Cork hosts Unesco learning conference

The benefits of hosting an international learning conference next month should go far beyond the immediate €1m boost to Cork’s local economy, according to its organisers.

Hundreds of global education, local government, and development organisation leaders will attend the three-day Unesco International Conference on Learning Cities.

The main programme at Cork City Hall on September 18 and 19 will be followed by a day of tours to see lifelong learning in action locally, with around two thirds of the 650 delegates expected to be overseas visitors.

They will have the chance to see interaction of tech giant Apple with local schools and communities near its northside plant, experience Cork’s Healthy Cities initiative, and hear about access and cultural programmes at Cork Institute of Technology and University College Cork.

Each of the four tours will connect with one of Cork’s four learning neighbourhoods, an initiative being piloted in Ballyphehane, Togher, Knocknaheeny, and Mayfield.

It involves schools, community, sports, and other organisations sharing ideas around different aspects of learning.

Education Minister Richard Bruton, whose department is one of the main funders along with Cork City Council as hosts, will open the conference on September 18.

Willie McAuliffe, co-chairman of the conference organising committee, said the theme of the three-day event is all about how local learning can influence Unesco’s goals around global sustainable development.

“We hope people visiting us here will learn themselves from some of the great work that’s been going on for over a decade,” he said.

That work includes the establishment of the Cork Lifelong Learning Festival in 2004, with an emphasis on learning being about more than formal qualifications. It now features hundreds of events annually and helped Cork become one of only three European recipients of the inaugural Unesco Learning City Award in 2015.

Mr McAuliffe said it is hoped that showcasing these activities in Cork will inspire businesses and industry to get more involved, and for other parts of Ireland to follow the example.

“The more different organisations we have, the more people will challenge their concept of what learning is, and see the benefits on people’s wellbeing as well as the economic ones,” he said.

Mr McAuliffe is a former principal of Terence MacSwiney Community College in Knocknaheeny, one of the venues on a conference tour focused on the work of Cork Education and Training Board. Irish bodies being represented at the event include those involved in adult learning, youth groups, Traveller organisations, environmental groups, as well as representatives of third-level institutions.

The conference speakers will include mayors, public officials, and entrepreneurs from Cameroon, Colombia, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Kenya, South Korea, Mexico, and Portugal.


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