Challenge-based learning for the SDGs

19 Mar 2018 09:00h - 10:45h

Event report

[Read more session reports from the WSIS Forum 2018]

The moderator, Mr Francois Grey, director of Digital Strategy at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), said that challenge-based learning may create individuals who are capable of doing new things, rather than simply repeating what previous generations have done. He said that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a challenge and a way to organise our thoughts about the world’s problems. He mentioned joint educational initiatives between the UNIGE and Tsinghua University that promote challenge-based learning in a bottom-up, multistakeholder, project-based, measurable way.

Mr Thomas Maillart, senior lecturer at UNIGE said that we can have Internet connection all around the world, but at some point we all need to come together, share knowledge and collaborate. He mentioned that people from outside coming to interact with students enriches educational programmes, encourages experimentation and removes interfaces between having a project, building prototypes, and technical learning. Maillart stressed that it is not obvious that students are free to learn things, and that education must be designed to give them trust.

Ms Anne-Pia Marty, from the SDG Masters Programme at UNIGE, noted that challenge-based education is key to building professionals that are ready to tackle the current challenges of the world. Marty singled out the fact that traditional education does not tackle certain new problems which can only be properly addressed if students can explore the real world, through a hands-on approach, pushing their curiosity and going outside the scope of the classroom.

Ms Elisabeth Pfund, partnership manager at Global Humanitarian Lab, mentioned that most of the current world challenges must be commonly faced by the private sector, the affected communities, social entrepreneurs, scientists, and academics together. For her, academics are playing an increasingly important role in this scenario, and students are an important interface. She mentioned how significant an academic perspective and collaboration had been in bringing in out-of-the-box solutions that helped push forward a mobile health project.

Mr Pierre Mirlesse, vice president for the public sector in Healthcare & Pharma at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, said that the SDGs represent a paradigm shift in the way we innovate, as, in his view, the private sector has largely been based on closed innovation. The SDGs’ aspiration for challenge-based learning is to make the private sector look at open innovation and collaboration alternatives so as to ensure its sustainability for the future. Mirlesse highlighted the example of a recent announcement that the OpenStreetMap Foundation had passed one million contributors, recognising that no private sector player can achieve that.

Mr Luping Xu, an associate professor at Tsinghua University, said that experts are working together around the world to try to find a new model of educational learning because new generations need to learn how to work together, to understand the problems they are facing, and those which they are going to face in the future. The changes are too fast and the current model does not meet that function. Xu said the objective is to connect all the stakeholders and resources, and to put the challenges at the centre of the learning process.

Mr Yaniss Guigoz, from UNIGE, said that if we want to have sound decisions, we need a lot of data, evidence, and tools, and to educate people. For that, he said, UNIGE has set up GEOMATICS, a continuing education programme for a sustainable environment through which they work with different partners and accept people from different backgrounds.

Ms Surabhi Joshi, technical officer at the Be He@lthy Be Mobile Initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO), highlighted the implementation of mobile health solutions such as mTobacco Cessation, which allows governmental entities to send messages to someone who wants to quit tobacco use. Evaluations indicate that in India 70% of the quit rate may be attributed to the programme. She says that the model can be a very simple and solid tool to develop infrastructures at government level.

Ms Hanni Eskander, from the Be He@lthy Be Mobile Initiative at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), said that designing for the SDGs, requires a change of mindset, aiming at solutions that are relatively easy to deploy, that can really work on the ground, and that are simple to approach. Governments are interested in impact, outcomes, evidence and cost. He says that for most companies, designing products for people that have a small income makes a weak business case and the collaborative work around challenge-based learning might unveil new business opportunities. He mentions that the role of the ITU is to connect both ends of the value chain of innovation.


By Cláudio Lucena