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  • Education in developing world 'a top priority'

[MAPUTO] Catherine Bréchignac, incoming president of the International Council for Science (ICSU), has said that promoting education in the developing world will be one of her top priorities.

"In the developing world, we need to push e-education [online learning] in order to help young people reach the level of learning required to be good scientists," she said.

Bréchignac spoke to SciDev.Net in Maputo, Mozambique, at the opening of the 29th General Assembly of ICSU this week (21 October), which was hosted in Sub-Saharan Africa for the first time. The French physicist is currently president of the Centre National de la Recherché Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris.

"Even in a country like Mozambique, where not everyone has access to a computer, you can create IT nodes where effective and high level learning can take place," she added.

Bréchignac said that ICSU — an international nongovernmental organisation made up of scientific associations — is working towards the universality of science, meaning that developing countries lacking in science infrastructure and human resources have to be included and assisted in the global push to make science accessible.

"One of the ways we can do this is link large facilities and big projects to a number of countries." An example in Sub-Saharan Africa is the high-energy stereoscopic system telescope or HESS, the largest gamma-ray telescope in the world, situated 100 kilometres west of Windhoek in the Khomas Highland of Namibia. This project involves scientists from all the nations in the region.

In future decades, nongovernmental organisations like ICSU will play an increasingly critical role linking society and policymakers, said Bréchignac. "It's why I accepted this job. I believe that an organisation like this can streamline the relationship between ordinary people and decision-makers."

ICSU has opened three regional offices for Africa, Asia Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean to "ensure that the voice of developing countries influences the international agenda and that scientists from the South are not only involved in research in frontier areas but also have the capacity to address problems of local and regional context", outgoing ICSU president, Indian chemist Goverdhan Mehta said in his address to the assembly.

Mozambican president Armando Guebuza officially opened the assembly, which was attended by about 500 scientists and policymakers from around the world. He said scientists could help ordinary Mozambicans adapt to climate change by working with communities to find proactive solutions to looming disasters.