Research on Cities and Education 2030 goes global

27 October 2021

two_young_school_girls_in_uniform_on_their_way_home_after_class_in_kigali_rwanda.csarine_arslanian_shutterstock.jpg

Sarine Arslanian/Shutterstock
Two young school girls on their way home after class in Kigali, Rwanda.

From health care, transportation, to utilities and logistics, cities are dynamic hubs for many public activities. Education is revving up as another key sector for municipals as it is increasingly part of decentralization reforms. As a result, cities are becoming crucial stakeholders in pursuit of the sustainable development goal for equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all (SDG 4).

IIEP-UNESCO first explored this growing phenomenon in four French cities and has since put together recommendations on how to improve the role of cities in educational planning and management. This actionable research– Cities and Education 2030 – has now gone global, encompassing five cities on three continents.

The new cities include Dhaka and Khulna (Bangladesh), Medellín (Colombia), Manila (Philippines), and Kigali (Rwanda). Ranging from 2.5 million inhabitants in Medellin to more than 21 million in Dhaka, the participating cities are diverse in both size and location. The research will bring a host of benefits for the national partners, including a complete diagnosis of their municipal education strategy, as well as access to a global network of cities on educational planning and management.

From Medellín, the Secretary of Education, Alexandra Agudelo Ruíz, explained how city officials were eager to learn from the shared challenges of cities worldwide and apply a larger body of evidence to educational planning and policy-making.

“As a Learning City, we are interested in providing evidence that can help us plan and make decisions to strengthen of our educational strategy and to ensure quality education and inclusion.”

Read the full interview with Secretary of Education of Medellín.

Candy Lugaz, the project’s coordinator at IIEP-UNESCO in Paris, says the research was developed to gain a better understanding on how cities plan for achieving SDG 4 and contribute to sustainable development at large.

“We study the planning cycle, with specific attention given to the actors involved both inside and outside city hall, the tools used, the processes, content of the strategy and thematic priorities,” Lugaz explains. “By doing this we can understand the overall strengths and challenges urban actors face in planning education for their populations.”

More specifically, the research looks at the type of collaboration between city officials and the local education community (school staff, parent, pupils, civil society organizations, private companies, and others), as well as with other public sectors.

“Education does not work in silos,” she continues. “To effectively provide access to quality education to all children and youth, cities need to make links with a number of other sectors namely health, culture, urbanism, sports, housing, transport, and the labour market. The city constitutes a prime locale to examine these relationships and the research aims at learning from these bridges, and the reality in cities.”

Partnerships are key to this research

Collaboration with a range of partners has so far been key to making this research possible, first in France and now globally. In addition to the cities, IIEP has partnered with the University of Glasgow and with research centres from the GCRF Centre for Sustainable, Healthy and Learning Cities and Neighborhoods (SHLC), the PASCAL Observatory’s Learning Cities Network, the Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC), and the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL).

Michael Osborne, Professor of Adult and Lifelong Learning, Director of PASCAL and co-Investigator within SHLC at the University of Glasgow, told IIEP how he encouraged their partners in Bangladesh, Rwanda, and the Philippines in SHLC to participate in the research because of their mutual understanding of education’s role in urban development and the need for robust quantitative and qualitative data.

Smart cities, healthy cities, sustainable cities – many of today’s urban centres are increasingly solution-driven, dynamic, and innovative as they address often-interlinked challenges, such as pollution, lack of green space, or overcrowding. “There are many adjectives put in front of cities,” says Osborne.

“But more often than not education is not seen as a primary aspect of urban development. However, this research should raise more awareness in these cities on the role of education – and learning more broadly – as the foundation of development, and urban development.”
-Michael Osborne, University of Glasgow

For the involved cities, such as Manila, Osborne sees great potential for getting down to the local levels, to respond to the actual needs that cities face within their heterogeneous neighbourhoods. For as Osborne says, “to get effective action you need to get into the communities.”

Michael Osborne
Barangay 654 in Manila, Philippines. A barangay is the smallest level of municipal governance in the Philippines, similar to a neighbourhood.

Focus on France: See our recommendations for the future of planning urban education

Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic started, an IIEP research team visited the French cities of Grigny, Ivry-sur-Seine, Orvault, and Saint-Quentin to study the design, implementation and management of their education strategies. In each city, around thirty interviews were conducted with a diverse panel of actors from the local education community, including municipal staff, representatives of the Ministry of National Education (inspectors, school principals and teaching staff), parents, pupils and representatives of civil society. Based on this research and a Policy Brief, here are IIEP’s key recommendations:

  • Identify and empower actors in the local education community,
  • Foster dialogue for designing, implementing, and monitoring the education strategy,
  • Create a shared stakeholder culture around the strategy,
  • Analyse and identify specific educational needs in the territory,
  • Encourage different perspectives around education opportunities and challenges,
  • Identify possible collaborations between actors and sectors to define meaningful strategies,
  • Establish cross-cutting roles to coordinate the municipal education strategy,
  • Define a strategy that can adapt to changing needs.


The city officials and partners in these four French cities are now in the process of applying these recommendations, to refine their roadmaps towards equitable and inclusive quality education for all.

Read the Policy Brief

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