UNESCO leads effort to improve geology teaching

A pilot initiative led by UNESCO’s regional office in Dakar, Senegal, will provide online courses to expand and improve geology materials to West African universities.

The project, Geology Open On-line Courses in West Africa or GEOLOOC-WA, aims to provide quality graduate-level courses that reflect the state-of-the-art in science, applied to and drawn from specific geological problems found in the sub-region.

The partners met in Toulouse, France, from 19-25 September.

African geology

Anthony Maduekwe, UNESCO programme specialist in natural sciences based in Dakar, said GEOLOOC-WA would help in knowledge sharing in the geosciences by building a regional training network with special emphasis on African geology and related topics.

“The development of a web portal for the geosciences in West Africa will also facilitate access to recent scientific advances, which can then be applied to local geological contexts, and hopefully will make the most talented students aware of the rapidly evolving frontiers in geosciences,” Maduekwe said in a statement.

David Baratoux, project coordinator and representative of the University of Toulouse in France, told University World News that because common text books in geoscience available in Europe or the United States do not necessarily focus on specificities of West African geology, or use examples relevant for geologists working in regional geological units, there was need for extra academic material.

West African universities in the pilot phase are Cheikh Anta Diop in Senegal, the University of Ghana, Legon, the Graduate School of Mines and Geology at Yamoussoukro and the University Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Abidjan in Ivory Coast, the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and the University of Sciences, Techniques and Technology of Bamako, Mali.

Geosciences content

Baratoux said the content would be developed by academics in West African universities, in collaboration with counterparts from the University of Toulouse in France, the University of Western Australia and the Institute of Research for Development, or IRD, in France.

Course materials will be developed in mineral resources or metallurgy, sedimentology, petrology or geochemistry, and rocks mechanics and structural geology. Baratoux said priority would be given to develop content for masters courses and then for undergraduate courses.

He said the budget for GEOLOOC-WA was set at €550,000 (US$688,000), of which €350 000 will pay for the production of online content and related meetings. €200 000 will pay for salaries of permanent academic staff but will be covered by partner institutions where the academics will work 10% to 20% of their time on the project.

Funding support has so far been received support from UNESCO and the International Mining for Development Centre in Australia.

Work in progress

Baratoux said a steering committee with a representative from each university partner, donor, the IRD and a mining industry representative, and working groups and their leaders for developing the course, were set up at the Toulouse meeting.

University Cheikh Anta Diop will initially host the GEOLOOC-WA platform as the university already had a facility for this purpose.

“The duration of the pilot phase is two years – but online content will be released progressively and we should have the first online courses available by the end of the year,” said Baratoux.

GEOLOOC-WA online courses are envisaged to address the academic needs of West Africa by increasing inter-institutional networking, expanding regional and international networking, and improving the capacity of the West African partners to deliver high-level training programmes.

UNESCO’s Maduekwe said it was hoped that the project would become fully regional rather than sub-regional, but the speed of expansion would depend on the ability to raise funds – “which we are also committed to engage in”.