UNESCO has announced that 55 new cities from 27 countries will be joining its Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC), including the Turkish cities of Izmir, Balıkesir and Afyonkarahisar.
“These cities have proven that effective lifelong learning policies and practices can support the development of inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities and contribute to the 2030 Agenda,” said UNESCO in a written statement on Sept. 18.
The new members bring the total number of cities within the UNESCO GNLC to 230 across 64 countries.
“These cities are outstanding examples of how lifelong learning can become a reality at the local level,” added the statement.
“A strong commitment to lifelong learning by the mayor and city administration is a key prerequisite for becoming a learning city,” it added, praising authorities in the cities.
The mayors of the three cities spoke to UNESCO, detailing their efforts in the field of education.
"At lzmir Metropolitan Municipality, we attach importance to the concept of 'learning by living' in achieving our goal. In this sense, we see the whole city as a campus or training ground. The rapidly increasing knowledge put out in today's world makes lifelong learning compulsory," Izmir Mayor Tunç Soyer said.
"We aim to build the creative, productive and extraordinary human capital required for all our goals. Education is the most important factor in allowing a person to realize their own potential. We aim to make lifelong learning and quality educational opportunities accessible and sustainable for all," he added.
"We know that in order to develop a city, first, the residents must develop, and we are aware that this is only possible through education. By transforming our citizens into more conscious, active and more effective individuals, we believe that we will create an equal, social and democratic society which is prosperous," Soyer stated, adding that the municipality was looking forward to developing the activities they had already undertaken through the UNESCO Learning Cities Network, by "strengthening international communication, expanding our relations with world cities and being inspired by sharing our experiences.”
Meanwhile, Balıkesir Mayor Yücel Yılmaz also emphasized the importance of lifelong learning.
"The Balıkesir Metropolitan Municipality, in association with stakeholders involved in developing the UNESCO learning city, will continue to support, empower and provide for the socio-cultural development and employability of individuals of all ages and backgrounds, by improving their knowledge, values, skills and competencies," Yılmaz said. "As part of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities, the city appreciates the opportunity to share all we have to offer and what we can provide.”
The Afyonkarahisar mayor detailed his municipality's coordinated efforts with the city's major educational institutes.
“Becoming a learning city requires the involvement of all relevant institutions, from city governorships to universities and local education authorities. As a municipality, we are working closely with Afyon Kocatepe University and Afyon Health Sciences University, along with local primary and secondary education authorities," Mayor Mehmet Zeybek said.
"Within the scope of lifelong learning, we carry out a lot of different courses and workshops, with the aforementioned institutions to various communities. We are not only targeting the youth but also adults, disadvantaged groups and the unemployed people,” he added.
David Atchoarena, the director of the Institute for Lifelong Learning and coordinator of the network, noted how the pandemic has tested education systems.
“With unprecedented urgency, the COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the necessity to build more resilient education systems for the future. With more than half of humanity living in urban areas, cities must be at the center of this undertaking,” he said.
“Over the course of the pandemic, UNESCO Learning Cities from around the world have shown that they are well placed to make lifelong learning a reality, also under harsh conditions,” he added.