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Arab Cities As Learning Cities: Towards membership in the Global Network of Learning Cities

2017-07-27_23-55-10Modern cities in the 21st century are defined by “individual empowerment”, “social inclusion”, “economic development”. “cultural prosperity”, and “sustainable development”. The rapid urbanization around the world (see here), makes it imperative for cities, as they grow in population, to meet the societal, economic, and cultural needs of its citizens who are growing increasingly diverse. But  you do not have to scrutinize the Arab cities’ ecologies to know that they are conceptually and pragmatically nothing near a modern city as illustrated above. A typical Arab city, let’s say my city Tripoli in northern Lebanon, is underdeveloped, lacks social mobility, individuals are undervalued, has marginalized groups, and the city development is temporal. The marginalization or assimilation of groups in the city is only growing by the day. I have seen this in every Arab city I have visited, with the exception of a few in the GCC.

A key ingredient for continuous development is life-long learning. Life-long learning is not a new concept in history dating back to thousands of years and particularly and perpetually emphasized in the Holy Quran and by Prophet Mohammad (SAW). Although there are some initiatives in some Arab cities to help citizens access learning in informal and non-formal settings, these initiatives are marred by lack of quality, rigor, and ubiquity.  Arab cities need  tohave a paradigm shift towards life-long learning. They need to become learning cities. Fortunately, there is a global network for learning cities that can really assist them towards sustainable development.

The UNESCO Global Network for Learning Cities (GNLC) consists of cities that learn and that share their learning with other cities in the network.  It is an international policy-oriented network for inspiration, know-how and best practice. GNLC operates under the premise that although every city is unique, when it comes to learning, cities share certain characteristics. Therefore, learning cities at all levels of development can take great advantage by sharing ideas with other cities, as solutions for issues that arise as one learning city develops may already exist in other cities. The UNESCO GNLC supports and improves the practice of lifelong learning in the world’s cities by promoting policy dialog and peer learning among ember cities; forging link; fostering partnerships; providing capacity development; and developing instruments to encourage and recognize progress made in building learning cities.

Benefits of Being a Member City in GNLC

When a city joins the UNESCO GNLC, it enjoys the following benefits

Receive guidance and support

• Access tools and strategies for developing learning cities.

• Keep up to date on learning city developments.

Be part of a dynamic network

• Exchange information with other learning cities.

• Communicate with a network of experts and professionals.

• Build partnerships.

• Host conferences and meetings.

Enjoy recognition for your efforts

• Share your milestones and inspire other cities.

• Showcase your city.

• Apply for the UNESCO Learning City Award.

12 Key Features of a Learning City

learning cities global network key features

The Pediment – three areas of focus reflect the wider benefits of building a modern learning city,

broadly defined as:

(1) Individual empowerment and social cohesion;

(2) Economic development and cultural prosperity;


(3) Sustainable development.

The Columns – six areas of focus reflect the major building blocks of a learning city:

(1) Inclusive learning in the education system;

(2) Revitalized learning in families and


(3) Effective learning for and in the workplace;

(4) Extended use of modern learning technologies;

(5) Enhanced quality in learning; and

(6) A vibrant culture of learning throughout life.

The Foundational Steps – three areas of focus reflect the fundamental conditions for building a

learning city:

(1) Strong political will and commitment;

(2) Governance and participation of all

stakeholders; and

(3) Mobilization and utilization of resources

The Key Features can serve as a comprehensive checklist of action points to help municipal governments and other stakeholders of cities in their efforts to build learning cities that promote lifelong learning for all.

Furthermore, as the members of a global network of learning cities need to be recommended by UNESCO. Member States, the national authorities of the Member States can use the Key Features to select and recommend cities to join the network.

Currently, there are 188 member cities from 42 countries. Only 16 are from the MENA region: Algeria (9 cities), Egypt (1 city), Jordan (5 cities), Tunisia (1 city) (See Map below).


Click the image above to view the full map.

How to Become a Member

If a city wishes to become a member, there are few steps to be taken. The city needs to also know that UNESCO will be monitoring the city to meet the key features stated above.

The city government can apply by following these steps:

Step 1: Commit to developing a learning city.
Step 2: Adopt the Guiding Documents of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities.
Step 3: Complete the application form.
Step 4: Ensure the application form is signed and stamped by the mayor.
Step 5: Email the application form to country’s National Commission for UNESCO for endorsement, making sure to cc the Secretariat of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (learningcities(at)

For more details about membership and the application process, please consult the membership concept.

See more on how to become a member.

My hope is that city mayors and executives take this opportunity to help empower individual citizens for sustainable development because learning never stops, and learning is only optimized via connectedness.

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