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#MohamedVIPolytechnic Moroccan University - With a vision

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Morocco’s newest university is showing the way for Africa’s creative talent to develop innovative solutions to tackle climate change on the continent, writes James Wilson.

The vision of the young dynamic Mohamed VI Polytechnic University of Morocco is to deliver the next generation of entrepreneurs in engineering, architecture, agriculture and science. The philosophy of the University is to stress the importance of learning through experimentation and practice (learning by doing).

An important business sponsor is Morocco’s OCP Group, a major player in the global phosphate fertiliser market, that has a strong corporate reputation for its commitment to promote sustainable development and the circular economy. Located in Ben Guerir in Morocco’s central Rehamna Province, the University’s modern campus houses some 1400 students, of whom 200 are studying for a Master’s Degree.

Around 120 undergraduates and postgraduates come from neighbouring African countries, with a particular interest in agricultural studies. Although it is only three years old, the university already has a diverse international network of partners that includes Columbia University in New York, HEC in Paris, the MIT In Boston, the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, and other leading academic and research institutions.

The university is also home to the Green Energy Centre and the Moroccan Research Institute in Solar Energy and New Energies (IRESEN) which last year registered 5 patents and seeks to register a further 8 this year.

“We are seeking to valorize our research,” said Executive Director Badr Ikken. “One example is an inventor who is using Argan nut shells to provide the anodes for batteries. We are very proud of the heritage of our inventors, and remember fondly the Moroccan engineer Rashid Yazami who won the Draper Prize in 2014 for his pioneering work on today's lithium ion battery.”

The Green Energy Centre of the university last year organized together with the Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water, and the Environment the Solar Decathlon Africa. The decathlon is a global competition with over 1,200 participants from universities in over 20 countries who competed to design and build green “eco-homes”.

The competition included teams from different African countries such as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Senegal, and Tanzania. North African countries included Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. Turkey, Germany, France, and South Africa also sent competing teams. The fruits other labour are on display at the university campus. The students had a year to design the projects, but only 3 weeks to build the houses. Each team was allowed a total budget of €50 000, but were permitted to raise additional funds if needed.

The competition was designed to “integrate unique local and regional characteristics while following the philosophy, principles, and model of the original U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon”.

The contest aimed to conceptualize low-energy sustainable buildings that seek to have a zero carbon footprint and have an increased reliance on renewable energies. One of the most interesting entries was the hut-shaped Sunimplant house constructed largely of hemp, designed by the German architect, Monika Bruemmer.

The house is constructed of tamped hemp concrete walls. It is likely that the more successful designs will actually be rolled out for young creative African entrepreneurs emerging from Morocco’s educational system. The house’s design pays respect both to Moroccan architecture and to achieving a sustainable, solar-driven future.

 

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Education: Commission launches expert group to step up investment in education in times of COVID-19

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The expert group on quality in investment in education and training launched by Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel in February 2021 has met for the first time. The 15 experts, selected from almost 200 applicants, will identify policies that can effectively boost education and training outcomes as well as inclusiveness and efficiency of spending. Gabriel said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how critical teachers, schools and universities are to our society. Today, we have the chance of rethinking the EU's education and training sector, and put it back at the core of our economies and societies. Therefore, we need clarity and solid evidence on how to best invest in education. I am confident that this expert group will help the Commission and the member states to build stronger, more resilient and more equitable education and training systems than before.”

The group will focus on the quality of teachers and trainers, education infrastructure and digital education. Their evidence-based evaluation will help the Commission and member states to find innovative, smart solutions to current educational challenges. This work is key to achieve a sustainable recovery and complete the transition towards a green and digital Europe. The expert group was set out in the Communication on Achieving the European Education Area by 2025 to maintain focus on national and regional investment and improve their effectiveness. It will present an interim report at the end of 2021 and a final report at the end of 2022. More information is available online.

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French primary pupils return to school despite high COVID numbers

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Schoolchildren, wearing protective face masks, return to classes at Lepeltier primary school in La Trinite, near Nice, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in France, April 26, 2021.    REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
Schoolchildren, wearing protective face masks, are seen in a classroom at Lepeltier primary school in La Trinite, near Nice, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in France, April 26, 2021.    REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

France sent primary and nursery pupils back to school on Monday (26 April), the first phase of reopening after a three-week COVID-19 lockdown, even as daily new infections remained stubbornly high.

President Emmanuel Macron said a return to school would help fight social inequality, allowing parents who struggle to pay for childcare to get back to work, but trade unions warned that new infections would lead to a "torrent" of classroom closures.

In the upmarket Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, pupils wore face masks and rubbed disinfectant gel on their hands as they filed through the front door of the Achille Peretti primary school. A poster reminded the youngsters to stay a metre apart.

"They're young, they need an adult to help them, but most parents have a job and it's burdensome to ask them to do the school work," said teacher Elodie Passon.

Middle and high school pupils are due to return to the classroom next Monday, when the government will also lift domestic travel restrictions that have been in place nationwide since early April.

The open-air terraces of bars and restaurants, as well as some business and cultural venues, might be allowed to reopen from mid-May if the curbs have sufficiently slowed the spread of the coronavirus, the government has said.

Some doctors and public health experts have warned it may be too early to ease restrictions.

On Sunday (25 April), the seven-day average of new cases fell below 30,000 for the first time in over a month, from about 38,000 when the lockdown began, though the number of COVID-19 patients in critical care still hovered near a third-wave high of 5,984.

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Education and skills: Commission launches public consultation to support lifelong learning and employability

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The Commission has launched a public consultation on a European approach to micro-credentials for lifelong learning and employability. During the next 12 weeks, the consultation will collect ideas for a common definition of micro-credentials – recognition of short, targeted learning courses – and for the development of EU standards ensuring their quality and transparency. Within Europe, a growing number of people need to update their knowledge, skills and competences to fill in the gap between their formal education and the needs of a fast-changing society and labour market. Public and private stakeholders are rapidly developing short-term learning courses. ‘Micro-credentials' are a crucial step to certify the outcomes of these experiences, thus supporting people to improve or gain new skills throughout their careers and reaching out to a more diverse group of learners. Micro-credentials have the potential to make education more inclusive, and will promote flexible, short term learning opportunities.

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said: “In these unprecedented times, our learning opportunities need to adapt. They should be flexible, modular and accessible to anyone wanting to develop their competences. Our European approach to micro-credentials will facilitate the recognition and validation of these important short learning experiences. It will contribute to making lifelong learning a reality across the EU.”

Jobs and Social Rights Commissioner Nicolas Schmit said: “As member states strive to meet the target of 60% of adults in annual training set by the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan, we need to make learning as user-centric as possible. Whether you take a short course in coding through a VET provider or learn a foreign language with a language school, your newly-acquired skills should be recognised throughout the European labour market. The public consultation that we launch today is an important step to put this flagship action from our European Skills Agenda into practice.”

The public consultation is available online.

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