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Communities and Educators Are Key Players in Realizing Canada’s Global Sustainable Development Commitments

Apr 25, 2017
Elizabeth Martin Elizabeth Martin
Research Associate
Education and Strategic Initiatives

In April of this year, Malala Yousafzai, the young education activist, UN Messenger of Peace, and new honorary Canadian citizen, stood in the House of Commons and called on Canada to honour the global Sustainable Development Goals as adopted by the 193 United Nations member states in September 2015. The 17 goals offer a framework for eradicating global poverty, organized around five pillars: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership.

Among those goals is a commitment to inclusive education and lifelong learning. When Canada committed to the goals, Yousafzai pointed out, it promised that education would become a reality for the world’s poorest. Her appeal underscores the role that education plays as a key lever for societies to build a more sustainable future.

One initiative that is propelling action toward the global Sustainable Development Goal on education is the UNESCO-led Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development (GAP for ESD). The program aims to advance policy, transform teaching and learning, build the capacity of educators, empower youth, and develop local solutions. The desired results? That sustainable development become a staple of education around the world, exposing learners to sustainable development principles and values throughout their lives; and that education itself is integrated into all sustainable development pursuits. In supporting the strategic actions of this program, Canada could make strides toward realizing the UN’s global Sustainable Development Goals.

“Through the Sustainable Development Goals, our nations promised every girl she would go to school for 12 years. We promised that donor countries and developing countries would work together to make this dream a reality for the poorest girls in the world. I know that politicians cannot keep every promise they make—but this is one you must honour.”
—Malala Yousafzai

Another approach that has the potential to move Canada forward on these commitments is the learning city movement. This movement has been embraced by over 100 designated learning cities around the world.1 Not one of them, however, is in Canada. The learning city concept promotes education and lifelong learning in all its aspects. It unites the different types of learning happening in a community, whether they are offered by formal educational institutions, employers, libraries, or community organizations, or are more informal.

The learning city offers an organizing principle for community leaders, in cooperation with educators, governments, businesses, and the voluntary sector, to plan and implement large-scale efforts to promote civic participation, environmental sustainability, health, economic prosperity, peace, and other shared community goals.2 There are dozens of examples of successful learning city initiatives from which Canadian communities could draw inspiration.3

Join us for a live webinar where we will discuss how educators, along with cities, regions, and municipal and community leaders, can combine efforts to work toward the Sustainable Development Goals. On May 2, Daniele Vieira, programme specialist at the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, and Michael Osborne, Professor of Adult and Lifelong Learning at the University of Glasgow, will discuss the learning city model that unites formal and informal education efforts to achieve the aims of the global Sustainable Development Goals.

1    UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning, Members of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities. (accessed April 24, 2017).

2    Ron Faris, Learning Cities: Lessons Learned (Ottawa: RESDAC, 2006), 4. (accessed April 24, 2017).

3    For examples, see Elizabeth Martin, Higher Education and Collaboration in a Learning City (Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2016); Raul Valdes-Cotera and others, eds., Unlocking the Potential of Urban Communities: Case Studies of Twelve Learning Cities (Hamburg and Seoul: UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning and National Institute for Lifelong Education of the Republic of Korea NILE, 2015).

Liz Martin is a Research Associate in the Education and Strategic Initiatives group at The Conference Board of Canada and a researcher for The Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education.

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5th Skills and Post-Secondary Education Summit 2017
November 29–November 30 2017 • International Plaza Hotel & Conference Centre • Toronto, Ontario

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