Universities Must Break Down Learning Barriers to Sustainable Development

TN Note: Education institutions everywhere are being pressured into developing curricula for Sustainable Development. The propaganda is not designed for developing or clarifying economic theories related to Sustainable Development, but rather to parroting the goals established by the United Nations.

Boundaries between contact and distance universities are rapidly blurring, and boundaries between institutions and developers of technology-enhanced learning ought to be broken down if both worlds are to benefit from each other’s expertise in the interests of sustainable development, thought leaders told a global conference on open, distance and e-learning.

Major shifts and challenges for open and distance learning, and how it might support the newly adopted United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, were explored by a panel at last week’s conference of the International Council for Open and Distance Education, or ICDE.

The panelists were Professor Asha Kanwar, president and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning and former pro vice-chancellor of Indira Gandhi National Open University in India; Professor Tolly Mbwette, former president of the African Council for Distance Education and former vice-chancellor of the Open University of Tanzania; and Professor Alan Tait, director of international development and teacher education at the Open University, United Kingdom.

Paul Prinsloo, research professor in open and distance learning at the University of South Africa or UNISA, chaired the panel at the26th ICDE World Conference, which was held at Sun City north of Johannesburg from 14-16 October and was hosted by UNISA under the theme “Growing Capacities for Sustainable Distance e-Learning Provision”.

Major developments

Asha Kanwar highlighted two important developments that are having a major impact on open, distance and e-learning. One is open educational resources or OER, and the other is massive open online courses or MOOCs.

“Distance learning institutions have not taken leadership roles in either movement. They are just now beginning to wake up to these new developments.”

There were major implications, said Kanwar. For example, distance institutions “have always prided themselves on the family silver – course content, which was very high quality. Now the rug has been pulled out from under our feet because OER is coming as free content.”

So what is to be done?

“We haven’t really overcome the credibility gap that exists between distance and contact institutions,” Kanwar argued.

There should be more invested in learner support, which has been a weak spot in many developing countries. “There is a huge expansion in distance learning, but the reason why the credibility crisis still exists is to a large extent based on learner support.”

Second: “We have all the experience as distance educators to run quality MOOCs, but we haven’t seized the day. We’re trying to look around to see what to do and how to follow. This is one of the developments that would allow us is to make the world a classroom.”

Third, said Kanwar, distance educators needed to place more emphasis on peer-to-peer learning, rather than just teacher- and content-to-student learning.

These areas, along with the rapidly developing area of learning analytics for student support, provided “very exciting opportunities”.

Blurring boundaries

Tolly Mbwette argued that one major development in higher education worldwide was the disappearance of distinctions between residential and open and distance learning universities. All types of institutions were “evolving to use some sort of blended learning”.

Second, challenges ushered upon universities by the recently adopted United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs – and in Africa, the African Union’s new Agenda 2063 – “give universities, and in particular open and distance universities, an added challenge of being able to go well beyond the normal duty of simply teaching students.

“Open and distance universities will have to play a very active role in educating entire communities,” Mbwette said.

To be able to do this effectively, African countries would need to overcome two challenges – lack of internet bandwidth and poor quality. Governments were investing in bandwidth, making the “bad” quality of content and services the major long-term obstacle.

“So universities here are challenged to work with governments to make sure that services available are good. Partnership and collaboration seem to a major way to guarantee quality delivery.”

The open, distance and e-learning, or ODeL, community should “be careful of the boundaries we draw around ourselves”, warned Alan Tait. “There are other conferences taking place around the world, which are well into the secret garden we regarded as ours for many years.

“They would describe themselves as interested in technology-enhanced learning, because technology isn’t only our prerogative now, as we thought it was for so long. It is on campuses.” MOOCs, he pointed out, were pioneered by research universities.

“I think we need to look carefully at our boundaries because we could build some very fruitful relationships.”

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Bolivia: A Model For Sustainable Development?

TN Note: Bolivia is the poorest nation in South America, where 45% live in abject poverty. One reason the nation is so poor is because it has been repeatedly plundered by the global elite over the last 40 years. Nevertheless, what better place to implement the 2030 Agenda goal of “Eradicating poverty everywhere”? If if first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

With the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals last week, we have a clear outline for the global political ambitions for the next 15 years. Before we start the discussion about setting national strategies for how to work towards the 17 goals, ranging from hunger and poverty, to climate change and gender inequality, I would like to turn your attention to La Paz, the capital of the poorest country in South America. Here we find inspiration for how to model future sustainable development.

Approximately 45 percent of the Bolivian population lives in poverty (1) and it has the highest rate of illiteracy in the region. In the slums of La Paz, 42 percent of children under five are under- or malnourished (2) . But from this austere foundation a miracle has emerged.

In 2014, the first-ever class of Claus Meyer’s Melting Pot foundation graduated from cooking school and they have been followed by more graduates since. You might recognize the name Claus Meyer, as he is the co-founder of the world renowned restaurant NOMA — which was elected the World’s Best restaurant four times in recent years. Maybe you have also heard that he has been one of the driving forces of the New Nordic Food Movement, which emphasizes the use of local and sustainable foods.

In 2011, he created the Melting Pot Bolivia Foundation, an initiative to enhance future opportunities and improve the quality of life for marginalized people by focusing on food, food craft, and entrepreneurship, applying the principles behind one of the most exclusive and high-end restaurants to one of the poorest countries in the world.

In collaboration with the Danish independent development organization, IBIS, he launched a gourmet restaurant with an integrated cookery school named GUSTU as a socioeconomic venture. Over the next two years an additional 13 micro restaurants will educate more than 3,000 young people in the slum district of El Alto, outside La Paz. The goal is that these initiatives will lift up a new generation of culinary entrepreneurs, foster a Bolivian food movement, and revive a sense of pride in the Bolivian food culture. In 2014, GUSTU was voted the 32nd best restaurant in Latin America by Restaurant Magazine and The Best Restaurant in South America by Como Sur Magazine.

The project in Bolivia is a microcosm of how food can become an entry point for sustainability, health, job-creation, social protection and renewed cultural pride. It shows how food can be a silver bullet to address a range of complex and interconnected challenges and it gives us the recipe for the food systems of tomorrow. Food systems that not only are sustainable and healthy, but also the point of departure for resilient societies.

This case is one of many examples featured in the new publication “EAT in Sustainia” that is launched today. The publication offers a taste of the food systems of tomorrow and provides insights into some of the most innovative opportunities and solutions for creating sustainable and healthy food systems, while simultaneously addressing many of the challenges represented by the SDGs.

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Iran Pledges Full Support of U.N.’s 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development

TN Note: There is an irony for a major oil producing nation to join the 2030 Agenda. Namely, the U.N. has pledged to obsolete fossil fuels altogether, which would eliminate Iran’s major source of foreign exchange.

Addressing a meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, Gholamali Khoshroo commended all the parties involved in the process of finalization of a document entitled “Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, adopted at the UN two weeks ago.

He made it clear that Iran is committed to engaging constructively in the implementation of the Agenda at all levels, and voiced Tehran’s readiness to cooperate with the public and private sectors in this regard.

What follows is the full text of the Iranian diplomat’s speech:

Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, ladies and gentlemen;

Let me start by thanking the Secretary-General for his report on the work of the Organization, contained in document A/70/1.

Seventy years after the establishment of this organization, the vision of its founders, contained in the Charter of the United Nations, is still the beacon for our collective efforts towards achieving the goals of the United Nations. In the course of these seventy years, so many things have changed, but not the aspirations of “We, the peoples of the United Nations”, who want “to live together in peace with one another” and who have faith in “fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the Human person”. Today, more than any time before, we need to realize the purposes of this organization, and to respect and reaffirm its principles.

The world today is full of perils and hopes. The ideals of the Charter have never been so within reach, and at the same time, the challenges to them have never been so grave. Through our collective endeavors we have achieved a lot, but much more remains to be done.

The past year has been a typical example of the years in the history of this organization: a year of great achievements and big disappointments. On one hand the ambitious 2030 Development Agenda was finalized and the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action between Iran and the group of 5+1 was concluded; and on the other hand, the people of Palestine still live under occupation, many people in our region from Syria to Yemen are living under miserable conditions, and the brutalities of extremist groups like Daesh, Al-Nusra Front and Boko-haram continue.

Mr. President,

Let me briefly reflect on some of the main areas of the activity of the organization:

In the field of international peace and security, the successful conclusion of the negotiations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 countries and the EU, resulting in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and endorsed by the Security Council, proved that with seriousness, good faith and a win-win mindset, diplomacy can unlock even one of the most complex issues. During the course of negotiations, we showed that there should be nothing on the table other than logic, respect, the power of reasoning mutual interests.

We believe this deal not only transforms the dynamics of interaction between my country and the international community, but also has important positive ramifications for the entire region, and can help facilitate more cooperation in various fields, from security to development to environment issues. The Islamic Republic of Iran is consistent and sincere its call for forming a regional platform for dialogue in our region in the Middle East is imperative .This Regional dialogue ought to be carried out based on common goals and principles , as enshrined in the Charter, namely respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all countries , to refrain from intervening in other countries’ domestic affairs, settlement of disputes peacefully, prevent the threat or use of force, strive for peace and stability, and achieve progress and prosperity for all.

Mr. president,

The Islamic Republic of Iran underlines the imperative of total elimination of nuclear weapons, as a requirement for international security and an obligation under the NPT, which is long overdue. We regret that as a result of the opposition by a small minority, the 2015 NPT Review Conference could not achieve its objectives.

Possession of nuclear weapons by the Israeli regime, which is the result of application of double standards by certain nuclear weapon states, continues to pose a serious threat to the peace and security of the Middle East. Aggression, occupation, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity are characteristics of a regime, which is at the same time armed with nuclear weapons and, thus, poses the biggest threat to the security of our region.

Mr. President,

We are grateful to Member States for their support, enabling the Assembly to adopt by consensus resolution A/68/127 titled “A World against Violence and Violent Extremism” (short for “WAVE”), which had been initiated by  President Hassan Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2013. As the current situation and escalation of violent extremism and terrorism in our region testifies to the pertinence of this resolution and the idea behind it, we need to revisit this resolution during this session of the Assembly. In this regard, we earnestly await the draft Comprehensive Plan of Action on Combating Violent Extremism that the Secretary-General is to present to the Assembly in coming months.

Mr. President,

We believe the issue of development should always have a high place in the agenda of this organization. In this regard, let me commend all those involved in the process to finalize the outcome document entitled “Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” that our leaders adopted two weeks ago in this august body.

As the agenda is adopted, our undertakings begin. The challenges ahead of us in this regard should be met collectively in a resolute and coordinated manner, through the United Nations System. Implementing the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals demands for more inclusive and non-discriminatory provisions, particularly regarding the finance and transfer of technology and associated know-how for moving towards a truly global partnership.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is committed to engaging constructively in the implementation of the Agenda at all levels, and in this regard, we welcome cooperation with the public and private sectors.

Mr. President,

The situation in our region shows that how our challenges in this globalized world are interconnected and mutually reinforcing. Our region is not only facing dire climate conditions, due to climate change, but it is also grappling with the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism. While terrorists damage the environment, they also push the sustainable development out of the agenda of countries, forcing them to spend their national resources on fighting insecurity. We are extremely concerned about the situation in parts of the region, especially Syria, Yemen and Libya, which has inflicted untold misery to the people and has enabled the extremists to continue their savagery. The UN system should assume a more active role and do whatever in its power to find peaceful solutions to these situations and to end these tragedies.

Mr. President,

Before conclusion, let me reiterate the relevance of the principles based on which this organization was founded. Sovereign equality of all Member States, peaceful settlement of international disputes and refraining from threat or use of force in international relations are cornerstones upon which this organization is built and continue to function.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, reiterating its unwavering support to the work of the United Nations based on its Charter, is ready to engage with all Member States to further the UN goals, and collectively tackle the challenges the humanity faces as a whole.

I thank you, Mr. President.

IMF Weighs In On How To Implement Sustainable Development Goals

TN Note: The IMF and the World Bank are both focusing intently on the implementation of the UN’s 2020 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Both of these organizations have long worked together with the Bank for International Settlements to lever the existing global economic system to their own liking and benefit. Their presence in this discussion demonstrates total unanimity among the global elite.

On Friday, September 25, the United Nations formally adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a set of 17 goals aimed at lowering global poverty, hunger, and inequality and addressing environmental challenges. Ahead of the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit—where the SDGs were adopted—the Global Economy and Development program at Brookings hosted International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde for a discussion on the IMF’s role in implementing the post-2015 development agenda and the SDGs.

Here are some of the main takeaways of the discussion:

1.   Excessive inequality is particularly detrimental to sustainable growth.

Social issues like high levels of unemployment, particularly among youth, and income inequality are directly related to countries’ sustainability of growth, said Lagarde. Increasing the income and revenues of a country’s bottom 20 percent of earners has been shown to have a significant positive impact on sustainability. Steps that can be taken to drive down inequality include a combination of policy measures and redirected spending to focus on programs bringing direct benefits to citizens.

2.   Women are critical to closing gaps in three areas of policy: learning, labor, and leadership.

Lagarde insisted that beyond being a humanitarian and moral duty, it simply is an “economic no-brainer” for countries to improve the education levels of females. Countries should encourage women to enter leadership roles because when they do, it creates a role model effect inspiring other women to seek leadership roles. Through empirical analysis, the IMF has been measuring the impact of additional learning in young girls and observed increases in country earning levels and GDP as a direct result.

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Gro Harlem Brundtland Stumps for Sustainable Development

TN Note: Gro Brundtland headed the Brundtland Commission that in 1987 produced the seminal book on Sustainable Development, Our Common Future. The U.N. credits Brundtland as being the singular architect of Sustainable Development and Agenda 21, leading up to the U.N.’s 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. At the time, she was a member of the Trilateral Commission.

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former prime minister of Norway, visited Ohio State on Monday to deliver a speech about global sustainability to students and faculty at the Mershon Auditorium. The event was presented as part of the Provost’s Discovery Themes Lecture Series.

Throughout her presentation, Brundtland drew on her career and experience in public service and international advocacy. She served three terms as the prime minister of Norway, spent five years as the director-general of the World Health Organization, and currently serves as the United Nations special envoy for climate change.

“Today, I see 2015 as a year of hope,” Brundtland said. “Finally, after nearly 30 years, countries all over the world have been able to overcome often very deep differences of opinion and priorities, and define common sustainable development goals, that apply to all countries, not just to the developing world.”

The sustainable development goals that Brundtland referenced are a series of targets for international development agreed upon by the United Nations Conference in New York on Sept. 27. The SDGs are a multinational attempt to outline and achieve meaningful change concerning issues of development, such as eradicating poverty, ensuring environmental sustainability, and achieving universal education.

The SDGs are meant to replace the Millennium Development Goals, a similar series of targets adopted in 2000, that will expire at the end of this year. Brundtland spoke about her involvement with these targets during her tenure as director-general of the World Health Organization.

“Indeed great strides have been fought, since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000,” Brundtland said. “We have dramatically reduced the amount of people living in extreme poverty, more people have access to safe drinking water, fewer children are dying in infancy, and fewer mothers (are dying) when giving birth.”

Brundtland said that despite some of the world experiencing unprecedented levels of prosperity, the gap between rich and poor is widening, “environmental degradation” is ongoing, and climate change is threatening the world’s most vulnerable populations and ecosystems.

“This is why the new sustainability goals will be so important,” she said.

The Ohio State Center for Ethics and Human Values’ COMPAS program will hold its fall conference, “Sustainability: Visions & Values,” later this week, on Thursday and Friday. The conference, which will be held on the 11th floor of Thompson Library will focus heavily on the same topics of global sustainability that Brundtland discussed. It will feature a variety of accomplished speakers from Princeton, Yale, the U.S. Department of State and many of Ohio State’s own faculty.

Cinnamon Carlarne, a professor at Moritz College of Law specializing in environmental and climate change law, who will speak at the event said, “It’s about thinking critically and trying to find new, creative solutions to these problems in a way that’s optimistic.”

Carlarne added “It’s coming at a really exciting time after the adoption of the sustainable development goals and the papal encyclical, and right before the Paris Climate Conference this December.”

Brundtland’s speech and the COMPAS conference come just after the conclusion of the UN Sustainable Development Summit, where the SDGs were adopted in New York City on Sunday.

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LEAP Transit Bankrupt: Sells Busses for $5 Each

Leap Transit, the startup that served fresh-pressed juice to commuters on its luxury buses, has filed for bankruptcy. The rest of its buses are now up for sale, starting at $5 each.

Signs that Leap was headed toward a shut down started in May. The company suspended its service, although at the time it was supposed to be temporary.

In June, two of its buses were up for auction. More buses were auctioned off in July. Now there are two left, up for sale in an October auction.

The company officially filed for bankruptcy July 15, but the filing wasn’t spotted until Tuesday by the San Francisco Examiner. In the filing, Leap estimated that it had between $100,000 and $500,000 of debt, as well as $100,000 to $500,000 in assets. The company could identify more than $129,000 in owed back wages and other claims, but it had a long list of creditors and investors that it had to notify about its bankruptcy.

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The UN’s Sustainability Plan Is ‘Doomed,’ According to Linguistic Analysis

The UN will launch its 2030 Sustainable Development agenda at the end of this month in New York City, where it will be formally adopted by over 150 world leaders after years of consultations between governments, communities, and businesses.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which seek to end poverty and hunger while creating sustainable societies, look like great news at first glance.

But a report circulated to UN officials argues that the entire SDG process has been “fundamentally compromised” by powerful corporations with an interest in sustaining business as usual.

Commissioned by Washington DC-based nonprofit TheRules.org, a global activist network campaigning to address the root causes of poverty, the report is based on “frame analysis”—a scientific method examining linguistic and conceptual patterns to reveal how people define, construct, and process information.

Their new report, authored by systems theorist Joe Brewer, director of research at TheRules.org, concludes that the UN’s vision is “doomed to failure” because it ignores the major structural causes of global poverty.

“Right now, the rules are set-up to extract wealth and horde it in the hands of a tiny elite,” the report says. “Only when we recognize that these are logical outcomes of a system designed for wealth hoarding will we be capable of redesigning the system to achieve a state of shared prosperity.”

Brewer’s report, published in June and sent to several officials involved in the SDG process, commends some UN policies as worthy of being “promoted or celebrated as the progress they represent,” but criticizes others for being “problematic or unclear.”

“The single biggest problem is the structural absence of any discussion about political agendas,” said Brewer. “Add to this the myopic focus on growth as the only solution, and we get the antithesis of sustainability.”

According to Dr. Jason Hickel of the London School of Economics (LSE), who advises TheRules.org on economic policy, global inequality is on the rise because concentrations of wealth in industrialized countries are linked inextricably to the extraction of developing countries’ resources.

By ignoring the role of prevailing capitalist structures and untrammelled economic growth in generating poverty and climate change, the SDG process loses meaning, argues Hickel.

“Corporations and banks are not mentioned anywhere,” Brewer told me. “This omission is very telling in its own right. We know that multinational corporations are the most powerful political actors, and are profoundly concentrated vehicles for wealth consolidation.”

The UN says its previous Millennium Development Goals helped halve global poverty since the 1990s, but there’s reason to question that.

That success rate is calculated from the World Bank poverty measure of $1.25 a day, a level of very extreme poverty. The problem is that this poverty measure is too low. While the numbers of people living in extreme poverty has indeed halved, many of those people are still poor, deprived of their basic needs.

As the London-based development charity ActionAid showed in a 2013 report, a more realistic poverty measure lies between $5 and $10 a day. By this measure, although very extreme poverty has declined, the number of impoverished overall has increased.

World Bank data shows that since 1990, the number of people living under $10 a day has increased by 25 percent, and the number of people living under $5 a day has increased by 10 percent. Today, 4.3 billion people—nearly two-thirds of the global population—live on less than $5 a day.

Yet Brewer’s language analysis shows that the SDG process is unable to acknowledge, let alone ready to solve, this problem.

That’s partly because the UN’s very concept of “development” relies on the idea that the solution to poverty remains “undifferentiated, perpetual growth.”

That kind of thinking is why humans’ ecological footprint is on track to exceed the carrying capacity of the Earth, he says.

The UN has declined to engage with this critique, says Alnoor Ladha, co-founder of TheRules.org. Indeed, when I contacted the UN Sustainable Development Division, a representative declined to comment.

Insiders at the heart of the UN’s intergovernment engagement negotiations have also lambasted the international body for pandering to big business and ignoring grassroots stakeholders who represent the world’s poor.

In late July, for instance, the UN Major Group for Civil Society criticized the SDG process for overlooking the role of “corporate tax evasion” and “lack of accountability for human rights abuses” in developing countries, and for advocating privatization as a solution despite “growing evidence that privatization of essential social services exacerbates inequalities in access and marginalizes the poorest.”

For Brewer, the way forward must therefore make evaluating the agendas of the powerful a “central focus” of the process.

In other words, the role of the prevailing economic system in creating poverty has to first be acknowledged before it can be transformed.

Story first appeared here…