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Interview: Learning to improve water and waste-water management in cities

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© UNESCO
Mr Nader Imani, CEO and Head of Business Field Education at Festo Didactic
21 January 2016

In an interview with the Coordination Team of the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC) at the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), Mr Nader Imani, CEO and Head of Business Field Education at Festo Didactic, shared his views on the significant role learning can play in water and waste-water management. The entire interview is available for viewing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWDf2iFWqIk

UNESCO GNLC: What role can learning play in improving cities’ water and waste-water management?

Mr Imani: As you know, cities are changing. The world’s population is increasing, and an increasing number of people are living in cities. So basically cities are changing all aspects of life. There are a lot of new factors we have to consider when we talk about quality of life. One of them is water. Access to clean water is very important for a good quality of life in cities. By this I don’t just mean water for human consumption, but also water for other applications in cities, such as the food industry and agriculture. Nature is capable of recycling water. However, consumption of water is so huge and so concentrated in cities that even nature has its limitations. Without new technologies in waste-water management, it will get more and more difficult to provide citizens with access to clean water in cities. That’s why we need to introduce advanced technologies into recycling processes. This is important to ensure the quality and availability of clean water for every citizen. So we have created a course of studies called ‘aquatronics’ to make sure that people are being trained and educated in the area of water and waste-water management. Aquatronics turns the challenge of water shortages into an opportunity to create jobs and offer citizens a better quality of life.

Can you give us an example of where learning impacts the recycling process and access to quality and quantity of water?

I could give you three examples of programmes we are running right now in different countries. And I might then mention our collaborations with NGOs and UN agencies.

The first example involves vocational training and education in Peru. We are collaborating with an organization called SENATI (the National Society of Industries) in Peru to integrate water and waste-water management into the training curriculum of technicians. We want to train technicians working in the field of water and waste-water management in order to provide better access to clean water in the city of Lima. Today, one third of Lima’s population has no access to water at all. And another third has access to water, but not drinkable water, so this water is basically unfit for consumption. In Lima we are establishing a pilot centre for water and waste-water management and are introducing aquatronics. Of course, this will also have an impact at the national level, as the same problems may exist in other cities in the country, such as Arequipa and Trujillo. So we hope to provide the city and the country with technicians who will go on to work for the water authorities and will make sure that water quality improves.

We are also collaborating with the Energy and Water Services Sector Education and Training Authority (EWSETA), a public water authority in South Africa. We are working with EWSEATA to establish a curriculum on aquatronics that can be used in vocational educational training for water technicians in South Africa. The programme will provide people with the right qualifications to manage the supply of water and waste water in cities. Technology should also be used in the continuing education of technicians and engineers. Water has a huge impact in Africa as a whole, and in South Africa in particular. Again, the integration of technology into the curriculum for training technicians will secure the supply of technicians and qualified manpower in South Africa.

The third example that I would like to mention here is our collaboration with the Technical and Vocational Training Organization (TVTO) in Iran. We have been running eight vocational centres that offer the subject of aquatronics. Here again, we are piloting this new educational programme to provide the country with technicians who can make sure that the limited quantity of water is recycled and water per capita is used in a proper way.

I would also like to mention our collaboration with the UN Agency UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization). Together with UNIDO, we are trying to work with USAID (United States Agency for International Development) in Morocco to introduce the subject of water to science, engineering and mathematics. We want to make sure that water will be a kind of bridge between science and mathematics in upper-level secondary education. Our aim is to improve the quality and attractiveness of education and make these subjects easier to understand in the context of water. This new aquatronics programme is also being introduced in vocational training centres in Morocco. There we are specifically focusing on skills in the mining sector, since this sector consumes a significant amount of water. We also wish to establish vocational educational programmes in other countries of the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. This a region in which, for geographical reasons, water is limited. We would like to promote aquatronics in the region firstly to guarantee access to water, and secondly to provide much-needed employment opportunities for young people.

We need to inspire this sector around the world, and that’s why we are working with WorldSkills, an international NGO that promotes skills development worldwide. Our intention is to showcase aquatronics as a new vocational educational programme that develops the new skills needed by societies worldwide. We held an aquatronics competition at a recent event in São Paulo, which brought together twelve candidates from six countries. During this competition, which lasted four days, these candidates used different technologies relating to water and waste-water management. These technologies came from the fields of mechanical and electrical engineering, IT, computer science, chemical engineering, biology and economics. It is important that water and waste-water technicians have a good understanding of these topics.

You mentioned earlier some of the topics that would be needed in curricula and training on water and waste-water management. Could you tell us more about these topics?

First of all, water requires cross-cutting skills, and knowledge must come from various fields. Technicians must have a relatively solid background in mechanical engineering as well as an understanding of electronic and electrical engineering. Knowledge in the fields of IT, software engineering and embedded systems is a must as well. An understanding of chemistry, chemical engineering and biology or biotech would also complement the skills and knowledge that people would require in order to do their jobs. In addition, economics is important, so we also need people with an understanding of how to manage a limited resource (i.e. water) from an economic perspective and how to make sure that the economic impact of water is considered when designing any activity that provides citizens with water and manages waste water. These are topics that we need to consider in an aquatronics course at any level. We need cross-cutting, multidisciplinary individuals instead of people who specialize in just one area. So the aim is to have a cross-cutting generalist who is employable in any labour market in relation to water and waste-water management.

You’ve already partly explained how Festo Didactic is helping to provide learning opportunities. Would you like to elaborate a little?

Our contribution lies in the development of curricula introducing the technology that is being used by advanced facilities to provide clean water. We would like to bring this technology into the learning environment and the classroom. Learning needs to consider new, advanced technology in order to be as efficient as possible. We are developing hands-on training facilities and we are creating virtual environments that replicate waste-water management treatment plants. This enables students to learn without taking risks. We are also introducing mobile learning to increase the efficiency and quality of the learning experience.