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14 July 2017

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“Many officials lack good understanding of what the Green Economy means in practice and in the context of their work. It is will be very useful for them to have the concept linked to the key priorities and sectors in the country, as well as concrete measures and projects they are involved in.” – says Ms Najma Mohamed, National PAGE Coordinator in South Africa. To answer to demand for foundational training on green economy, an e-learning course specifically tailored to the context of South Africa is being developed by the Center for Environmental Management (CEM) at North-West University (NWU), South Africa, with the support of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), and within the framework of the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE). 

Since the dawn of democracy, South Africa has transformed itself as an upper middle-income industrialized economy. Yet, economic development has not brought equal opportunities for everyone: income disparity is widening and unemployment remains high. Reliance on coal and natural resources results in high greenhouse gas emissions and a large ecological footprint. Recognizing these challenges, the South African government is set on transitioning towards an environmentally sustainable, climate-change resilient, low-carbon economy and just society. 

Relative knowledge and capacities for inclusive green economy (IGE) are needed at all levels of the civil administration to support the implementation of national and regional strategies and plans. One of the focus areas of PAGE in South Africa is capacity building and learning for green economy. 

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E-learning presents itself as an efficient way to quickly scale-up foundational learning across key stakeholders and a number of national learning institutions have started to diversify their approach to executive training, with the goal of reaching to a wider audience.  “At NWU we are aiming to transform a large percentage of our continuing education programmes to electronic or blended format in the course of the next several years”, says Ms Christa North, Executive Advisor: Planning and Special Projects, Office of the DVC: Teaching-Learning of the North-West University. “We are currently utilising the financial support, content and the experience of UNITAR to tailor-make an existing UNITAR course on the green economy to be delivered on an e-learning platform of our choice to a mainly South African audience. This will serve as one of the pilot projects through which we assess our readiness to deliver high-end, relevant e-learning in South Africa. The pilot projects that we are involved in serve to develop our internal guidelines and tools further, and they also feed into a pricing model through which we hope to be able to create a stable and sustainable model for delivery of continuing education through blended and fully online courses. This is why NWU is fully-committed and is co-investing in this project.” 

With the goal of supporting the development of the green economy e-course, and more broadly – the realization of the potential for scaling-up IGE e-learning at NWU and beyond, UNITAR organized a three day training of trainers (ToT) on “How to design, deliver and evaluate effective e-learning?”. The training was attended by 24 participants engaged in teaching and learning of various unit of the  NWU, as well as  external stakeholders from government, civil society and the South African academic sector. 

The training was highly practice-oriented. “During the three days we went through the various stages of the development process of an e-learning course: from the assessment of the learning needs, to the evaluation of results. Now we understand the bigger picture and are better equipped to develop relevant and useful courses”, says Mr Reece Alberts, senior environmental legal and management specialist at CEM. At the end of the ToT several fully-fledged course concepts were developed, and their implementation onto the e-learning platform of the NWU had reached an advance stage. “We have never seen academics so involved with the e-learning platform before!”, exclaimed Mr Rassie Louw, who leads the Teaching and Learning Technology Unit at NWU. 

Feedback received from participants at the end of the ToT was also overwhelmingly positive: 100% of respondents stated that the event was completely or mostly useful, 90% indicated the ToT was relevant to their work and they will likely use the knowledge acquired in the future. 

Furthermore, the ToT served as a platform to establish a good working relationship between the members of the project team, who will be involved in the green economy e-course development. “We had very productive discussions as a team and set up a work plan for the course development. We understand much better now what the roles of each team member in this process will be going forward.”, says Prof Theunis Meyer, Chief subject specialist at CEM. As a first step, CEM will organize half-a-day workshop on 25 July in Pretoria to assess the learning needs and preferences of the course target audience. 

UNITAR will continue its collaboration with CEM-NWU, and will provide continuous methodological and technical support to the green economy e-course development, as well as – more broadly – the upscale and diffusion of high quality e-learning courses for continuing education in South Africa.

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