Councillor Sarah Kiely, Deputising for the Mayor for Limerick City and County, Padraig Malone, Limerick City and County and Yvonne Lane, Learning Limerick Coordinator, were delighted to accept an invitation from UNESCO to participate in the fourth International Conference on Learning Cities. The conference theme was ‘Inclusion – A principle for lifelong learning and sustainable cities’ and was held in Medellín, Colombia, from 1 to 3 October 2019.
The UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities has 170 active members from 53 countries in every region of the world. Each of these ground-breaking cities in the network has implemented effective lifelong learning policies and practices that support the development of inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities and contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In 2017, Limerick was previously selected, along with 15 other cities, by an international jury for the outstanding progress made in promoting education and lifelong learning for all in their local communities; and to receive the UNESCO Learning City Award. One of the features highlighted for Limerick was its annual lifelong learning festival, which was established in 2011; and has grown from 70 to 250 free events and enables people to experience the city’s learning opportunities.
The Learning City awards 2019 were delivered to a further 10 cities who are members of the Network during a ceremony during the conference in Medellin. The Conference host city Medellin was one of the cities to receive this Learning City Award. Medellin coordinates a number of innovative programmes, including one that has helped to successfully reintegrate over 5,000 early school leavers by engaging with them on a one-to-one basis.
Councillor Sarah Kiely, deputising for the Mayor of Limerick City and County, was invited to speak on the theme “Digitally Excluded Citizens”. The key agencies in Limerick have a strong expertise in this area, with Limerick Digital Strategy 2017 – 2020 – Building Ireland’s First Digital City being launched by Limerick City and County Council in 2018. Brendan Ryan, Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board, had previously presented on the theme of Digital Inclusion at earlier Learning Cities Seminars held in Limerick and Cork; and arising from his presentation, our Mayor received the invitation to present at the conference in Colombia. Councillor Sarah Kiely presented on the work of the Digital Inclusion working group, which has inter-agency support and agreed terms of reference. Among the key actions that this group has identified, research has been commissioned, around the experience of being digitally excluded and aiming to identify appropriate responses at local, regional and national levels; aligned to international standards.
Conference participants also adopted a two-year strategy to enhance further the work of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities. Deputy Mayor Sarah Kiely and Yvonne Lane, Learning Limerick Coordinator, presented at the Mayor’s Forum; at which Limerick had the opportunity forge new partnerships that will enhance learning experiences for all people. Limerick has been invited to take on the role of coordinating city for the cluster on “Entrepreneurship” and the Learning Limerick steering group is looking forward to sharing experiences on the implementation of local actions and to leading the work of this thematic cluster. The city that Limerick will be working closely with in coordinating this cluster is Chengdu in China
The Deputy Mayor from Limerick also had the opportunity to meet the Irish Ambassador to Colombia Alison Milton during the Conference. The Irish Embassy was opened in Bogotá city in Colombia earlier this year. This significant step demonstrates the Government’s commitment to developing Ireland’s relationship with Colombia, particularly our commitment to support Colombia’s transition to a peaceful post-conflict society, including the vindication and protection of human and social rights.
As part of the activities organized by the Municipality of Medellín, the mayors and experts attending the Conference had the opportunity to visit one of the transformed neighbourhoods in the city, the Comuna 13, once known as one of the most dangerous and murderous districts in the world; which through education opportunities and cultural promotion has restructured its social foundations to become a place full of motivated and thriving people where street art and music have reshaped the face of the district.
Overall, the conference has been deemed a huge success and our Limerick representatives were delighted to play a strong role in it.