especially people with disabilities, senior citizens and children below school age,
  • make use of cultural centres that serve as learning sites, bringing together culture, art and learning, and hosting projects run jointly by local educational and cultural institutions as a means of enabling local people to access their cultural heritage and promoting intercultural tolerance,
  • establish schemes that mobilize trained volunteers to encourage residents at risk of isolation (e.g. senior citizens, people with disabilities) to participate in cultural activities, art workshops, physical activities, etc.
  • Create ‘civic participation networks’ that encourage citizens to take part in the city’s decision-making processes, supported by the use of social media and modern technologies.

What is the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities?

The UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities is an international policy-oriented network of currently 170 active member cities from 53 countries providing inspiration, know-how and best practice. It is coordinated by the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. The network supports member cities by:

  • promoting policy dialogue and peer learning among member cities
  • documenting effective strategies and good practices
  • fostering partnerships
  • providing capacity development and
  • developing tools and instruments to design, implement, and monitor learning cities strategies. 

What are good examples of learning cities?

170 cities from 53 countries worldwide are currently active members of the learning cities network. They all provide outstanding lifelong learning policies and practices. Ten of them will be honoured on 30 September 2019 before the opening of the Medellín Conference with the 2019 Learning Cities Award.  Learn more about the winners of the 2019 Learning City Award.

What will happen at the fourth International Conference on Learning Cities in Medellín?

From 1 to 3 October 2019, 350 government officials, city representatives and education experts from around the world will gather in Medellín, Colombia to identify, exchange and discuss effective lifelong learning policies and practices that lead to inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities.

At the end of the Conference, participants will adopt the Medellín Manifesto, outlining milestones for the future work of learning cities to enhance inclusion through lifelong learning.

On 3 October 2019, site visits under the guidance of the Mayor of Medellín will showcase lifelong learning programmes implemented in the city of Medellín. Participants will learn how Medellín has managed to transform from a city with one of the highest crime rates worldwide to an innovative city providing learning opportunities also to the marginalized.