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Social Distance, Science and Fantasy

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Opinion by Jan Lundius (stockholm / rome)Friday, December 03, 2021Inter Press Service

A past closeness between storytellers and listeners is being forgotten and the spellbinding experience of listening to a good storyteller within a fascinating environment is something that many children currently are being denied. Even storytelling in the form of books and movies are becoming rarer, being replaced by video chats, podcasts, twitter and Instagram. Admittedly some video games offer a certain degree of excitement, imagination and storytelling, though most of them provide a one-way communication, which unfortunately is characterized by unbound commercialism, questionable role modeling, crude violence, nutty conspiracy theories and a glamourization of luxury and greed. Dependency on electronic “entertainment” may be even be more mind-numbing than that, for example by inducing its users to sit hour after hour trying to complete a meaningless puzzle, directing a ball through a maze, or ride a virtual motorbike across artificial hills and vales.

I came to think about this while remembering evenings I spent in isolated places. Some of the communities found there lacked electricity and within a circle lightened by a fire, or a kerosene lamp, with darkness around and the starry sky above, I had the pleasure listening to old women and men telling stories about their surroundings and way of life. Such places might by an outsider be perceived as confined and desolate, far as they are from the big city lights, crowds of strangers, stress, hustle and bustle. Nevertheless, locals may feel they are surrounded by strange creatures, by domains of powerful, spiritual forces. After days of hard work in fields and garden plots, or roaming through jungles and mountains in search of prey and food, families and friends gather on porches of ramshackle huts, or under a tree in the middle of the village, where stories are told about otherworldly inhabitants of mountains and jungles, deserts and oceans.

Narrators convey the vastness of another, though still present world, which occasionally may be manifested in what we are accustomed to call “reality”. Discrete and gentle spirits rise from springs, caves and streams to dance in the moonlight, or sinister forces sneak upon lonesome wanderers, whispering in their ears to lure them astray, to kill and devour them, or to take them away to graves and abodes of the dead, the realms of ghosts, monsters and demons.

Of course, as an educated, modern person you do not believe in those stories, but … among believers, in worlds which in spite of mundane worries seem to be alive with uncanny creatures and unknown mysteries, it may anyway be hard to remain unaffected. Old people tell us about their world and before they reminisce marvelous tales that once were told to them, they might look around and state:

“Listen to the dog howling out there in the dark. I tell you, that is no dog. Oh no, it is a human who has been turned into a dog, or maybe … a Loup Garou, a werewolf. The butterfly you saw in your room last night, that was no butterfly … it was your beloved who dreamt about you, far away in another land, while her dream turned her thoughts into a butterfly. The fireflies you see over there are no flies, they are souls of dead ancestors. All around us; up in the air, in the earth below us, in the springs and the trees are mysteries alive, creatures of the night and our dreams. All around us are living beings that are commonly unknown, most of us cannot see them, nor touch, nor understand them… at least not when we are awake. In our dreams, when our soul leaves our mind behind, when we in the spirit are visiting an unknown world, we might see and experience, but not understand the uncanny. What we believe to be our world is only a fraction of something else, something much, much bigger.”

Participating in such enchanted moments make us feel alive. Even if it all might be lore and illusion we feel amazingly present, the world comes closer. The realms conjured up by storytellers, the myths, legends, and fairy tales enchant and scare us in an engrossing manner. A child listening stories about and thus enters fantastic dimensions realizes how vast the world is, how it includes both fiction and reality.

A computer programmer might call this immensity the “Cyber World”, an astronomer the “Universe”, a biologist the “Biosphere”. These scientists are actually knowledgeable of only a fraction of human existence and the laws of nature governing it. Realizing this does not mean that you are a science denier. That you are not abhorred by flat earthers, anti-vaxxers, coronavirus truthers, literalists, chauvinists, misogynists and other zealots who do not believe in climate change, empathy, love and solidarity, but cling to unfounded myths and conspiracy theories as if they were the “plain truth”. People like that live in a bubble, a delusive environment in which they want others to join them. They assume they know the truth, while they actually defy reason.

In the16th and 17th centuries modern science developed in Europe A process during which a notion was created that might be described as a realization that the world is governed by natural laws and forces can be perceptible, even understandable and possibly controlled. All phenomena are part of nature and can thus be explained by natural causes. A conviction meaning that also human cognitive, social and moral phenomena are part of a comprehensible world where human and social problems can find solutions if supported by a cosmopolitan worldview that revere science and reason, eschews magic and the supernatural, while rejecting dogma and repressive authorities.

However it was far from being a unified movement. Many scientists defended the reality of supernatural phenomena, while skeptical humanists, inspired by ancient authors, mounted a critique not only of orthodox religion, magic and other forms of superstition, but also demonstrated their skepticism of hard-line “experts” who simplified human existence to a set of “natural laws”. Even if the religious heterodoxy of such men tarnished their reputation and postponed a general acceptance of anti-magical views, change came about. This “enlightening” revolution in human notions actually owed less to the scientific testing of magic notions, than to the growth of confidence in a stable world in which magic no longer had a place.

Since then, in almost every realm of human existence, progress has been breathtaking, principally by a scientific naturalism which has been used to solve problems, from engineering bridges and eradicating diseases, to extending life spans and establishing human rights. However, this does not have to mean that a” scientific thinking and approach” unilaterally ought to dominate all human reasoning and be allowed to despise, forbid and deny the right to make things up, to dream, fantasize, telling about and creating wonderful things. We have to make room for music, art and literature and allow ourselves and others to be entertained and stimulated by these human expressions. We need to provide depth and relief to our short life spans, our human existence.

These reflections emerged when I as a teacher experienced how art, music, philosophy, history, and comparative religion, as well as gymnastics and handicraft became limited or entirely disappeared from curricula. This was done in favour of more practical purpose-oriented subjects like math, physics, chemistry, business administration and computer science. Of course, these topics are essential for obtaining a solid education and be attractive for the labour market. However, humans do not live on bread alone, our brains are stimulated by inputs like art, music and entertainment. Humanities enrich human interaction and allow us to take part of the dreams, visions and fantasies of others. Let us not deny our children the pleasure of becoming familiar with storytelling; with fairy tales, fantasies, myths and legends, preferably told in communion with others and in harmony with our surrounding world. Not only within realms that is electronically created, but a real world consisting of tangible, impressionable and caring individuals.

The stimulus and pleasure of partaking in storytelling might learn us to look at and perceive human existence from several angles and thus develop into critical thinking individuals able to avoid falling into traps set by Pied Pipers who through the World Wide Web invoke narrow-mindedness, cold-heartedness, prejudices, and greed.


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© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Original Source: globalissues.org

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Up to 70% of Children in Developing Countries to Be Left Unable to Read?

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Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPSby Baher Kamal (madrid)Monday, January 24, 2022Inter Press Service

The alarm bell has been rung by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, in his message on the International Day of Education, marked on 24 January 2022.

In fact, some 1.6 billion school and college students had their studies interrupted at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic — and it’s not over yet, said Guterres, adding that today, school closures continue to disrupt the lives of over 31 million students, “exacerbating a global learning crisis.”

The UN Education, Sciencia and Culture Organisation (UNESCO), the World Bank and the UN Children Fund (UNICEF) have quantified the economic dimension of this drama.

Giant losses

“This generation of students now risk losing 17 trillion US dollars in lifetime earnings in present value, or about 14 percent of today’s global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures.”

The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery report,  released in December 2021, shows that in low- and middle-income countries, the share of children living in Learning Poverty – already 53 percent before the pandemic – could potentially reach 70 percent given the long school closures and the ineffectiveness of remote learning to ensure full learning continuity during school closures.

According to the three world bodies’ report, simulations estimating that school closures resulted in significant learning losses are now being corroborated by real data.

And it provides some specific examples: regional evidence from Brazil, Pakistan, rural India, South Africa, and Mexico, among others, show substantial losses in maths and reading.

Analysis shows that in some countries, on average, learning losses are roughly proportional to the length of the closures. However, there was great heterogeneity across countries and by subject, students’ socioeconomic status, gender, and grade level.

“For example, results from two states in Mexico show significant learning losses in reading and in maths for students aged 10-15. The estimated learning losses were greater in maths than reading, and affected younger learners, students from low-income backgrounds, as well as girls disproportionately.”

Inequities of education, exacerbated

Learning to read is a milestone in every child’s life. Reading is a foundational skill, the report explains, adding that all children should be able to read by age 10. Reading is a gateway for learning as the child progresses through school – and conversely, an inability to read constraints opportunities for further learning.

“Beyond this, when children cannot read, it’s usually a clear indication that school systems aren’t well organised to help children learn in other areas such as maths, science, and the humanities either.”

And although it is possible to learn later in life with enough effort, children who don’t read by age 10 – or at the latest, by the end of primary school – usually fail to master reading later in their schooling career.

Even before COVID-19 disrupted education systems around the world, it was clear that many children around the world were not learning to read proficiently, according to the report. Even though the majority of children are in school, a large proportion are not acquiring fundamental skills.

“Moreover, 260 million children are not even in school. This is the leading edge of a learning crisis that threatens countries’ efforts to build human capital and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

No human capital

Without foundational learning, students often fail to thrive later in school or when they join the workforce.

“They don’t acquire the human capital they need to power their careers and economies once they leave school, or the skills that will help them become engaged citizens and nurture healthy, prosperous families. Importantly, a lack of foundational literacy skills in the early grades can lead to intergenerational transmission of poverty and vulnerability.”

As a major contributor to human capital deficits, the learning crisis undermines sustainable growth and poverty reduction.

To spotlight this crisis, the World Bank and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics jointly constructed the concept of Learning Poverty and an accompanying indicator.

“Learning poverty means being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10.”

Aggravating global learning crisis

COVID-19 is now wreaking havoc on the lives of young children, students, and youth. The disruption of societies and economies caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is aggravating the global learning crisis and impacting education in unprecedented ways.

Learning poverty to rise

With more than a complete year of schooling lost in many parts of the world, learning poverty is estimated to rise to 63 percent in developing countries.

Gaping inequalities

UNESCO says that this fourth International Day of Education is marked “as our world stands at a turning point: gaping inequalities, a damaged planet, growing polarisation and the devastating impact of the global pandemic put us before a generational choice: Continue on an unsustainable path or radically change course.”

Education is key to charting the course towards more justice and sustainability, but it is “failing millions of children, youth and adults, increasing their exposure to poverty, violence and exploitation,” adds UNESCO.

Education, a human right

And here goes a needed reminder: the right to education is enshrined in article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration calls for “free and compulsory elementary education.”

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, goes further to stipulate that countries “shall make higher education accessible to all.”

Challenges

“Education offers children a ladder out of poverty and a path to a promising future.”

But about 258 million children and adolescents around the world do not have the opportunity to enter or complete school, and 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic maths…

And less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school.

“Their right to education is being violated and it is unacceptable,” warns the United Nations.

“Without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth and adults behind.”

© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service


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Bringing Dry Land in the Sahel Back to Life

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©FAO/ Giulio NapolitanoA field with mid-moon dams used to save water in the coming rainy season in Burkina Faso.Saturday, January 22, 2022UN News

Those trying to grow crops in the Sahel region are often faced with poor soil, erratic rainfail and long periods of drought. However, the introduction of a state-of-the art heavy digger, the Delfino plough, is proving to be, literally, a breakthrough.

As part of its Action Against Desertification (AAD) programme, the FAO has brought the Delfino to four countries in the Sahel region – Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal – to cut through impacted, bone-dry soil to a depth of more than half a metre.

The Delfino plough is extremely efficient: one hundred farmers digging irrigation ditches by hand can cover a hectare a day, but when the Delfino is hooked to a tractor, it can cover 15 to 20 hectares in a day.

Once an area is ploughed, the seeds of woody and herbaceous native species are then sown directly, and inoculated seedlings planted. These species are very resilient and work well in degraded land, providing vegetation cover and improving the productivity of previously barren lands. 

In Burkina Faso and Niger, the target number of hectares for immediate restoration has already been met and extended thanks to the Delfino plough. In Nigeria and Senegal, it is working to scale up the restoration of degraded land.

©FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

Workers preparing tractors to start ploughing in Burkina Faso.

Farming seen through a half-moon lens

This technology, whilst impressive, is proving to be successful because it is being used in tandem with traditional farming techniques.

“In the end the Delfino is just a plough. A very good and suitable plough, but a plough all the same,” says Moctar Sacande, Coordinator of FAO’s Action Against Desertification programme. “It is when we use it appropriately and in consultation and cooperation that we see such progress.”

The half-moon is a traditional Sahel planting method which creates contours to stop rainwater runoff, improving water infiltration and keeping the soil moist for longer. This creates favourable micro-climate conditions allowing seeds and seedlings to flourish.

The Delfino creates large half-moon catchments ready for planting seeds and seedlings, boosting rainwater harvesting tenfold and making soil more permeable for planting than the traditional – and backbreaking – method of digging by hand.

“The whole community is involved and has benefitted from fodder crops such as hay as high as their knees within just two years”, says Mr. Sacande. “They can feed their livestock and sell the surplus, and move on to gathering products such as edible fruits, natural oils for soaps, wild honey and plants for traditional medicine”.

©FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

Women dig mid-moon dams to save water in Niger.

Women taking the lead

According to Nora Berrahmouni, who was FAO’s Senior Forestry Officer for the African Regional Office when the Delfino was deployed, the plough will also reduce the burden on women.

“The season for the very hard work of hand-digging the half-moon irrigation dams comes when the men of the community have had to move with the animals. So, the work falls on the women,” says Ms. Berrahmouni.

Because the Delfino plough significantly speeds up the ploughing process and reduces the physical labour needed, it gives women extra time to manage their multitude of other tasks.

The project also aims to boost women’s participation in local land restoration on a bigger scale, offering them leadership roles through the village committees that plan the work of restoring land. Under the AAD programme, each site selected for restoration is encouraged to set up a village committee to manage the resources, so as to take ownership right from the beginning.

“Many women are running the local village committees which organise these activities and they are telling us they feel more empowered and respected,” offers Mr. Sacande.

Respecting local knowledge and traditional skills is another key to success. Communities have long understood that half-moon dams are the best way of harvesting rainwater for the long dry season. The mighty Delfino is just making the job more efficient and less physically demanding.

©FAO/ Giulio Napolitano

Tractors at work to prepare the land for plantation in Burkina Faso.

Millions of hectares lost to the desert, forests under threat

And it is urgent that progress is made. Land loss is a driver of many other problems such as hunger, poverty, unemployment, forced migration, conflict and an increased risk of extreme weather events related to climate change.

In Burkina Faso, for example, a third of the landscape is degraded. This means that over nine million hectares of land, once used for agriculture, is no longer viable for farming.

It is projected that degradation will continue to expand at 360 000 hectares per year. If the situation is not reversed, forests are at risk of being cleared to make way for productive agricultural land.

Africa is currently losing four million hectares of forest every year for this reason, yet has more than 700 million hectares of degraded land viable for restoration. By bringing degraded land back to life, farmers do not have to clear additional forest land to turn into cropland for Africa’s rising population and growing food demands.

When Mr. Sacande talks about restoring land in Africa, the passion in his voice is evident. “Restoring degraded land back to productive good health is a huge opportunity for Africa. It brings big social and economic benefits to rural farming communities,” he says. “It’s a bulwark against climate change and it brings technology to enhance traditional knowledge.”

A version of this story first appeared on the FAO website.

Action Against Desertification – Delfino ploughs for land preparation and landscape restoration

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

Original Article: globalissues.org

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From Milan to Glasgow, Young Moroccans Commit to Fighting Climate Change

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© United Nations MoroccoYoung Moroccan climate activists and entrepreneurs are taking a group photo with Sylvia Lopez-Ekra in Morocco.Saturday, January 22, 2022UN News

Behind all these initiatives, are the young men and women featured in “From Milan to Glasgow: Moroccan Youth Leaders in the Spotlight“, a new campaign launched by the United Nations team in Morocco to empower young people to take climate action and reduce the harmful carbon emissions that are dangerously heating the planet.

For the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Morocco, Sylvia Lopez-Ekra, the new campaign is a “bet on the importance of partnering with Moroccan youth invested in climate issues.”

Tipping the balance

One of the activists featured is Manal Bidar, an 18-year-old from the city of Agadir, who believes “it is young people who can tip the balance to the right side in the fight against climate change.”

She first got involved in climate and environment action at 13, when she joined a group of friends from a local club, to clean a beach.

She is now an ambassador for the African Youth Climate Hub, a platform that brings together activists from the continent, and serves as an advisor to the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA), an international non-profit dedicated to promote climate-resilience around the world. 

‘Fight of our lives’

Like Ms. Bidar, Hasnae Bakhchouch, a 22-year-old student from Rabat, is taking action to tackle the impact of climate change. 

“With its adverse effects on biodiversity and the health of living beings, climate change jeopardizes societies and can cause conflicts over access to natural resources”, she says.

Ms. Bakhchouch was a National Coordinator of the Moroccan youth delegation to the UN Conference of Youth on Climate, held in September 2021 in Milan, Italy. 

She explains that the goal was to draft recommendations for the 26th UN Climate Change conference (COP26), which was held in Glasgow, Scotland, a couple of months later. 

The Conference closed with a “compromise” deal, which the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said was simply “not enough”. 

At the time, the UN chief encouraged young people and everyone leading the charge, to keep fighting. 

“We are in the fight of our lives, and this fight must be won”, he said. 

From coffee to bricks

One day, while enjoying a cup of coffee, Hamza Laalej, a 23-year-old Moroccan student from Meknes, asked himself if there was a way to recycle the large amount of coffee grounds that end up in the garbage every day. 

Months later, Mr. Laalej managed to turn his idea into a viable green business, where one of the main products is an eco-friendly brick made with a mix of coffee grounds and regular clay.

“Inspired by the Moroccan craft tradition, the production of these bricks relies on [using less] heating, thus helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, he explains. 

Since then, he has teamed up with 23-year-old Moroccan, Nour El Houda Ben Khoudja, to launch a company that specializes in the collection, sorting, and transformation of coffee grounds into building materials and decoration products.

“You don’t have to wait for the perfect time to start [a green business]. It’s the obstacles you encounter along the way that make business creation an inspiring and fruitful adventure”, he says. 

Green entrepreneurs

A roundtable organized last November, during the launch of this UN campaign, saw other young people present their green start-up projects.

Oussama Nour and Mohamed Taha El Ouaryachi, for example, introduced WAVEBEAT, a company that aims to produce electricity from ocean waves.

© United Nations Morocco

Oussama Nour, President, and Mohamed Taha El Ouaryachi, General Director of WAVEBEA in Morocco

The goal is to provide companies operating in the Moroccan port of Tangier Med, with a renewable alternative to meet their energy needs.

Younes Ouazri presented an ecological and energy-efficient construction method to build homes, including seasonal residences and tourism resorts, using locally sourced materials. 

Hicham Zouaoui and Otman Harrak spoke about their carpooling app, that currently allows some 400,000 Moroccans to travel across the Kingdom, helping save on transportation costs and reducing CO2 emissions.

For his part, Seifeddin Laalej heads a start-up that specializes in recycling plastic waste to manufacture building materials, which he sells all over the country.

“It is important that young people believe in their potential and launch their own projects based on their skills and professional networks”, he said. 

A key player

According to the UN Resident Coordinator, “thanks to its climate policy for the past years, Morocco has become a key leader on initiatives for climate action.”

Through an ambitious greenhouse gas emissions reduction programme and strategies for the preservation of natural resources, Morocco intends to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 45.5 per cent by 2030 and achieve a 52 per cent share of renewable energy in its energy mix in the same year. 

The country is currently one of the few nations with a nationally determined contribution (NDC) in line with the global target of 1.5°C.

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News

Article: globalissues.org

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