UNESCO on Wednesday added three Turkish cities along with 52 others from 27 countries to its Global Network of Learning Cities, a senior official of the organization told Anadolu Agency.

Turkey’s western city of Afyonkarahisar, the northwestern city of Balikesir and Aegean city of Izmir have been recognized for making lifelong learning a reality at the local level, according to Raul Valdes Cotera, a team leader at the Lifelong Learning Policies and Strategies Program of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning.

“Izmir, Afyonkarahisar and Balikesir have proven with their applications a strong commitment to lifelong learning at the highest political level with the support of all education stakeholders,” he said.

Cotera underlined that a learning city should effectively commit to mobilizing its resources in every sector to promote inclusive learning from basic to higher education, revitalize 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.

“By joining our network, policymakers, administration executives as well as all education stakeholders from Afyonkarahisar, Balikesir and Izmir now have access to the expertise of 227 other cities around the globe not only about these key issues but also around all lifelong learning provisions. They are able to exchange good practices in a structured way and work jointly on challenges.”

Noting that the cities differ in their cultural and ethnic composition as well as in their heritage and social structures, Cotera said all learning cities aim to create and reinforce individual empowerment and social cohesion, economic and cultural prosperity, and sustainable development.

“All three Turkish cities have shown their strong commitment to these actions while choosing different foci,” he said.

The UNESCO official stressed that the three Turkish cities show strong political commitment and engagement for lifelong learning, adding he was sure that within the next two years, they will see substantial further development of all three cities based on the expertise of the network.

Cotera also expressed his hope that the lifelong learning strategies and programs will inspire other cities in Turkey and beyond.

“We are grateful to see a strong interest from Turkish cities in the network and are benefiting from their experiences!” he said.

Today’s new members bring the total number of cities within the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities to 230 in 64 countries.

Lifelong learning under harsh conditions

Learning cities in the modern world play an important role, especially in times where the education system is being shifted online and accessed remotely due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, Cotera said.

“During the pandemic, 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.”

The Global Network of Learning Cities has shown its “full power” during this public health emergency due to the urgency of finding solutions to the challenges of educational provision, health education and economic pressure, he said.

Cotera went on to say that enabled through the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, members of the network worked together virtually on finding solutions to the pressing questions they had and rapidly learned from experiences in other countries or world regions.

“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,” he said.

Peer learning

Noting that peer learning is central to the network, Cotera highlighted that the member cities cooperate closely on key topics for cities around the world such as education for sustainable development, equity and inclusion, educational planning, monitoring and evaluation, education for global citizenship, entrepreneurship, as well as learning for health and well-being and literacy.

“By doing so, they are able to strengthen their education systems and raise the quality of lifelong learning,” he said.

He emphasized that the member cities also conduct the virtual meetings nowadays on key issues to discuss strategies and programs and develop action plans, while the representatives used to meet in person in workshops, conferences and capacity-building initiatives during non-pandemic times.

“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,” Cotera added.

He said lifelong learning is not only the goal of the network but also the basis for cooperation and exchange among the cities.

“Finally, we always hope that the UNESCO learning cities will not only inspire each other but also other cities in the respective countries and regions,” Cotera concluded.

The UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities fosters exchange on policies and strategies and enables cities to make education systems at the urban level resilient and fully exploit the benefits of lifelong learning.

Each year, up to three cities per country can be nominated by the UNESCO Commission. A strong commitment to lifelong learning by the mayor and city administration is a key prerequisite for becoming a learning city.

Besides the three Turkish cities selected, the cities of Eskisehir, Hatay and Konya in Turkey are also active within the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities.

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