The 10th Faculty of Science and Technology Conference (FST Conf 2015)

Jun 9, 2015

Theme: Science, Technology, Engineering, And Mathematics: The Engine of Growth

• Honourable Julian Robinson, Junior Minister in the Ministry of Science Technology, Energy and Mining
• Honourable Bruce Golding, former Prime Minister of Jamaica
• Professor Ishenkumba Kahwa, Deputy Principal of the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus
• Professor Paul Reese, Dean of the Faculty of Science at Technology, UWI, Mona
• Professor Michael Taylor, Head of the Department of Physics, UWI, Mona
• Staff and students from UWI
• Other distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

A very good morning to all of you! Thank you for inviting me to join you at the 10th Faculty of Science & Technology conference and also for presenting me an opportunity to speak to you on a timely topic of mutual interest. It is indeed an honour to have been invited to join all of you at this Centre of Excellence and share my thoughts with this distinguished gathering of visionaries, thinkers, and importantly, Educators.

Having spent a lot of time in the Schools, I must admit, I enjoy being in University campus settings. They are full of energy, of opportunities to explore new ideas and take on tough challenges, and even prospects to turn on “Gestalt Switches” that can help transform young minds. I use the term Gestalt Switch in harmony with Thomas Kuhn’s position reflected in his outstanding work “Structure of Scientific Revolutions; he had suggested that scientific revolutions require something like a Gestalt Switch: a scientist can’t operate in the old paradigm after having been converted to a completely different way of conceptualizing the world through the new paradigm. And, a paradigm is essential to scientific inquiry.

This significant work had impacted my quest for a doctoral career in theoretical Physics – which I eventually gave up anyway; however for my talk today I wish to deliberate on its implications to catalyse solutions to achieve inclusive and sustainable development

I believe the privilege of scientists to practise their enthusiasm for science carries an obligation: It should lead to betterment of society. Given that the science of today is the technology of tomorrow (Edward Teller) and all science requires mathematics and the knowledge of mathematical things is innate in us (Roger Bacon), I will, in my talk use the term Science in that comprehensive context.

Before I lay out the scientific paradigm I have subscribed to in my life-long work on sustainable development, let me share a few quotes that help me keep the power of science in perspective…:

• Albert Einstein: After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in aesthetics, plasticity and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well.
• Issac Asimov: The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.
• Richard Feynman: You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you are finished, you will know nothing whatever about the bird…… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing – that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.

Science, and therefore technology is a fundamental constituent of every aspect of our lives and livelihoods. Therefore, now more than ever, we must engage with science, as science must engage with us. However, science cannot work in isolation i.e. it should keep its connection to humanity, society and its needs. Science therefore must be a vital element of a rounded education. It should engage with society in all its perspectives including those presented by social sciences, arts, culture, ethics, civics – i.e. citizenship, its rights and duties and the duties of citizens to each other as members of a political body and to the government. A well-developed education in all aspects is fundamental to achieving sustainable development – this causality is about achieving a balance. The concept of balance is vividly articulated by Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher

“Shape clay into a vessel; It is the space within that makes it useful;
Cut doors and windows for a room; It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore benefit comes from what is there; Usefulness from what is not there.”

Sustainable development is undoubtedly the most formidable challenge faced by humanity. Debates on how best to promote sustainable and inclusive development are unfinished in the absence of full consideration of issues of science, technology and innovation (STI). The most important development lesson of the past decade is that humanity will not be able to flourish in the absence of inclusive and sustained development that creates jobs, builds skills and reduces poverty.

Scientific knowledge and appropriate technologies are essential to resolving the economic, social and environmental problems and arrive at sustainable development paths at local, regional and global levels. Bridging the gap between the developed and the developing world, reducing poverty and promoting steady improvements in living conditions for most vulnerable populations—in other words, providing a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable future for all-- requires innovative and integrated approaches that merge existing and new scientific knowledge.

Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in his Millennium Report to the General Assembly had stressed, “Freedom from want, freedom from fear and the freedom of future generations to sustain their lives on this planet” are the 3 grand global challenges for the 21st Century.

While development implies accumulation of physical capital and growth of human skills, the basis lies in information, knowledge, learning and adaptation. Accordingly, the Post 2015 development agenda focuses on the following two essential STI issues, viz., (i) innovation-driven growth is no longer the prerogative of high-income countries alone. Although some developing countries have achieved significant economic growth through the creation and deployment of STI capacity, this is not the case for all countries, especially LDCs. (ii) STI policy has often been carried out independently of the broader development agenda. It is important that STI be integrated into public policy goals and give particular focus to the nexus between Science, Technology and Innovation, Culture, Education and Development.

It is also important that traditional divides between the natural and social, economic, and engineering sciences and other disciplines must be bridged. Research agendas have to be defined and scientific information shared through broad based and participatory approaches involving the end users while improving cooperation with other parts of civil society, the private sector, governments, and intergovernmental bodies.

A telling lesson is evident from the fact that in the MDGs, issues of science and technology focused predominantly on access to essential medicines (especially for the treatment of HIV/AIDS) and on internet connectivity and the related spread of communication technologies (ICTs). However, we now understand that delivering on full range of amenities that underpin the MDG agenda must include, for instance, environmental protection, the containment of health epidemics, mitigating climate change, adapting to climate change, etc.

These require access to a range of appropriate technologies. And, even though much of the required technology is available in the public domain, accessing and linking it to essential knowledge and skills within countries require strategic efforts and financial resources. It calls for investments in the national stakeholders to uptake and absorb technologies (which requires a basic level of technological capabilities to begin with) and make improvements to meet the needs of the local circumstances. And, should the critical importance of such amenities span beyond individual countries or regions, the collective responsibility, as argued by Professor Stiglitz and others, would fall on the international community to ensure the provision of these goods.

Climate change threatens to undermine global efforts to achieve sustainable development and peace keeping and has taken on greater urgency. We now recognize that climate change is not a far-off problem. It is occurring now and is having very real consequences on people’s lives and livelihoods. As indicated by Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon at the launch of 4th IPCC Climate Assessment Report, “Science has spoken, there is no ambiguity in the message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”

The adverse impacts of climate change are causing hardships for all and especially for the poor and vulnerable communities. And the recent UN Conference on SIDS reaffirms the importance of reducing inequalities and the special vulnerabilities and challenges of Small Island States in relation to Climate Change. It also underscores the need to work in an integrated manner and through partnerships.

We have few options to deal with the climate issue, viz., mitigate by reducing the pressures put on the climate through human generated emissions; adapt to the changes in environment resulting from those emissions;… or suffering. And, in words of John Holdren, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director, the tradeoffs are what combination of emission reduction, adaptation, and suffering we’re going choose because irrespective of the quanta of emissions reduced much climate change is still going to occur. And, adaptation to climate change is the most underinvested subject today in both research and institution building. As we know the vulnerable communities and small island developing states will suffer from the adverse impacts of climate change given that there will be consequences that cannot be prevented or adapted to. It is essential to ensure that our strategy to deal with climate change includes a viable “insurance policy” to help those who are in economic conditions or in sectors of work that suffer disproportionate harm. In the negotiators’ language it is called decision on dealing with loss and damage to pay for the benefits the rest of us have already received and are receiving from the reckless release of GHGs gases to the atmosphere.

Given the cumulative nature of technological knowledge and skills, first mover advantages have created a very asymmetrical global landscape. Consequently, developing countries are facing the challenge of their ability to connect local technological needs to international technological opportunities. And, the technology divide is greatest in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Therefore, as we move towards Paris (the venue of next COP, COP 21), an expectation is to arrive at a dynamic arrangement for technology transfer by creating public private partnerships, promoting innovation, catalyzing the use of technology action plans, mobilizing national, regional and international technology centers and networks, and facilitating joint R&D activities. Such an approach will also be a central part of the emerging Sustainable Development Goals agenda.

An effective and well-functioning Science, Technology and Innovation system requires political stability, well-functioning institutions, an educated workforce, rigorous research and education infrastructure - that also promotes strong relations between public and private actors; enterprises committed to research and development and a balanced intellectual property rights (IPR) framework. Frequently newly created knowledge demonstrates several properties of a public good, there is a persistent danger of underinvestment. In fact, UNDP’s lessons learned suggest that even today relevant knowledge remains under-produced, under-utilized, and unevenly distributed with implications, both for private investments and public investments. A lag in private investments will occur if the property rights of knowledge based products are inadequately defined or ineffectually enforced and of course, in the absence of agreed upon mechanisms to address positive and negative externalities. A bottleneck in public investments is led by poorly defined or perceived relevance or effectiveness of results.

Technological change in developing countries needs to be at two levels, viz., (i) innovating at the frontier, and (ii) adapting existing products and processes to achieve higher levels of productivity that take into account the local contexts. Consequently, the ability of local enterprises to access technological know-how is fundamental to shaping their ability to provide products and services that are essential to improve living standards while also promoting growth and competitiveness.

This would require investments in higher value manufacturing industries and in sectors that contribute to broader public policy goals such as health, agriculture, nutrition and environment. Such investments, over a period of time, are also vital for increasing absorptive capacity and the ability to adapt and apply existing technologies to increase productivity and social welfare.

It is therefore important for policy makers to improve the incentives to create and transfer knowledge from publicly funded research to enterprises to generate greater innovation capacity. Simultaneously, the UN agencies, funds and programmes in the post 2015 scenario have to respond in creative ways to ensure that innovation is integrated into national development priorities.

Accordingly, in 2013 and at the request of the UN Secretary General, a Scientific Advisory Board comprising 26 members of the scientific community across the globe, has been created. The Board members count on sciences as drivers and enablers to new approaches that are inclusive, rights based and founded on solid scientific ground. The Board is tasked to provide updates and recommendations on sustainable development to achieve the formation of sustainable development goals effectively and in a timely manner. This also ensures that the decisions at the highest level are accompanied by the best available knowledge and brought together in a holistic manner.

Given that, thus far the large data divide between rich and poor has been a barrier to achieving sustainable development goals, the Board has recommended the need for a data revolution to ensure a better integration of scientific knowledge to realize sustainable and equitable growth. They have underscored the need for an inclusive approach to harness knowledge of all types and disseminating multiple types of information for use by all people. It cited as a “best practice” the Community-based monitoring system that engages rural folks and local communities to map their resources and implement development plans based on their traditional knowledge and cultural views. Several countries including the Philippines and Malaysia have already begun to adopt such practices. The Board has also called for improvements of science-policy interface and has discussed it with the organizers of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris later this year.

Governments of developing countries will find it difficult to raise living standards and quality of life of the disadvantaged communities in a sustained manner, feed their growing populations, keep the children healthy, and protect the environment in the absence of better, cheaper and smarter ways of producing goods and services and bringing them to market. Science based innovative development and technology holds the key especially where climate change is involved. In addition to accessing financial resources, policy makers have to define market incentives – to catalyse the right balance between accessibility and reward – and drive the necessary creativity and innovation to build inclusive and sustainable development pathways. The needs of poor populations would require a proactive policy agenda to make the products of innovation more readily available to them and the inability-to-pay does not translate into inability-to access.
As discussed earlier, data and information covering the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, environmental and social - would have to be collected, harmonized, managed and integrated coherently to support integrated policy-making and decision-making. Even in settings that have access to technologies to collect the necessary data, it will be necessary to ensure that cultural and attitudinal changes are undertaken in relevant ministries and agencies responsible for data collection, so that sharing and exchange of information across the three pillars can result in necessary synergies to benefit wide spectrum of users from policy makers to business communities and citizens.

The test - rubber hitting the road - would be in the creation of dynamic capabilities through national innovation systems - a network of all actors, both economic and non-economic, working together to promote learning and knowledge accumulation and making it operational. Accordingly, the Governance systems for sustainable development at all levels (local, national, regional and global levels) must integrate the best available scientific and technological knowledge. Unfortunately, the current institutional structures leave much to be desired in terms of establishing a strong linkage between Science & Technology and community and decision making.

Knowledge accumulation is a function of steady investments in science education and in improving Science policy environment that would catalyse and foster innovations, and therefore research and development. Building upon existing good practices, it is important to incorporate science education in the curricula from primary school on and build partnerships with university research institutes. It must be an attractive proposition for human skills building and diaspora to return. It is equally important to share knowledge nationally and internationally while making science and technology knowledge accessible to the public to show its contribution to innovation and wealth creation.

As I begin to draw this to a close, let me examine the concepts underlying a social contract for science to achieve sustainable development, against reality. I believe we have made a strong case to stress the basis of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to achieve inclusive development by innovation and knowledge generation, catalysing socio- economic activities to improve and sustain the quality of life. Then, what is the barrier?

For Jamaica, a technology enabled society is a desired national outcome of Vision 2030. The month of November every year is set aside in Jamaica to focus on and highlight science, technology and innovation activities, to celebrate outstanding achievers, motivate others and foster a culture of making STI an integral part of the national psyche. And, the 10th Faculty of Science & Technology Conference indicates that the UWI has been emphasizing STEM as the engine of growth for at least 10 years.

In 2004, Jamaica spent nearly 0.02 percent of GDP on S&T. While the GOJ spent approximately 1% of its 2014-15 national budget on STI related activities, Jamaica spends about 0.1 percent of its GDP on R&D compared to nearly 0.6 percent of their GDP by other (or on average by) Caribbean countries. It is suggested that countries should spend at least 1 percent of their GDP on R&D to optimally benefit from STI. Jamaica ranks 82 of 143 countries on the Global Innovation Index.

Average Scores for Mathematics and Science in the GSAT examinations over the last five years have bordered around 60% respectively. In 2014 the average score for Science was 69%. (the point here is that they are static or stagnant. Without comparison - can’t say anything in absolute terms).
At the CXC level, the past 5 years show that less than half of the students attain 1-3 grades in Mathematics and the percentage of students attaining 1-3 Grades in the Sciences was outpaced by that of the Technical, Vocational, Business and the Arts.

Only 39 students were enrolled in higher engineering degrees at the UWI for the Academic Year 2013/2014 which was 11 less than the previous year.

The above statistics – albeit just selected few--beg an obvious question – Why? And, what would be required to enhance the culture of STI in Jamaica. Apparently, current percentage of university level students enrolled in science, mathematics and engineering are decreasing in most developed and developing countries alike. A part of the reason could be (i) the availability of enough suitably prepared teachers and the adequacy of facilities at the level of primary and secondary schools when seeds of interest in these subjects are sown; (ii) available science and technology capacity including R&D capacity locally, nationally and regionally; (iii) ability to relate STI to improving their own quality of life and that of the country; and (iv) inadequate employment opportunities/salary expectations after graduation. (BTW The top 25 hedge fund managers in the US make more than all the Kindergarten teachers in the country put together—and there are more than 150,000 of them).
The role of Government in supporting R&D is critical in improving this scenario. For instance, the United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research related to agricultural extension services that contributed to increases in agricultural productivity. Today, government sponsored research has promoted information technology and biotechnology.

It is increasingly becoming clear no one sector can do everything. An important role of the Government, as mentioned before is to set the playing field to ensure that there is culpability in rules faced by different actors. And, it is vital to engage both civil society and the private sector to learn from and complement their different forms of innovation, and benefit from their ability to harness particular kinds of social, financial and expertise resources with the government playing a facilitating and enabling role among them.
As Stiglitz argues, there are creative entrepreneurs all over the world. What makes a difference – whether they are able to bring their ideas to fruition and products to market – is the government. By setting the basic rules of the game, enforcing the law and providing the soft and hard infrastructure that enables a society, and an economy, to function – and what are termed by the economists as public goods. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy are to spend money on common goods. (p93; Stigltz).

In conclusion, successfully mobilizing science and technology for sustainable development would require that STI focus on solution driven priorities and seek answers to integrated issues for improving the quality of life of all and especially the most disadvantaged.

Incentive structures need to be designed to align the interests of the private sector with the overall need to harness Science & Technology for the provision of public goods.

It is equally important to ensure that usable knowledge is co-produced through active collaboration of users and producers while drawing on global research and innovation systems. Much of the engagement to promote sustainable development has to take place at the national and local levels, facilitated by information, good practices, and institutions from above.

And, to quote Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator, “The SDGs are about the way we live, behave, invest, do business, produce and consume... This isn’t just going to be ODA it’s going to be growing economies and domestic resource mobilization and allocation; it’s going to be bankability, which means being credit worthy and attracting investment and facilitating trade. All of this means better governance, better regulation, an enabling environment, and the rule of law.”

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