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[CAIRO] Scientists and policy makers have demanded that Arab states improve their national science and technology strategies by cooperating more closely with regional science academies.

They made the call at a conference in Alexandria, Egypt that ended yesterday (15 November) to discuss how to boost research and development in the Arab world.

They also urged associations and regional networks to improve scientific information exchange, and said public and private sectors should be integrated in carrying out scientific projects for development.

About 50 Arab and non-Arab scientists, technologists and science policymakers attended the conference. Stressing the importance of science and technology for development, they noted the importance of building scientific capacity to produce technology locally, rather than relying on imported technology.

Arab states must adopt more innovative ways of teaching science, they said.

For this they suggested introducing new information and communication technologies in schools, setting up special schools for gifted children and including the basics of science and technology in their national curricula at all educational levels.

Hassan Abdel Aal Moawad, professor of microbial biotechnology at Cairo's National Research Centre in Egypt, welcomed the conference recommendations but warned that they need to be translated into government policy.

"It is good to know that Arab countries are recognising science as a tool for confronting economic development challenges," said Moawad, a former president of Alexandria's Mubarak City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications.

"But this awareness must be transformed into broad action plans and implementation solutions to real-life problems facing Arab states," he told SciDev.Net.

"To reform the Arab science and technology sector, the conference recommendations must be put into a broad strategic plan for science development that is adopted and financially supported by Arab governments."

He pointed out that Arab states spend less than 0.2 per cent of their gross domestic product on research and development — compared to 1.6 per cent in East Asia and the Pacific. 

The conference was held in cooperation with the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development.