The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government in late 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.
The Fund focuses on the specific objective of supporting developing countries. A key approach is that the activity is undertaken with the developing country partner(s), and not to them. This is significant, as the overarching objective of GCRF activity is to build and embed skills and knowledge in the countries involved.
The Fund is part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment. The Government has allocated £58 million from this fund to Research England for distribution to English universities who received Quality-related Research (QR) funding in the 2018-19 academic year.
The University was required to provide a three-year institutional strategy plan, which was subsequently assessed to be Official Development Assistance (ODA) compliant, in order to access the funding allocated for the three years from 2018-19. The University provides a monitoring report each year which features evidence and case studies of work completed and outcomes achieved.
The following case studies highlight the tremendous and diverse work that UCLan staff are delivering and how this is making an impact with the developing countries and partners.
Sri Lanka is facing a major crisis in waste disposal, with large garbage dumps found in various parts of the country. One of the contributing factors is non-segregation of waste by the general public.
There are a few organisations involved in waste recycling who also provide monetary payments for segregated waste. But their activity is hindered due to limited access to segregated waste. A study led by Ruchira Yapa and Champika Liyanage, two academics from the School of Engineering, is exploring the feasibility of using mobile applications to promote waste segregation by connecting members of the public with waste collectors.
Key activities include (or are set to include) identifying the design criteria and requirements for the mobile app and its development; and initiating dialogue with policy makers (local councils) and non-government stakeholders (such as private waste recyclers).
The mobile app developed as part of this project is likely to encourage policy makers to explore new technological solutions to solve the waste management problem in Sri Lanka. Currently two local councils in Sri Lanka have agreed to test the app in two pilot studies.
The proposed activity aspires to create a culture of waste segregation amongst the general public in Sri Lanka, significantly increasing the proportion of waste which is recycled and reducing the widespread practice of dumping and land filling. The ultimate aim is that these measures will have a sustained positive impact on the environment.
Climate change is a serious challenge to Tanzanian agriculture, with its effects being felt directly in four of the last ten years. A project led by Dr Phillip Kostov, Reader in Quantitative Economics at the Lancashire School of Business and Enterprise, aims to assess the effects of climate change on medium and small-scale farmers in Tanzania. It will deliver recommendations on policies and adaptation measures to deal with these impacts.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the Institute of Financial Management (IFM) in Tanzania to establish an equitable partnership. The research findings from this and any ensuing research activities will be jointly owned. Because the project is designed to directly benefit Tanzanians, the role of the IFM in consulting with and disseminating findings amongst stakeholders has been of paramount importance to the success of the project.
A household survey was used to map knowledge of, and attitudes towards, climate change amongst agricultural smallholders, as well as any mitigation strategies employed by them.
The project mapped the impacts of climate change against the available provision of financial services. The main detrimental effects of climate change on Tanzanian agriculture are drought and soil erosion. Both are potentially devastating for small agricultural businesses, but at present there are no financial products available to mitigate against their impacts. Current finance provision is focused on the short-term and does not account for the longer-lasting and increasing intensity of climate impacts.
The importance of financial measures relating to climate change events was identified and communicated to a number of key stakeholders, including local authorities, financial providers and central government.
Overall, the project has raised awareness of the impacts of climate change and has provided interested parties with recipes for alleviating the consequences. Initial results were shared amongst participants and stakeholders, with the feedback set to form the basis of further investigation.
To date the stakeholders have expressed a deep interest in the research and there is scope for future initiatives. For instance, financial providers were interested in profiling the potential users of new products in terms of their interests, financial status and likely response to major climate-related events.
More tangible benefits could be achieved by enacting policy measures and private (or public) provision of financial instruments aimed at combating the effects of climate change, but this can only be achieved through further engagement with the relevant stakeholders, from the government to finance providers and the farmers themselves.
In May 2019, Dr Victorio Bambini Junior, Lecturer in Bioscience in the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, organised the Connecting Minds conference to promote global collaborative research into autism spectrum disorder. It was attended by prominent professors from Brazil and Canada together with key researchers from UCLan, clinicians from the North West of England and charities. The event aimed to stimulate collaborations which would support future research into the needs of people with autism, with a view to finding long-term solutions and bringing about sustained improvements to their quality of life.
The project ‘Connecting Minds: A collaboration between UCLan and Fiocruz for neuroimmunomodulation and neglected diseases’ was focused on the development of the collaboration between UCLan and the Fundacao Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz-Brazil). An initial meeting held at UCLan convened several Principal Investigators from Fiocruz along with representatives of other Brazilian institutions, international collaborators from non-Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries, hospitals and partner British institutions, and a charitable organisation representing stakeholders.
Key collaborating organisations included Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (Royal Preston Hospital), Alder Hey Hospital, The University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, and McMaster University in Canada.
Outcomes to date have included formal collaborations between the institutions and UCLan, along with exchanges of expertise, skills and techniques. Academic outputs to date have included two collaborative journal articles. Other emerging benefits include a Memorandum of Understanding involving UCLan and participating institutions in DAC countries. This will lead to exchanges of staff and students and support other collaborative projects in the near future.
Collaborative efforts will be sustained through the award of a bilateral Erasmus+ grant, and future grant applications will be made. The main focus of the project is the exchange of staff and sandwich degrees for postgraduate students working in areas relevant to DAC countries.
During the conference, the Autism Wellbeing and Research Development (AWARD) was launched. It will seek to bring together scientists with the common goal of developing research into autism spectrum disorder.
There is already an existing collaboration between UCLan and the pathology laboratory at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, which undertakes research into neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disorders such as motor neurone disease. The next phase will be focused on autism, specifically paediatric autism.
A recent project has spearheaded the development of a mentorship education programme for nurses in Sri Lanka.
Mentorship is a well-established practice for supporting student nurses on clinical placements in most developing countries. However, it is currently not formally undertaken or recognised in Sri Lanka, which potentially impacts negatively on students’ experiences and learning. As well as dissatisfaction for learners, this also has implications for care quality and patient safety.
Elaine Hill and Adele Nightingale, Senior Lecturers in the School of Sport and Health Sciences, have collaborated with practitioners from the UK and Sri Lanka to devise a mentorship education programme for Sri Lankan nurses. Crucial to the success of this project was using UK colleagues’ knowledge and skills to support the Sri Lankan partners to design a programme tailored to their needs. This has now been approved by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health and will be piloted in 2020. There were several stages to the programme’s development. To better understand how mentorship education works in the UK, a Sri Lankan nursing researcher shadowed UCLan staff as they carried out mentorship teaching. Research involving qualified nurses and students was undertaken in association with the Institute for Research and Development in Sri Lanka and this informed the design of the resulting programme. The intention is for this to become a registered, nationally-recognised award. There are also plans for a ‘train the trainer’ programme to ensure that delivery is sustainable in the long-term. Papers and conference presentations are also in progress.
The programme is expected to bring about sustained benefits for the educational experience of trainee nurses in Sri Lanka, ultimately leading to positive improvements in patient care. The project contributes to a number of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which were outlined by the United Nations in 2015 with a view to achieving “a better and more sustainable future for all” by 2030. The introduction of mentorship as a crucial component of clinical training aims to increase the quality and safety of care (SDG #3) and reduce gender inequality (SDG #5) by challenging traditional power differentials between nurses (mostly female) and doctors (mostly male). The work will also address the Nursing Now campaign goals which Sri Lanka committed to in October 2018 as well as supporting the country’s entry into the global nursing careers market and the development and delivery of postgraduate nursing qualifications.
Children in India who undertake speech therapy are often forced to use western or Indian software packages which are unengaging and culturally irrelevant to them.
Dr Gavin Sim, Reader in Human Computer Interaction in the School of Physical Sciences and Computing, was involved in developing a two-day course held at IIT Guwahati, India, which demonstrated how child computer interaction methods primarily developed in the west can be effectively applied within India to aid software development. Children in India were involved in contributing design ideas which were analysed by the project team to form the basis of a speech therapy game. Based on the children’s ideas, a prototype has been developed to assist children in correcting the pitch of their voice.
Collaboration and understanding have been central to the partnership. At the outset of the project, research teams spent two days at the All India Institute of Speech and Hearing (AIISH) to gain an understanding of the challenges of working with children in India who have communication disorders. A number of potential collaborative projects were identified, including the proposed game prototype. Project partners helped to facilitate a design session involving the children as well as analysing ideas, shaping the game concept and critiquing the suitability of the game within the Indian context. IIT Guwahati then worked collaboratively with former students to develop the prototype and manage this process.
The key benefit for the partners within India is demonstrating how child computer interaction methods can be used to develop software for children in India around speech therapy. These methods could be applied to a range of different contexts, not just speech therapy. IIT Guwahati are adapting these methods within their research and teaching. People attending the course have had first-hand experience of designing with children and can use these methods in practice to potentially develop better software for children.
AIISH are funded by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in the Indian Government. They are also the sole providers of professional training and clinical services for communication disorders in India. Products developed in partnership with them therefore have the potential to benefit children across the whole of India. A Memorandum of Understanding between IIT Guwahati has been extended and there are plans to collaborate on future work. Findings to date have been shared at a Global Challenges in Education: Teaching, Research and Policy conference held at UCLan.
The project demonstrated that child computer interaction methods can be used to develop therapy applications in India. Based on this, there are ambitions to secure future funding to tackle other communication disorders identified during the initial visit and to improve the diagnostic methods currently used.
Dame Caroline Watkins, Professor of Stroke and Older People's Care in the Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, worked with colleagues based at UCLan, other UK and Australian Universities, and partners in India, to deliver a two-day conference aimed at advancing clinical stroke care knowledge across India.
The incidence of stroke in India is growing and strokes are occurring at a much younger age there than in other developing countries, and in the UK. However, there are limited centres specialising in stroke care – just 25-40 stroke centres for the whole of India. Based on the population size, some 3,500-4,000 centres would be required to provide the minimum level of access. Evidence demonstrates that being cared for by staff with specialised skills and knowledge is beneficial to all patients and has a positive impact on outcomes. However, access to stroke-specific training is limited within India.
Working in partnership with Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute of Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST), Trivandrum, India, UCLan and UK-based researchers jointly led the conference, which focused on the essential components of stroke care. It attracted over 350 healthcare workers from every profession working in stroke care in India. The programme was developed based on areas of needs and priorities identified by clinical staff within the country. Sessions included a review of the current evidence base, best practice guidelines and facilitated discussions regarding clinical dilemmas and difficulties in practice.
This was the first multi-disciplinary stroke care conference to be held in India. The development of the conference programme has led to new working relationships and discussions on potential future collaborations. Benefits have included the creation of new partnerships for improving stroke care, opportunities for people from different professions to meet and learn about stroke together, and insights into different approaches to learning, allowing examination of evidence, discussion and networking.
The key aim for future work is to ensure that staff working with stroke patients are skilled in delivering care in order to improve outcomes in India.
The conference was endorsed by the World Stroke Organisation and the Indian Stroke Association. Both bodies have since published proceedings and key findings from the event, which attracted national and regional media coverage. A further event is planned in Northern India in 2021.
The Knowledge Hub project is led by Professor Ulrike Zeshan OBE, Co-Director of the transdisciplinary Institute of Citizenship, Society and Change. The project was based in rural Odisha, a state in East India, and explored creative re-combinations of local traditional knowledge and modern science and technology for the benefit of local communities. Work on issues of soil enrichment and passive cooling contributed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) #15 (on the sustainable management of ecosystems and prevention of land degradation). It also contributed to SDG #7 (which seeks to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”)
An initial workshop on soil enrichment involving local farmers led to further co-developed activities, including an expedition to research organic farming practices in the state of Andhra Pradesh and the implementation of a local experiment involving chemical-free rice farming.
The Indian partner organisation Rural Lifeline Trust (RLT) was closely involved from the beginning when the project was being developed, and the SDG focus areas to work on arose from their input. During the project, most of the details of implementation were decided by the RLT, including selection of workshop participants, plans for travel learning from Odisha to Andhra Pradesh, and selection of farm plots for experimentation.
The UCLan partner supported the project with co-creative workshop methodologies, and through introducing RLT members to Corporate Social Responsibility and academic contacts. In the workshops, UCLan staff shared their expertise in co-creative participatory methods and enabled local participants to learn from these engaging methodologies.
Through local workshops and travel learning, a group of local farmers researched alternative agricultural practices, which re-combine traditional and modern knowledge. In particular, a local experiment was set up to try out “Zero Budget Natural Farming”. After focusing on the practice in the first experiment, the economic viability of the model is now being explored (the precondition for such a model to spread).
Through joint meetings with several prominent Corporate Social Responsibility teams in Mumbai and New Delhi, RLT was able to network with them and build the capacity to approach them for Corporate Social Responsibility funding in the future. A research partnership was also established with UCLan and two other partners in Patna (a research institute) and in Bangalore (a think tank).
Crucial to the success of this study has been a realisation of the need to replace a deficit-based approach to ‘fixing problems’ with a strength-based approach of building on local resources and highlighting the value of traditional cultural practices.
The Indian partner RLT has established a ‘Think-Do-Learn Tank’ called AlterNEXT on their existing eco-village campus during the lifetime of this project. The Knowledge Hub activities have been disseminated on the blogs of both AlterNEXT and the partnering research Institute at UCLan. The next step is to apply jointly for UK Research Council funding, for which the partnership was established during the Knowledge Hub work. In case of success, the research team will work on issues of local autonomy, food sovereignty, and ecology in relation to food practices. A documentary film about RLT’s ‘Shikha Eco-Learning Village’ is also in production.
Diarrhoeal diseases are a common cause of illness and death amongst young people in developing countries. Such diseases can be spread through the contamination of complementary foods – defined by the World Health Organisation as any food or liquid other than breast milk which is fed to babies and young children to provide them with nutrients. This can include formula milk and food used to introduce solids into a baby’s diet.
Carol Wallace, Professor in Food Safety Management Systems in the School of Sport and Health Sciences, recently led a study with families living in extreme poverty in remote rural areas of Pakistan. The objective was to identify approaches that could significantly reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal diseases in infants. The team explored how interventions in existing practices involving the preparation, handling, storage and feeding of complementary foods might reduce or eliminate the transmission of diseases.
A preliminary study concentrated on building local infrastructure and creating an environment in which future health improvement projects could succeed. This entailed enhancing the capacity of the research team through recruiting expertise in food safety, microbiology and nutritional sciences, training Research Assistants, and engaging directly with the community and local families.
The initiative was co-designed by project leads in the UK and Pakistan, building on Professor Nicola Lowe’s existing partnership in nutritional sciences with Professor Mukhtiar Zaman of Rehman Medical College, and the Abaseen Foundation.
The work has identified clear and practical measures for families to adopt within their homes, that can directly contribute to protecting health amongst babies and young children in their communities. It has also led to the creation of educational materials (including posters and infographics) carrying food safety messages, which can be employed in workshops with local women. These workshops provide them with the knowledge and advice they need to implement practical improvements in food handling and hygiene within their own homes, benefiting themselves and their children.
There is much potential for future networking opportunities, bringing in key organisations such as other local university and industry partners alongside existing collaborators in the UK and Pakistan (including NGOs and Government representatives). This opens up the potential for the outcomes of the study to impact wider policy.
The findings are set to inform a follow-up project which will test the impact of educating people on improved methods of food handling to reduce the incidence of diarrhoeal disease. There are plans for further online collaboration, a peer review publication and presentations at forthcoming regional and national conferences.
* Image courtesy of BIZIFED project
Digital technology has the potential to make the art of filmmaking more accessible to independent creatives from diverse cultures. However, in recent times the dominance of university and national film school models in Development Assistance Committee (DAC) countries has perpetuated filmmaking which has largely spoken to cultural elites in capital cities.
For some time there has been a need for grassroots skills training to enable a wider spectrum of society to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the technology-led democratisation of the moving image medium, particularly amongst young people. This will lead to secure, meaningful and rewarding employment and business opportunities in this arena.
The StoryLab project has laid the groundwork for co-designing an impact-led training strategy and platform focused on one of the key currencies of a successful creative industry – creativity, story and creative entrepreneurship. It has been led by Professor Erik Knudsen from the School of Journalism, Media and Performance at UCLan, in collaboration with Dr Nico Meissner (Griffith Film School, Australia; former Film School Director, Multimedia University, Malaysia); Dr Carolina Patiño (University of Ibagué, Colombia); and Francis Kwesi Gbormittah (leading academic at the School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana).
‘StoryLab - Developing Innovative Skills Training For Democratised Film Industries in Developing Countries’ involved five days of networking workshops and meetings held at UCLan. It was designed to explore collaborations and build the foundations of a wider transdisciplinary network of international and UCLan researchers engaging with the StoryLab project, which is addressing global challenges in Colombia, Ghana and Malaysia.
It built on an earlier series of workshops held in Columbia, Ghana and Malaysia during 2017. A total of 45 independent filmmakers engaged in an innovative story and narrative skills training initiative focused on underpinning the development of meaningful cultural contributions and employment opportunities within the growing film sectors in these countries. These workshops enabled the participants to enhance their skills and approaches, leading to changes in ideas generation, different approaches to story structure, new co-development and production partnerships, enhanced screenwriting skills, better engagement with local cultural preservation, increased rigour in creative development practices, and deeper awareness of the narrative opportunities of film.
The StoryLab project has directly led to Dr Carolina Patiño creating a research centre entitled Audio-visual Memory Centre for the Peace of Tolima, which sits within the Urban Trail Research Cluster in the University of Ibagué, Colombia.
The StoryLab project has an extensive web site where findings and projects are discussed at length. For full details visit storylabnetwork.com
Soo Downe, Professor of Midwifery, and Dr Anastasia Topalidou, Research Associate in Thermal Imaging, have worked with women’s groups in India to explore how a high-tech mobile monitoring system could benefit pregnant women. The monitoring device can be used to monitor health status, while encouraging users to adopt a healthier lifestyle throughout their pregnancy. The system has the potential to reduce the incidence and adverse effects of hypertension, based on theories of technology adoption and behavioural action. Data from the system can be collected, enabling researchers to monitor health status at a population level.
A quarter of the world’s neonatal deaths and 15% of maternal deaths occur in India. In India, more than three million babies are born preterm and/or low birth weight each year due to pregnancy-related preventable causes (including pre-eclampsia/hypertension) and/or maternal malnutrition. In addition, around 51% of all women of reproductive age have anaemia. Hemorrhage and hypertensive disease/eclampsia are the major factors of maternal deaths in India. Access to antenatal care for pregnant women is often restricted by several factors, from lack of infrastructure to economic, socio-cultural and gender barriers. It has been shown that engaging pregnant women in group participatory learning can have a positive impact on maternal and neonatal survival rates.
The project is a collaboration between UCLan, the Rinicare Ltd (UK business partner), the Fernandez Hospital ‘Health Care for Women & Newborn’ - Hyderabad, and two Bangalore NGOs: the Bangalore Birth Network (BBN) and the Society for People’s Action and Development (SPAD). A further midwifery project involving UCLan and Fernandez Hospital, sponsored by the Indian government, is currently underway.
The research team explored the feasibility, acceptability and effectiveness of an integrated low cost, technical and socio-cultural solution. The “We-PPLuS” wireless system monitored pulse rate, temperature, blood pressure and heart rate. It was tested with two pregnant women’s community groups in Bangalore - around 30 women and two Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) – and 13 women attending hospital clinics in Hyderabad. Women in all settings where the kit was tested were keen to use the technology and were fascinated to see the results on their mobile phones. The most active engagement and discussion took place within the group settings. Clinical analysis of collected biomarkers is ongoing. The participants were also asked to complete an anonymous feedback questionnaire. Many of them were appreciative of the monitoring system, which has the potential to detect problems at an early stage.
A number of potential benefits have been uncovered, including observations of a potential link between pulse rate and anaemia, which could provide the basis of a simple future screening tool in low income settings. Associated research that will be undertaken with the same partners in 2020, using thermal imaging, could also enhance knowledge of mother-baby heat transfer in ‘kangaroo care’ – a method of caring for premature or underweight babies through skin-to-skin contact. It could also inform early diagnosis of incipient sepsis in newborn babies.
It was found that the wearable technology worked well in facility settings. But some design weaknesses were also uncovered, particularly when the devices were used by women in the hot, humid and dusty settings of the backstreets of Bangalore. Further research will explore how the technology can be refined through conversations with Indian manufacturers and distributors. There will also be wider testing with health workers and community groups across India.
The team will convene remotely in late 2019 to consider the next steps. Findings are set to be presented at the 15th International Normal Birth Research Conference, to be hosted in Hyderabad by the Fernandez Hospital (research partners on this project) in 2020. A follow-up project on community engagement and women’s groups, run by the BBN and SPAD NGOs, is currently taking place.
Dietary zinc deficiency is a global problem, affecting 17% of the world’s population, with the greatest burden in low and middle-income countries. The consequences of this are profound and far-reaching, from increased individual morbidity and mortality to problems with community and regional economic development.
Nicola Lowe, Professor of Nutritional Sciences in the School of Sport and Heath Sciences, led the project Biofortified Zinc Flour to Eliminate Deficiency in Pakistan (BIZIFED) which aimed to tackle the widespread issue of zinc deficiency among adolescent girls and children in Pakistan. The project was supported with funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).
The study was the first to explore the potential of biofortified wheat to reduce zinc deficiency in low resource settings in Pakistan. More than 40% of women in the country are zinc deficient and over 20% have iron deficiency anaemia. Biofortification involves boosting the nutritional content of food crops using conventional plant breeding techniques and the addition of nutrient-rich fertilisers. The study assessed the impact of enhancing the zinc content of wheat flour (wheat is a staple crop in Pakistan) and whether this improved the lives of a sample of women of reproductive age. The research also investigated the performance of biofortified wheat under different growing conditions and the cultural acceptability of biofortification in Pakistan. An increasing body of evidence suggests that it may be a cost-effective and sustainable approach to reducing micronutrient deficiencies.
Key developments in 2019 included field experiments to determine the impact of wheat fertilisers on the yield, grain zinc concentration and potential health benefits of a new wheat variety, Zincol-2016, bred for high grain zinc concentration. An end of project meeting was held in Islamabad in 2019, providing opportunities to plan dissemination activities and reflect on the research process and stakeholder engagement (including a visit to the Special Assistant to the PM). Other key work has included a spatial modelling study to integrate soil and crop data, enabling prediction and mapping of variation in wheat grain zinc concentration due to soil properties, farmer management and wheat variety. Other work looked at the socio-cultural factors and market systems that affect the sustainable uptake of biofortified wheat in Pakistan.
This interdisciplinary and collaborative project depended on building strong relationships with several research partners in Pakistan: Khyber Medical University, Abaseen Foundation (NGO/charity) and Fauji Fertilizer Company. Local communities were involved in the co-development of research, and regular meetings were held with community elders.
Findings have already been published in one peer-reviewed journal paper (UNSCN Nutrition 44) and presented at an interdisciplinary academic conference (ANH Academy 2019).
Teachers working in rural and remote areas across Western Africa, or those displaced by conflict and crisis, are often under-resourced and undervalued. A collaborative project entitled ASPIRE (or Teacher Resilience and Capabilities Network in Sub-Saharan Africa), building on the work of the University of Manchester (British Council ELTRA project, 2018) and the Cote d’Ivoire National English Language Teaching Association (CINELTA), utilised digital technologies to deliver innovative new development opportunities in the form of a multi-country conference. It was led by Dr Michael Thomas, Professor of Higher Education and Online Learning, and Dr Silvia Benini, a Research Assistant, in the School of Humanities, Language and Global Studies. Our key contact in Cote d’Ivoire was Aubain Adi from the Institut Pédagogique National de l’Enseignement Technique et Professionnel (IPNETP).
The original Manchester and CINELTA project explored the use of widely available mobile phones with readily accessible social media software (WhatsApp) to engage in a variety of development activities with teachers who work in difficult circumstances, building capabilities and resilience amongst the countries’ teachers. It specifically sought to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #4, target C, which aims to “Substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship” by 2030.
Core activity was focused within the Ivory Coast, but the in-country event, which was one of the targets of ASPIRE, also included representatives from Benin, Cameroon, Mali, Rwanda and Senegal. The activities involved working collaboratively with CINELTA; the Ministry of Education in the Ivory Coast; The Ecole Normale Superieure (a local teacher training college); and the British Council.
ASPIRE enabled cross-collaboration between teacher trainers and a variety of teachers and curriculum specialists to start a dialogue about developing a new teacher training curriculum and new ways of supporting those developments. All activities and the research methodology were co-designed with in-country participants, enabling them to have ownership and a direct role in shaping the project.
ASPIRE explored different ways that digital technology and social media can be used to support the training and development of English language teachers in the Ivory Coast, and a virtual conference was used to disseminate the findings to other Official Development Assistance (ODA) recipient countries in West Africa and beyond, including a variety of stakeholders, from curriculum developers to policymakers.
The funding enabled a number of significant events to take place. A multi-country virtual event brought together six English language teaching associations to discuss their experiences of beginning to make use of low-cost digital technologies to support teacher development. The teacher associations nominated key stakeholders in the English language teaching community and they gathered in a central in-country location, but were connected via online digital tools (Zoom and WhatsApp). This event included presentations from all of the teacher associations about their current practice with digital technologies in teacher development and key external speakers from the UK (University of Manchester – Gary Motteram and Susan Dawson and the Global Issues Special Interest Group of IATEFL – Linda Ruas) and India (The British Council – Radhika Gholker). A UK-based conference and capacity-building event including over 80 participants was held in Preston. The event was video streamed to collaborating teachers in the Ivory Coast.
Several pieces of work are currently underway as a result. A journal article on the outcomes of the Ivory Coast event, and a special edition of a peer reviewed journal arising from the research focus of the ASPIRE project, are in progress. The team are working towards building a network of interested researchers, teachers, administrators and policymakers from the ODA participants, as well as collaborating with partners on follow-up projects and funding for replication studies in Ghana with the University of Ghana. Recently the research team successfully applied for a British Council ELTRA Award to collaborate with teachers in Nigeria on a related study on teacher development. The team are also exploring replicating and extending the research involved in ASPIRE into a larger Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) grant application in 2020.
A research team led by Darren Ansell, Professor of Aerospace Engineering in the School of Engineering, is helping Cambodians to utilise the latest technology to clear deadly landmines. Through several workshops, they examined the high-risk activities currently performed by Cambodians engaged in landmine clearance operations. Their expertise in aerial and ground robotics was used to draft technology concepts that could help to take humans out of harm’s way and reduce the threat to human life involved in perilous mine clearance operations.
The work supports Cambodia’s National Mine Action Strategy, which is working towards making the country free from landmines by 2025. This target is no small feat. The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) estimates that there could be as many as four to six million mines and other pieces of unexploded ordinance lurking underground throughout the country following decades of war. The most common method of mine detection is still manual detection and disarmament, which is often slow, expensive and highly dangerous.
The project has led to a partnership with the Cambodian National Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA). They will collaborate with UCLan researchers for an initial three-year period to develop and trial new technologies for mine clearance operations. A further collaboration with the National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces Management, Mines and Explosive Remnants of War Clearance (NPMEC) team from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) has seen UCLan researchers delivering technical briefings and training sessions on the use of drone technology.
The deployment of robotic technologies such as drones could rapidly increase the pace of landmine clearance while drastically reducing the loss of life incurred in what has traditionally been an immensely dangerous, life-threatening undertaking. Using drones, the RCAF will be able to map out terrain that could potentially contain mines and identify suspicious items or roadside devices without putting lives at risk by having to physically enter those spaces.
There are clear economic benefits to Cambodia if it can increase the effectiveness of its mine clearance efforts, not least the end to loss of human life. Clearing areas of landmines opens up the land for communities to farm and build new homes, improving their quality of life.