We got our marching orders 20+ years ago

We got our marching orders 20+ years ago

Editor's Write

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

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THE current digitisation march by Caribbean states was ordered a long time ago. In 1998 a UN report on the progress made in implementing the programme of action for sustainable development pointed to critical gaps in the availability of qualified scientists and associated institutions. It also highlighted gaps in our technological capacities and made recommendations to address both areas.

It also revealed that “current reward systems in island countries do not encourage long-term careers in science, and there is limited availability of funds for training and research in specialised fields of science”. On the issue of scientific advancement in small island developing states (SIDS), the report also noted that brain drain was adding to the scarcity of skills and expertise. “This is evident in the high proportion of expatriate personnel in island institutions, and in aid programmes heavily weighted towards technical assistance,” the document said.

In an assessment of the educational systems at the time, the report highlighted certain deficiencies. “At primary and secondary levels the academic performance of small island developing states, except for those that are in the least-developed category, has been better compared with that of many other developing countries. A number of small island developing states have made efforts to introduce basic science in school curricula, but progress in science education has been slower than desired. In the area of higher education, small island developing states could benefit tremendously from pooling their resources at the regional level,” read the report.

Twenty-two years later, it is useful to look at whether any of the recommendations made then are relevant in our current quest. At the national level, the report noted that “intensive and appropriate use of science and technology in small island developing states is essential for attaining sustainable development goals”. It also called on Governments of SIDS to make greater efforts to improve science education in all phases of formal and informal education.

It also included the setting up of a network of scientists to work in schools and in the public and private sectors. In particular, the report recommended national or regional assessments of needs for capacity-building in science.

Strong linkages were encouraged between universities and research institutions on one hand, and national industries, agriculture and other economic sectors on the other hand, so that scientific knowledge and information find their way into the productive sectors. It also pointed to the need to make every effort to induce the private sector of national economies to invest more in the development of science.

The final national plank called for steps to be taken “to record and apply indigenous knowledge in promoting participatory approaches to management of the equitable and sustainable use of resources”.

The report went on to address technology directly and again listed vital objectives. These included encouraging Governments of SIDS to provide incentives for venture capital and explore other modalities for meeting the required financing needs of environmentally sound technology firms. It also addressed the need “to provide fiscal and other policy incentives to encourage domestic and foreign investment in the industrial sector and consider special incentives for environmentally sound, technology related investments”.

How many of these goals have been achieved over the past twenty plus years? The reality is that we can wait no longer to fulfil these mandates. The time is now if we are to attain UN Sustainable Development Goal 17, which calls for a strengthening of the means of implementation and revitalisation of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, “...recognising multi-stakeholder partnerships as important vehicles for mobilising and sharing knowledge, expertise, technologies and financial resources to support the achievement of the sustainable development goals in all countries, particularly developing countries”.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have hobbled our progress and, if we are not careful, may induce paralysis. It is clear that if we are to make the quantum leap, critical assessments are required and a programme of action needs to be devised. Many of the recommendations of the UN report of 1998 can serve as a basis for review and enhancement to match current realities.

COVID-19 has no expiry date, hence the requirement to fashion our lives around its continued existence and mobilise all efforts to focus on those areas which will best serve our long-term needs.

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