The Practical Radical

The Pradical Blog: For 7 Generations .. or at least until the next disaster

May 2, 2010
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It never ceases to amaze me how we work to implement long-term planning, slowly moving step by step forward, yet seemingly for an instant we  let our eye off the ball and end up four steps back.

There is a litany of backwards “steps” in the last few months.

  1. The oil spill disaster off the Atlantic Coast. Ironically, it was just over a month ago that Obama opened up the coast for off shore oil drilling.
  2. At Copenhagen we were meant to sign a historic agreement that would change how the world did business regarding carbon emissions. What we ended up with is the seeming undermining of a global concensus that climate change exists.
  3. And, the most potentially disastrous kick to longterm sustainability, is our embarkation on a new nuclear age, with expanded use of “safe” nuclear energy.

I remember 20 years ago at an EYA conference watching David Suzuki announce that the 90’s was the “turnaround decade”. Today he bemoans that “we’re still fighting the battles. The direction we’re heading is catastrophic. This is not going to be easy. But the important thing is to get started.”

What sadly seems to move us forward is disasters such as what is happening in the Atlantic; but waiting for disaster is not a sustainable strategy. Perhaps we need to take a page from the youth community, and look at the actions they take to “meaningfully” engage.

Based on a youth engagement model developed by the Centre of Excellence for Youth Engagement, I propose four principles of positive sustainability engagement that could be undertaken by sustainability groups:

PRINCIPLES TO SUPPORT MEANINGFUL ENGAGEMENT IN SUSTAINABILITY
1. People Centred: Organizations respond to people’s diverse talents, skills, & interests in regards to sustainability; build on their strengths by identifying what  they do well in the area of sustainability & develop those skills. Feature sustainability leadership & voices
2. Knowledge Centred: Creating opportunities that show people that learning is a reason to get involved. Opportunities that are clearly “about” something, e.g. community service as a way to sustainability; provide activities that deliberately teach a number of lessons & build a range of sustainability concepts and skills; & provide an opportunity for people to connect with a wide array of others undertaking similar work.
3. Assessment Centred: People need opportunities for ongoing feedback, peer reviews, & self-reflection to know how they are doing & how they can do better next time.
4. Care Centred: Effective organizations provide family-like environments where people can feel safe & build trusting relationships.

The radical nature of this model, rough as it is, is to refocus our sustainability work on the process – i.e the people – versus the product – i.e. the environment. Disasters will still happen – people made and natural – but perhaps this way we will be more prepared for them, and in then end our environment will improve. That to me is the basis of sustainability.

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Lost in Translation b/w Canada and USA

April 29, 2010
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?

April 29, 2010 – 11:10 AM

In compliance with the “Timely Notice” provisions of the Federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act of 1998, the Auraria Higher Education Center located in Downtown Denver is issuing notice of a violent crime that occurred on the Auraria Campus.

REPORTED OFFENSE: At approximately 10:13 a.m. today (Thursday, April 29, 2010), a handgun was discharged in one of the South Classroom Building’s women’s restrooms. The discharge is believed to have been accidental and no one was injured from the handgun. Auraria Police advise that there is no ongoing threat to the campus community.  The handgun was discharged from a stall in the women’s restroom, approximately four inches above the floor and the bullet lodged itself into the drywall.

I do admit that I often find myself culturally confused, both between Canadian and the US culture, but as well trying to get a handle on Coloradan culture.

Case in point re Canada/US – accidental firearm discharges are not something I have found or heard about commonly on Canadian campuses (not to say there is no violence – Ecole Polytechnique is one example), nor does it happen often in women’s bathroom stalls.

As for Colorado — between the liberal “laws” on marijuana (read my previous post on this) and the conservative gun laws … well, one gets whiplash just trying to keep up. Even for one such as myself who revels in “paradox”.

Signing off … a confused Canadian.


Higher education will play a catalytic role in Africa

April 25, 2010
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The newly launched State of the Urban Youth Report clearly states that education is the key to leveling the playing field for youth in the developing world. What we now have to focus on is what forms of education. One clear suggestion is what they call “tertiary” education – that being education beyond the regular grade 1 – 12 system – training, apprenticeships, college and university.

Who delivers it, how can we get more of it, how can we assure its quality are all questions we must ask.

Here is a repost of an article from the World Bank on that issue:

World Bank Discusses Education In Africa – Spring Meetings

Making Higher Education World for Africa’s Competitiveness

WASHINGTON, April 24, 2010—Higher education should play a critical catalytic role in Africa’s economic growth, according to African policy makers and experts from the public and private sectors gathered today at a crowded seminar held under the umbrella of the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings.

“We have made a lot of progress on primary education, but we can’t stop there,” said Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Vice President for Africa. “Africa’s population is seeing a ‘youth bulge’, and so we simply cannot avoid tertiary education—it has to be the bedrock of Africa’s development.”

Ezekwesili, herself a former education minister from Nigeria, highlighted some of the challenges in expanding higher education in Africa. These include the need to strike a balance between democratization of access to higher education and the quality of education provided; and to ensure that higher education turns out graduates with the right skills for the job market.

“We cannot continue business as usual—education must meet the needs of the economy,” she said.
Africa urgently needs doctors, nurses, agriculturists, engineers, administrators, lawyers, and business leaders, according to Christopher Thomas, who manages World Bank education projects and analysis in Africa. Yet higher education faces financing constraints, and graduates often remain unemployed.

“There are no easy answers to the question of how Africa’s higher education institutions can grow and thrive,” said Thomas. “But we do know that good policies, strong political will, resources, leadership, and public-private partnerships are necessary.”

Ministers of education from Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Senegal, Mali and Mauritania, who remained at work late into the evening in their countries to join the seminar remotely, all agreed that the basic issue was that all countries needed a base of human resources, although needs varied in each country.

“In the Gambia, we went for thirty years after independence without a university,” said Mamadou Tangara, Gambia’s Minister of Education. “We are facing a huge resource gap, and we cannot emphasize enough the role of higher education in development. Higher education policies of today will determine our society of tomorrow.”

Ezekwesili noted that the private sector had a major role in expanding access to higher education in Africa. In Ghana, public universities were at one time so stretched that they had to admit as many as 1,500 students in a single class with no teaching assistants. But with the rise of the private sector, about 50,000 more students were enrolled in universities in Ghana in 2007.

Peter Okebukola, a Nigerian regulator, suggested three other steps to boost enrollment. “We should also think about setting up open and long distance universities, expanding degree programs beyond universities to polytechnics and other non-degree institutions, and encouraging multi-campus universities,” he said.
Speaking about quality and relevance, Prof. Teuw Niane, the Rector of Gaston Berger University in Senegal, stressed the importance of professors being adequately qualified to teach students, and of connecting regularly with private companies to make sure that young graduates have more access to employment.

Many participants agreed that students who can afford to pay for higher education should be asked to do so. “Parents and youth must be willing to make some sacrifices,” said Joseph Duffey, of Laureate, a private company that seeks to make higher education affordable and accessible through a global network of partnerships.

“It is clear that sharing costs is fundamental,” said Ezekwesili, “Those who can pay should pay, but there should be a mechanism to help promising students who cannot afford to pay.”

The other side of the coin, according to many participants, is that both public and private institutions need to be more accountable and transparent, offering measurable results to parents and students. For example, information such as the number of their graduates that find jobs within a year of graduating should be available to the public.

Participants also discussed the need for quality assurance and regulation. “Accreditation should measure output but reward innovation,” noted Patrick Awuah, President of Ghana’s Ashehi University. “Accreditation can easily stifle innovation,” he said. “For instance, universities should not be evaluated only on the basis of the paper libraries, but also their electronic libraries.”Boukary Savadogo, Division Chief, Science and Technology Education, at the African Development Bank, emphasized that education must be approached in a holistic way, recognizing the connections between all levels from primary to tertiary.

“Tertiary education is a sine qua non for Africa’s development,” concluded Ezekwesili, “We all recognize the importance of a resurgence of tertiary education in Africa.”


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