Every Girl Deserves Role Model in Science, Technology, Council President Stresses, as Speakers Explore Ideas to Improve Education Access
The COVID-19 pandemic and emergence of variant viral strains underscore the importance of science, technology and innovation for the recovery and development of global populations, speakers said today as the Economic and Social Council opened its two-day forum on the topic amid calls to urgently address the widening digital gulf between developed and developing countries.
Opening the forum, Collen Vixen Kelapile (Botswana), President of the Economic and Social Council, stressed that science, technology and innovation can be a source of awe — but also fear. This year’s seventh Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals aims to alleviate fear, and instead harness that power for sustainable development. Noting a plethora of images in the media of the world’s natural disasters, famine, war and societal divides, he said it is particularly easy for young people to feel powerless.
Citing the fear of vaccines and frustration with the perceived unreliability of science, he noted the need to build trust in research, with Governments showing that they are listening to their citizens and addressing issues such as misinformation, potential and limits of artificial intelligence, and questions regarding privacy and access to data.
“We need to ensure checks and balances and consider suitable governance mechanisms around these issues,” he stressed. It is also crucial to increase the participation of women and girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as historically, they make up only about a third of that workforce. “Every girl around the world should be able to find a suitable role model in these fields, whether she be a local schoolteacher or a Nobel laureate,” he said.
Echoing those issues in her keynote address, Leela Devi Dookun-Luchoomun, Minister for Education, Tertiary Education, Science and Technology of Mauritius, emphasized that new technologies hold the promise of the future, from climate action to more inclusive and democratic societies. Citing the potential shown by recent developments in frontier technologies — including artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology — she warned they have also exacerbated and created new digital divides between technology haves and have-nots. As an example, she pointed to space tourism hitting the headlines while some countries still suffer from famine.
Citing a scarcity of funding in many developing countries where the digital divide is apparent, she stressed: “this is where public-private partnership can be of great value”, with science and technology improving living standards, even during these moments of economic slowdown.
In a second keynote address, Francis Collins, national science advisor to the President of the United States, observed that global interconnectivity hastened the spread of the COVID-19 virus across borders — but also enabled rapid sharing of scientific information for treatments and prevention. Highlighting the extraordinary contributions of scientists in South Africa, Botswana, United Kingdom and Israel in sharing information expeditiously, he warned that vaccines access has not been equitable — and without a true and urgent commitment to vaccinating the world, the pandemic will still threaten safety and economies.
He emphasized the urgent need to finance tests and treatments, free up supply chain bottlenecks and combat disinformation and misinformation — as well as prepare and finance the global capacity to face emerging variants and future health crises. The United States is determined to lead, he said — but also listen and learn.
Abdulla Shahid (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, said that while billions have suffered through the COVID-19 pandemic and many continue to endure its socioeconomic impacts, a recovery that embraces science, technology and innovation can support efforts to empower and protect. As world leaders and policymakers look to “the new normal”, they must share resources, invest wisely and address the challenges that hold back progress. He invited those present to imagine a world with no digital divide — and the economic growth, jobs and new sectors that could emerge. “These are the transformations we must aim for,” he stressed.
Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, speaking on behalf of António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, noted that over the last year, 120 million people were pushed into extreme poverty. Approximately 100 million children fell below minimum reading proficiency levels and inequalities worsened in many countries — marking a grave danger of a sharply diverging world. Some countries are recovering from the COVID-19 crisis thanks to broad vaccine rollouts, while others are sinking deeper into a cycle of uncertainty, poverty and hunger.
The world is at serious risk of a lost decade for sustainable development, he warned. The Forum is expected to spotlight the efforts made by Member States, the United Nations system and stakeholders alike, with the international community working together across borders, sectors and disciplines. He called for the day’s discussions to focus on best practices for equality and the use of science, technology and innovation for Sustainable Development Goal road maps for building resilient and low-carbon economies.
Throughout the day, the forum held ministerial-level dialogues, bringing together a wide range of stakeholders under the theme “Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals and a sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic”. Speakers echoed calls for vaccine and digital equity, while several foregrounded the Russian Federation’s aggression in Ukraine as a climactic threat, not only to food security and supply chains, but to progress in the scientific fields.
The Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 6 May to continue its work.
COLLEN VIXEN KELAPILE (Botswana), President of the Economic and Social Council, said science, technology and innovation can be a source of awe but also of fear. This year’s seventh Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals aims at inspiring solutions to alleviate fear and harnessing that power for sustainable development. In the past few years, there has been no lack of images in the media of the world’s natural disasters, famine, war and divides within societies. It is particularly easy for young people to feel powerless. Science, technology and innovation should be a source of hope — the showcase of human ingenuity, with related careers often referred to as the “jobs of the future”.
The Forum’s discussions will inform the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July as well as the Transforming Education Summit scheduled for September, he continued. It is crucial to increase the interest and participation of women and girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as historically, they make up only about a third of the workforce in those fields. The gender gap is particularly high in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs like computer science and engineering. “Every girl around the world should be able to find a suitable role model in these fields, whether she be a local schoolteacher or a Nobel laureate,” he said. That is why this year’s Forum includes a dedicated event for eminent women scientists and engineers.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the world the power of the fear of the unknown — as illustrated by the fear of vaccines and frustration with the perceived unreliability of science, he noted. There is a need to build trust in science and research. In that regard, Governments should show that they are listening to their citizens and addressing challenging issues such as misinformation, potential and limits of artificial intelligence, and questions regarding privacy and access to data. “We need to ensure checks and balances and consider suitable governance mechanisms around these issues,” he stressed. It is thanks to the efforts of scientists, technology practitioners, entrepreneurs, young leaders, and civil society representatives that the world can look positively towards the wonders of science, technology and innovation, he said.
ABDULLA SHAHID (Maldives), President of the General Assembly, in a pre-recorded video address, underscored that when the stakes are high, humanity often delivers its most innovative advances. While the world faces myriad challenges — climate change, disasters, inequalities, conflict, poverty and hunger — he emphasized that “we have the capacity as a species to overcome these”. Innovation will not only facilitate breakthroughs, but will boost social and economic growth, help expand social services, create jobs, tackle inequalities and empower women and girls. “Truly, we can innovate our way across the entirety of the 2030 Agenda,” he said.
He went on to say that, while billions have suffered through the COVID-19 pandemic and many continue to suffer due to its socioeconomic impacts, a recovery that embraces the ideals of science, technology and innovation can support efforts to empower and protect. As world leaders and policymakers look to the new normal, they must share resources, invest wisely and address the challenges that continue to hold back progress. He invited those present to imagine a world with no digital divide, and the economic growth, jobs and new sectors that could emerge in such a situation. Further, expanding renewable energy to every corner of the planet would simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions and empower billions of people. “These are the transformations we must aim for,” he stressed.
LIU ZHENMIN, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, speaking on behalf of António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said people, planet and prosperity are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. However, over the last year, an additional 120 million people were pushed into extreme poverty. Approximately 100 million children fell below minimum reading proficiency levels and inequalities worsened in many countries. There is a grave danger of a sharply diverging world. Some countries are recovering from the COVID-19 crisis due to broad vaccine rollouts, strong stimulus measures and digital acceleration while others are sinking deeper into a cycle of uncertainty, poverty and hunger.
The world is at serious risk of a lost decade for sustainable development, he continued, urging the global community to accelerate change towards a better world for all. The Forum is expected to spotlight the efforts made by Member States, the United Nations system and stakeholders alike, with the international community working together across borders, sectors and disciplines. Multi-stakeholder cooperation will continue to be the key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, address climate change, reverse biodiversity loss and end the pollution crises. To that end, he drew attention to both the United Nations Technology Facilitation Mechanism, which is designed to bring the United Nations closer to the pulse of technological progress and promote multi-stakeholder collaboration, and to the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.
LEELA DEVI DOOKUN-LUCHOOMUN, Minister for Education, Tertiary Education, Science and Technology of Mauritius, in a pre-recorded video address, pointed out that new technologies hold the promise of the future, from climate action to better health and more inclusive and democratic societies. Recent developments in frontier technologies — including artificial intelligence, robotics and biotechnology — have shown tremendous potential for sustainable development. However, they have also increased inequality by exacerbating and creating new digital divides between technology haves and have-nots. As an example, she pointed to space tourism hitting the headlines while some countries still suffer from famine. Against that backdrop, she stressed the moral and ethical imperative to use science, technology and innovation to provide, among other things, food security and meet needs of the world’s poorest and most marginalized peoples.
Noting that a rising tide lifts all boats, she said that open access to research papers has made sharing knowledge worldwide the new norm. Open science will lower barriers and enable long-term sustainability for a shared, secure future. Detailing her country’s significant investment in science, technology and innovation, she stressed that the Government alone cannot achieve all objectives, given the multisectoral demands for public resources. In many developing countries where the digital divide is apparent, scarcity of funding makes it difficult to develop such initiatives. “This is where public-private partnership can be of great value”, she said, urging that — even during these moments of economic slowdown — science and technology continue to improve living standards, especially in developing countries.
FRANCIS COLLINS, national science advisor to the President of the United States, observed that global interconnectivity hastened the spread of the COVID-19 virus across borders, but also enabled rapid sharing of scientific information for treatments and prevention. However, more must be done to protect the most vulnerable in facing future pandemics. Amid the emergence of variants, the world is reminded of the focused attention the pandemic still requires. Efforts to track and respond to the pandemic have truly been a global effort, he said, highlighting the extraordinary contributions of scientists in South Africa, Botswana, United Kingdom and Israel in sharing information expeditiously about variants and vaccine effectiveness. Yet, despite the remarkable development of vaccines, access has not been equitable, and without a true and urgent commitment to vaccinating the world, the pandemic will still threaten safety and economies. The United States is committed to donating 1.2 billion vaccine doses to world — more than any other nation — having already provided 530 million doses either bilaterally and though the COVAX Facility, all of them free of charge.
He went on to emphasize the urgent need to finance tests and treatments, free up supply chain bottlenecks and combat disinformation and misinformation. The international community must prepare and finance the global capacity to face emerging variants and future health crises, including through the Group of 7 100 Days Mission. The United States is determined to lead, but also listen and learn, as cooperation across borders must be redoubled, noting advances in Costa Rica, Rwanda, India and Uganda towards building healthcare systems and resilience. However, he warned about man-made threats that may move the world backwards, as “the Russian Federation war of choice in Ukraine, facilitated by Belarus, is an affront to the values and principles we seek to affirm”. The United States commitment to the people of Ukraine remains steadfast and enduring, he said, citing the importance of sharing science and technology for the benefit of all people, enhanced by freedom of thought, expression and democratic principles.
Mr. ZHENMIN, opening the Session, said that, while science and technology are critically important, they alone will not be sufficient to guarantee quick recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Deployment of technological solutions and innovations at a scale commensurate with global challenges will be crucial to success. “And it is not just another technocratic task undertaken by experts,” he stressed. Policy makers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, investors, diplomats and civil society must all come together to promote joint actions towards common goals. The Technology Facilitation Mechanism was designed as a catalyst for this purpose.
He went on to suggest that today’s discussions be focused on the following topics: best practices for equality; the use of science, technology and innovation for Sustainable Development Goal roadmaps, resilience-building and low-carbon economies; and lessons learned towards Sustainable Development Goals 4 (quality education), 5 (gender equality), 14 (life below water) and 15 (life on land).
FORTUNATO T. DE LA PEÑA, Secretary for Science and Technology of the Philippines, noted that, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Department of Science and Technology funded research studies on supplement medicines, medical equipment and biomedical devices. It also tackled the issue of repurposing available technologies - coming up with a COVID-19 disease modeler and the Philippines’ own rRT-PCR test kits. As lockdowns forced the world to rapidly transform through digitalization, innovations led to shifts towards mobile or online applications and software to deliver public services and conduct business transactions, thus proving the power of science, technology and innovation in addressing the needs of society. He cited his country’s technology breakthroughs addressing the Sustainable Development Goals, including in agriculture and marine resources; waste-to-energy facilities and hybrid vehicles; and scholarship offerings in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Governments should engage in multistakeholder collaborations and adopt a whole-of-society approach, with financial, technical, and technological assistance extended at the grassroots level, he said.
WANG ZHIGANG, Minister for Science and Technology of China, recalling the Global Development Initiative proposed by his country’s Government at the General Assembly last year, noted that the initiative is a summary of China’s own development experience. This Initiative reflects the actual needs of developing countries, as a viable path for implementing the 2030 Agenda and achieving post-COVID recovery. China has created six national innovation demonstration zones in six cities since 2016. Further, his country is formulating the Science and Technology Action Plan on Carbon Peaking and Neutrality and deeply engaged in international science and technology cooperation on climate change and other areas, as well as vaccine research and development. His Government has leveraged the role of science, technology and innovation in promoting South-South cooperation, including the China-Ghana-Zambia South-South Cooperation on Renewable Energy Technology Transfer Project and China-Ethiopia-Sri Lanka Renewable Energy Triangular Program.
BLADE NZIMANDE, Minister for Science and Innovation of South Africa, said today’s topic is both important and timely, as the world is currently faced with economic crisis induced by COVID-19. Pointing out that the pandemic brought suffering to millions as the international community approaches the deadline for achieving the 2030 Agenda, he spotlighted the vital role that research and innovation can play in addressing current challenges. For its part, South Africa leveraged technologies — such as telemedicine, artificial intelligence and robotics — to provide healthcare services during the pandemic. This technology, he noted, will be critical even after COVID-19 in assisting South Africa with meeting its future health challenges. The education sector was disrupted as well, he went on to say, detailing his country’s response of switching to e-learning during the height of the pandemic. He stressed that this has the potential to bring education to all if certain obstacles — like poor internet connectivity in rural areas — can be overcome.
FRANKLIN GARCÍA FERMÍN, Minister for Education, Science and Technology of the Dominican Republic, said lives have been transformed overnight due to the pandemic, which has led to major changes in social interaction and increased challenges in policymaking. However, he also noted the current conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine has had major effects in many sectors of the global economy, including the high cost of energy, instability in financial markets and the export of agricultural products. The complex challenges that have emerged due to that crisis and the pandemic require political, economic, educational and social solutions, he said. The President of the Dominican Republic has initiated strategic plans for education and food security, he said, adding that in his role as Minster, he will guarantee sustained quality in scientific and technological research for the development of his country and the rest of the Latin American and Caribbean region.
ROBERT KHACHATRYAN, Minister for High-Tech Industry of Armenia, said his Government has made the development of high technologies a top priority. Innovation is crucial to the country’s future success — contributing not only to long-term economic growth, but addressing social and environmental concerns. The overarching objective is to build a country in which high-value scientific technological output is produced and consumed in the wider economy, with a commitment to investing in human capital, science and business linkages and functioning networks. He noted that in 2020, together with Finland and Tunisia, Armenia was elected as one of the global leaders of the Technology and Innovation coalition in the framework of the Generation Equality Forum. A series of activities has been carried out with partner countries on protecting human rights and increasing the role of women — who now comprise 40 per cent of the Armenian information technology sector.
KWAKU AFRIYIE, Minister for Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation of Ghana, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed lives, wreaked economic havoc and disrupted livelihoods around the world. Ghana has not been spared, and the World Health Organization statistics show that there have been 161,114 confirmed cases and 1,445 deaths in his country between 3 January 2020 and 14 April 2022. However, the pandemic has also revealed opportunities that could be seized to move the nation forward, he pointed out, detailing the Government’s policies to apply science, technology and innovation towards job creation across economic sectors, including agriculture, health, industry, energy, water and sanitation. Further, other initiatives seek to promote digital technology for security and surveillance, support multidisciplinary research into COVID-19 vaccines and facilitate a decade of innovation, he added.
TITO JOSÉ CRISSIEN, Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation of Colombia, highlighted the MinCienciathon Initiative carried out by his country during COVID-19, in the goal of equalizing access to good quality healthcare. His Ministry allocated $26 billion to the Initiative, with 25 projects selected and financed. This, in turn, has strengthened the infrastructure of 73 laboratories and has supported 518 researchers and 19 young researchers. The Initiative has also donated 44 isolation stretchers to different public entities; distributed 20 portable epidemiological isolation units in the regions; contributed to the controlled economic participation through the development of rapid diagnostic devices in unstructured environments, such as restaurants, industry and commerce, transportation; and committed to rural development, he noted.
PAULO ALVIM, Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation of Brazil, stressed the importance of using digital resources in an ethical, inclusive, and sustainable way. His country has formulated several national science, technology and innovation roadmaps. One such endeavour, the Digital Transformation Strategy (e‑Digital) aims to promote digital technologies to provide a profound transformation in the increase of competitiveness and productivity of companies and the Government, as well as to enable social inclusion in the digital era. Acknowledging the benefits of digital technology to education, automation, data analysis and healthcare, he expressed concerns on privacy and rights protection with the quick spread of information and the expanding economic value of its use. The e‑Digital Strategy is tackling all those dimensions through a holistic approach. Such focus will be fundamental not only to the post-pandemic recovery of his country, but for allowing an expressive progress in education, research, and innovation in the next years, as well, he noted.
KRZYSZTOF SZUBERT, High Representative of the Prime Minister for European Digital Policy of Poland, recalled that his country hosted the United Nations Internet Governance Forum and, despite the pandemic, made it accessible to a record number of almost 10,400 registered participants from 175 countries using a hybrid format. However, he also noted that it is impossible not to mention the current situation along Poland’s eastern border which is also the eastern border of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The Russian Federation-Ukraine conflict is taking place in the digital sphere — both in the context of cybersecurity and attacks on critical infrastructure, as well as through disinformation. This is a very significant element not used in the past on such a scale, he pointed out. Poland has taken in almost 3 million Ukrainian war refugees, with local authorities ensuring that they could apply for a Polish national identification number. This would allow them to fully benefit from the assistance offered by central and local governments. To confirm their identity, Ukrainian citizens will use a secure electronic document which is made accessible for them in the Polish digital wallet called eCitizen. Almost 1 million refugees from Ukraine have already received the national identification number — just one example of support for the transfer of information and communications technology infrastructure. “We need to use digital technologies to protect our planet, promote peace and prevent conflicts,” he stressed.
JITENDRA SINGH, Minister of State for the Ministry of Science and Technology of India, said technology-driven creative business models have vast potential to fast-track achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in a cost-effective, transparent and inclusive manner. India’s scientific community, along with the support of a robust pharmaceutical industry, have successfully developed safe, effective and affordable vaccines, including the world’s first DNA-based vaccine. His country is working with GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, World Health Organization (WHO) and ACT-Accelerator, and has also proposed — along with South Africa — a trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and medicines. He also cited India’s development of the Co-WIN app, to provide digital to organize vaccine drives, and pointed out that the number of Internet users in Indian villages has exceeded that of the cities. India is collaborating with the Technology Facilitation Mechanism and the United Nations Interagency Task Team in supporting pilot countries from Africa and other developing countries in formulating and implementing their science, technology and innovation initiatives.
FRANCISCO ANDRÉ, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Portugal, said that, despite setbacks resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, science, technology and innovation can play a key role in accelerating progress through modernizing industry, developing low-carbon economies with clean energy and promoting education, health and food security. Today’s Forum can contribute to these endeavours by providing a platform for the sharing of experience and knowledge. To that end, he detailed Portuguese initiatives to promote science and technological collaboration, including through the Atlantic International Research Centre in the Azores. Lisbon will also host the 2022 United Nations Ocean Conference from 27 June to 1 July, which will focus on the use of science and technological innovation to address maritime-related issues and policies in line with Sustainable Development Goal 14 (life below water). With eight years to go until 2030, he stressed that “we must do everything in our power to rescue the Sustainable Development Goals by investing in science, technology and innovation”.
OLEKSIY SHKURATOV, Deputy Minister for Education and Science of Ukraine for European Integration, noted that today was the seventy-first day of the Russian Federation’s military aggression against his country, with thousands killed, hundreds of thousands made homeless, and millions of citizens forced to leave the region in search of security. Therefore, he noted, it is difficult to engage in scientific, technological and innovative work in such conditions, with over 1,500 educational institutions and 65 research facilities bombed and shelled. The United Nations informational policy should focus on transformational change in all sectors, including energy, agriculture, infrastructure, he said, noting that the roadmap is important in coordinating national policy in reaching development goals. He cited the strategic goal of creating the foundations for the development of the national innovation ecosystem of Ukraine. Ukraine is fighting for the right to freely choose that way, he stressed — and fighting for European values, as well as for peace in Europe and in the world. His country needs global support, he stated, and the world needs a free, democratic, rich and independent Ukraine.
MUNIR BIN MAHMOUD EL-DESOUKI, president of King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology of Saudi Arabia, said that science, technology and innovation are key drivers for humanity to preserve the prosperity achieved for many and help achieve the same for all. For its part, Saudi Arabia has taken significant steps towards harnessing science, technology and innovation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and pandemic recovery. He then detailed the same, including developing and deploying effective digital tools and platforms to ensure uninterrupted business operations during and after the pandemic and constructing “The Line” — a modern model for cities of the future with zero emissions. He added that, to foster collaboration and integration across the national science, technology and innovation ecosystem, his country is currently restructuring how this ecosystem is managed nationally and working to strengthen the private sector’s role in solving national challenges. Also speaking were the ministers of Guatemala, Malaysia, Japan, Belarus, Thailand, Oman, Ecuador, Slovakia and Honduras.
Thematic Session 1
In the afternoon, the Forum held a thematic session on “Science, technology and innovation at the COVID-19 conjuncture”.
Moderated by Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Co-Chair of the Secretary-General's Technology Facilitation Mechanism, and Associate Scientific Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research and Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at Columbia University, it featured presentations by: Christian Bréchot, President of the Global Virus Network and former President of Institut Pasteur in France; Peter Major, Vice-Chair of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development; Mohammed Abdulaziz, Head of Disease Control and Prevention, and Ag. Head of Surveillance and Disease Intelligence, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Ethiopia; Anusha Nathan, of Harvard Medical School; Dai Bing, Deputy Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations; Hyunjoo Oh, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations; and Eamonn Murphy, Deputy Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
Opening the panel, Ms. KARIM acknowledged that while science is at the core of human progress, “it is the availability of scientific discoveries that truly make change.” Pointing out that the COVID-19 virus is a “very wily virus”, she said it is a reminder of the need to demonstrate humility and to learn more about it. It is one of several major challenges — among them, disasters, floods, the submergence of islands, rights violations, conflict and displacement — facing the world ahead of 2030. Moreover, the inequalities undergirding the aspirational goals have never been more pronounced. “We have to address them,” she stressed.
Mr. BRÉCHOT, noting that the world will likely face other pandemics, said preparedness and coordination must be at the heart of all future actions. Science will be extremely important, but only “if we know how to use the progress in science”, he said, calling for integrating various components, including nutrition and climate change. Through innovation, scientists developed successful vaccines. However, success is also about equal distribution and access to these vaccines. Citing one of the only positive aspects of COVID-19, he said it reinforced the importance of sharing data. The crisis has revealed a lack of expertise in the field of virology. Greater coordination is needed among the medical institutions to train the next generations of virologists worldwide. Stressing that these and other organizations must be flexible, he pointed to the Global Virus Network as an example, whose 69 research centres and 11 affiliates merge expertise as needed.
Mr. MAJOR, noting that the Commission recently held its twenty-fifth session, said innovation, “building back better” and advancing the 2030 Agenda were topics of special relevance. Participants discussed how to leverage science, technology and innovation to empower people, and how policy makers can leverage these disciplines in devising national development strategies. Stressing that the pandemic has slowed development in the most fragile communities, he said solidarity should guide the development and distribution of vaccines, as well as concerted actions in bringing a science-based approach to policy responses. The pandemic also brought into focus the gaps in access to digital technology, with children lacking the ability to participate in online education. Pointing to how scientists have harnessed science, technology and innovation to recover from the crisis, he stressed: “There is no reason why we cannot do the same for all Sustainable Development Goals.”
Mr. ABDULAZIZ drew attention to lessons learned from the pandemic. In Africa, countries must have strong national public health institutions that are able to bring together the key components of emergency preparedness and response. He also called for improving local production of vital medical supplies. Local production of vaccines, for example, must improve. Just as important is building a strong regional network for sharing such assets as laboratories. As well, humanitarian corridors must be left open. Offering ideas for how to use innovation in these areas, he underscored the importance of ensuring the local production of vaccines and working with stakeholders in Africa, such as the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ms. NATHAN said she is involved in the rational design of vaccine research related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Touching on the impact of COVID-19 on the Sustainable Development Goals related to health and well-being, climate, gender equity and education, she said that while the world does not know when the next pandemic will occur, it is already seeing adverse effects of the current pandemic on the climate. As time passes, viral variants have emerged and her lab is working on novel vaccine platforms that will adapt T-cells, rather than prompting only antibody responses. It has identified 15 regions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that would be optimal for a vaccine to target. “We predict them to not mutate in future variants and that T-cell response will cover 98 per cent of the population,” she said, noting that by creating a vaccine that targets these areas, scientists will be able to chart a path forward for a SARS-CoV-2-proof vaccine. To be sure, vaccine inequity has led to the emergence of variants, she added.
Mr. DAI said the Chinese Government is aiming to fully leverage the leading role of science, technology and innovation in many fields, accelerating the 2030 Agenda. Putting people and their lives first, China has carried out research in the five areas of vaccines, drugs, testing, animal models and origin tracing, synergizing the private sector, academia and research institutes, aiming for economic and supply chain recovery, promoting science, technology and innovation cooperation. He also reported that Chinese researchers identified the virus strain and shared the genome sequence with the rest of the world as early as possible. The country supports waiving intellectual property rights and has provided 2.1 billion vaccine doses to 120 countries and organizations, transferred technology to 20 countries, and helped to bridge the global immunization gap.
Ms. OH said the pandemic is not over yet, particularly regarding the imbalance of vaccine supply and the science and technology gap, which have become major obstacles. That is a reminder of how important science, technology and innovation are to the Sustainable Development Goals. Her Government is engaged in multiple initiatives to use science and technology to help the transformation into carbon neutral or low carbon economies, supporting developing countries in addressing the climate crisis with technology transfer and capacity building. She stressed that it is crucial for women to take the lead in science and technology. Spotlighting a law in her country that fosters women scientists, she added that the number of women scientists and engineers is steadily increasing. Science and technology are a blessing, she said, but also pose risks of the digital divide and misuse, negative aspects which must be minimized.
Mr. MURPHY said science, technology and innovation are critical, noting the AIDS movement is a partnership effort between communities, science and Governments. That partnership has helped to drastically reduce the lag in new treatments moving from developed to developing countries. It has also helped treatment access and cost: moving from 8-15 pills a day to 1 pill, and $10,000 dollars to $100 for treatment per person per year. He further noted that science used to tackle HIV is now addressing COVID-19, as some of the science for those vaccines came from longstanding research on HIV.
KIRILL BORISOV, Deputy Director of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation, said vaccines for COVID-19 have proven their effectiveness. He noted the important role the Russian Federation plays is providing assistance to other countries, growth of scientific cooperation, citing its proposal to the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) at the beginning of the pandemic to conduct joint competition on research — resulting in 12 projects being supported. The pandemic is a de facto starting point for development, he stated.
Ms. TAPEL, noting she is responsible for maintaining sustainable production for food security and to mitigate climate change, said the pandemic has disrupted food production due to national lockdowns — with joblessness also affecting nutrition. “It's time to turn this crisis into an opportunity as we move towards a new normal” she said.
Mr. BRÉCHOT said preparedness should be a global affair, accenting innovation, nutrition, food security, information and data sharing.
Ms. NATHAN said there is hope for optimism in the face of emerging viral variants, with work proceeding on novel vaccines, but that some vaccine inequities will be longstanding.
Mr. ABDULAZIZ cited the importance of strengthening the capacity of African States to respond to the next pandemic — which has improved, from two countries being able to carry out PCR testing, in the early days, to 55 States, using cutting-edge technology.
Ms. ABDOOL KARIM highlighted the common theme that, in most crises, knowledge generation is a public good. Less monetization of knowledge is helping to bridge inequality and gaps.
Thematic Session 2
Next, the Forum held a thematic session on “Innovations in education: towards quality access and common good”.
Moderated by Talis Juhna, Vice-Rector for Research and Professor and Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Latvian Council of Science at Riga Technical University, and member of the Secretary-General’s Technology Facilitation Mechanism, it featured presentations by: Nesha Haniff, Director of “The Pedagogy of Action” at the University of Michigan; Verna Laiveharie, Executive Director of EdTech Hub; and Susan Liautaud, Vice Chair, Board of the Global Partnership for Education.
Opening the session, Mr. JUHNA emphasized that the quality of education is at the heart of today’s discussion, as it is the foundation of sustainable growth and social equality. Progress in this area has lagged in recent years. The pandemic proved to be among the largest disrupters of education, impacting over 90 per cent of students globally: 1 billion children are now at risk of falling behind, while 10 million will likely not reach the minimum level of reading proficiency. Many children also suffered from mental health issues, due to isolation induced by the crisis, a challenge that disproportionally impacted low-income households. On the other hand, many schools managed to shift quickly to home schooling and distance learning, using the Internet, phones, television and radio, which made education more interactive. Success hinges on integrating digital solutions and taking a human-centred approach to teaching methods.
Ms. HANIFF discussed innovation in technology and the crisis in education exacerbated by COVID-19. She explained that her practice focuses on low-literate populations, noting that today, “old-school methods” of returning to education without technology is “a radical innovation”. She approached students “where they were” and taught them the science of HIV, which empowered them to educate their own families and communities in South Africa, Jamaica and the United States. “They did not sit and watch their training,” she explained, observing that technology can foster passivity. They took action. Noting that her teaching is influenced by Paulo Freire, she said that technology is perceived as the point of arrival; the paradigm that will transform the uneducated. “This is not the same,” she said, distinguishing between an investment in technology and one in human beings. Despite that more girls are now coding now, she questioned whether their ability to code will be enough to diminish women’s inequality in the workplace and beyond. She also pointed out that artificial intelligence is written by white men, making it culturally and racially biased. “This is problematic,” she emphasized.
Ms. LAIVEHARIE, noting that EdTech Hub is a global research partnership, said that while technology offers the promise of addressing the global learning crisis, it is no silver bullet. She pointed out that many silver-bullet-type interventions, notably focused on new hardware, have failed or have increased inequalities, due to their weak contextual fit. Attention must focus on policies that support a contextualized “ed-tech” approach, at parent, teacher and student levels. She underlined the need to shift the emphasis from the role of technology to that of the teacher, who must be supported as educators of the future workforce. To do that, more research is needed. “There is no piece of technology that can replace the art of good teaching,” she said. EdTech is creating and collecting evidence for decision makers who are navigating these decisions. She added that the biggest challenge is the unequal availability of technology, access to learning devices and electricity to power those devices.
Ms. LIAUTAUD, noting that the Global Partnership for Education is the only fund dedicated exclusively to bringing quality education to the most marginalized children, stressed that technology is an integral part of the solution. It can “throw a lifeline” to children during emergencies, notably by “keeping learning going”. Pointing out that many education systems rose to meet the complex challenges posed by COVID-19, through use of the Internet, radio, television and cell phones, she said the Global Partnership mobilized $500 million to help its partners respond. She cited examples in Malawi, where solar powered tablets were distributed and students were connected to their teachers through WhatsApp; in Cabo Verde where teachers were trained on how achieve the best learning outcomes; and in Timor-Leste, where the “School Goes Home” platform, developed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Microsoft, helped communities with little or no connectivity access learning. These investments pay long-term dividends, she stressed, adding that more could be done, including to help the 463 million children who could not learn during school closures because they lacked computers or Internet access. “Virtual learning can never replace being in a classroom with a teacher,” she said, but children must have access to the technology they need to thrive.
SAJITHA BASHIR, Former Adviser in the Office of the Global Director of the Education Practice, the World Bank, said the pandemic brought about a shift in cultural attitudes regarding new technologies amongst education decision makers and administrators, teachers and parents. People came to see that education could be remote and be mediated by technology as a platform. However, they did not accept it, partly because schools and teachers could not shift from school-based use of technology to a home-based use of technology. She cited the paradox that richer countries relied less continuously on online technology, reverting quickly to opening schools, especially for younger children. On the other hand, poorer countries relied almost exclusively on digital technologies and kept schools closed for many months, with the vast majority of poor children attending public schools depending on technology without teachers. The big loss was in socioemotional development and collective learning. She further noted that while some countries increased financing for education, many lower middle- and lower-income countries did not. The public education sector must build its capacity to develop a policy for using technology, develop standards, protections for use of data, and to supervise implementation of technology solutions, she said.
PAOLA BETTELLI, Covid Education Alliance, said during pandemic lockdowns, children suffered from the lack of human touch, particularly those in underprivileged situations in remote locations. Many, especially girls, also faced abusive environments and lost out on building resilience, character and judgement, as well as basic human values like compassion and solidarity. She stressed the need to learn thinking skills, and to square digital education with social and emotional learning, with hybrid education taking into account cultural and religious factors, and prioritizing mentorship.
CARMEN ROMERO, Global Student Forum, Education and Academia Stakeholder Group, cited the importance of better funding, noting that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported that between 2012 and 2018, the proportion of Government education funding decreased slightly in primary and tertiary levels, while the World Bank reported an expansion of “learning poverty”. In Latin American countries, the percentage of 10-year-olds who cannot read a simple text has increased from 51 to 62.5 per cent. Neglecting the need for increased educational funding will further entrench inequalities for generations to come, she stressed.
PATRICK PAUL WALSH, University College Dublin, accented FAIR principles (findability, accessibility, interoperability, and reusability — explicit data‑capable open license), which must be embedded in higher education and related agencies as a norm. Stakeholders, particularly universities, need to take advantage of the digital innovation and platforms available in libraires in most countries, which can host open, fair and quality content for sustainable development education — and those networks need to be supported by Governments, donor agencies and institutions worldwide. Citing the importance of teacher training, he said there are organizations committed to this mission. Multi-stakeholder partnerships, led by libraries, can harness the power of FAIR open educational resource repositories to create the global knowledge commons needed to allow all people to be educated and trained to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in any corner of the planet.
Ms. LAIVEHARIE, responding, referenced the need for equity of access to devices and to push access to digital content.
Ms. BASHIR said it is crucial to must build capacity of public education sector, for better access and use of quality tools. Otherwise, students will be at the mercy of private technology vendors. She further recommended that the United Nations explore new approach to education incorporating technology.
Ms. LIATAUD said in technology, it is important to listen to what countries really need, incorporating cultural issues, and also focus on girls and the inequality issue, as well as children with disabilities.
Ms. BETTELLI cited the problem of different languages in science, technology and innovation endeavours.
Ms. HANIFF commenting that there is a trend of categorizing people without digital access verses those with digital access. “We cannot wait on the technology,” she stressed, adding there are people waiting to be taught.
Mr. WALSH said that it is very important there be good content, created for the public good by Governments, educators and libraries, to name a few. Taking knowledge into different communities and cultures is a different issue and requires getting around the digital divide. Teachers have to be trained to use the technology and then translate that into their context.
The representative of Bolivia noted that in 2020, UNICEF reported that 1.2 billion children were affected by remote education, encouraging democratization of education in all countries. He noted the challenge of reinserting children into in-person school.
Mr. JUHNA said the issues cannot be solved by one silver bullet. Technology should serve humans, not vice-versa.