Close to 700 delegates from over 95 countries are attending a three-day Learning Cities conference in Cork organised by UNESCO and previously held in Beijing and Mexico city, writes Olivia Kelleher.
Mr Kabit Shaikh, director UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, said that Cork has a "thread of learning" in everything it does and that is why the city was chosen as the first Learning Cities conference destination outside of Europe.
"Cork was able to meet the economic regeneration because it had the workforce trained and in so in choosing Cork city (for the conference) we saw that as a key feature of your city," he said.
"Beijing is a big place. Mexico is a big place and we felt Cork's size did not matter to us because it had the capacity to deliver. And the example (of learning) to show. It understood the concept. We are delighted to be here."
The theme of the conference is "Global Goals and Local Actions toward Education and Lifelong Learning."
The conference is considered to be quite a coup for Cork given that it has been dubbed the "World Cup of Education."
Cork was named a Learning City in 2015 and has received international recognition for its efforts in the field.
Over 40 mayors are in attendance at the conference including the Mayor of San Francisco, Edwin Lee, who used his opening address to emphasise the inclusive nature of his city.
"We are a city where our residents are protected, respected, defended and loved regardless of their ethnicity, religious creed, sexual orientation, immigration status or gender identity. In San Francisco we believe every resident deserves an opportunity to pursue the American dream of higher education."
Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Tony Fitzgerald, said his mother, Maura, was a good example of the benefits of lifelong learning.
"When I think of my own mother. She is 84 years of age. Through the Life Long Learning festival, through her engagement with the community she can now Skype. She can Google.
"She can communicate via the internet to relations abroad. She knows how to use the iPad as much as I do."
Meanwhile, more than half the world’s population live in cities, with the proportion expected to rise to two-thirds by 2050.
UNESCO says to achieve all-round development, the central role of cities in creating change, fostering inclusion and promoting sustainability must be fully recognised and explored.
This conference brings together key city stakeholders to share and discuss their experiences and identify good practice in using education and learning as drivers of sustainable development.
‘Cities are key actors for peace and development in the century ahead – our challenge is to ensure that this peace is lasting, that this development is sustainable,’ said Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, in her conference message.
She added that ‘lifelong learning stands at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, noting that lifelong learning is more than adult education and technical vocational education, and should be understood as going beyond the walls of classrooms, to include non-formal and informal learning.
The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) has been instrumental in building the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities. The network was established in 2013 and currently comprises more than 200 member cities from across the world.
The network is open to all cities of the world so long as they foster education and lifelong learning in their pursuit of development and sustainability.