Blogs tagged as Education

  • Technology Justice for Risk Reduction

    November 3rd, 2013

    If you ask someone “what is the role of Technology in Disaster Risk Reduction?” they may scratch their head and look puzzled, but if you ask the more direct question “how can technology alleviate or exacerbate risk?” you can start a much more lively debate. Well that is what happened when I recently challenged a group of post graduate students on the MSc Disaster Management[1] and MSc Emergency Planning and Management[2] courses at Coventry University, to think about how technology can influence risk.

    The popularity of these courses is recognition of the increasing levels of risk facing us today. The scale, frequency and severity of natural and man-made disasters have risen progressively, with the key drivers being climate change, depletion and destruction of natural resources and increasing populations living in vulnerable locations. Disasters not only kill and injure people, they also damage infrastructure, reduce productivity and generate social tensions, they consume resources that would otherwise be directed towards productive activities, and they can wipe out years of development in seconds.

    Met officePractical Action’s work in the field has highlighted that it is insufficient to focus only on responding to disasters; there is an urgent need to shift to risk reduction in which avoidable risk is eliminated and unavoidable risk is factored into the livelihood choices of local people. There is no doubt that technological advances have increased productivity, income and life expectancy, they have improved quality of life and removed the threat of disasters from our daily lives. Technology such as early warning systems are vital in this transition, as experienced with the 4 day advance warning of the passing of the Atlantic storm by the Met Office in October 2013[3] as compared to the swath of disaster left in the wake of the unexpected 1987 hurricane. Therefore, it was a great opportunity to work with students at Coventry University to explore the role of technology in the risk equation, to understand how the application of technology can reduce or exacerbate risk, and explore what changes are necessary to deliver the promise of technology justice for the over one billion people who still live in extreme poverty and vulnerability.

    The day began with a presentation of Practical Action’s work outlining our achievements in disaster risk reduction.  The students were then asked to brainstorm the multitude of hazards facing poor people today. They selected natural disasters such as earthquakes, Tsunami, flooding, drought, extreme storms, landslide, volcanic eruption, wildfire and disease epidemics, as well as human induced disasters such as conflict, war, terrorist attack and chemical spills. The students then broke into five groups and selected one hazard and a key sector to explore in more detail. The five hazards and sectors selected were; flooding and the communications sector, disease and public health, earthquake and public works, wildfire and forestry and war and the health sector. Each group was then asked to identify technologies that are involved in the sector and to explore the potential of the technology to alleviate or exacerbate risk and identify the key players involved.

    Group work 02Looking at the group that studied the health sector in conflicts situation, the group identified a wealth of different technologies involved, including; communications such as targeting of first aid, coordination of search and rescue for the recovery of casualties; food storage and distribution to ensure hospitals are well supplied but also ensuring the front line health staff have adequate supplies; transportation critical for ambulances, medication and food delivery and equipment supply; shelter especially for casualties, but also providing adequate facilities for doctors such as operating rooms; utilities such as water and electricity supply and the need for refrigeration to keep medicines safe. The group also explored the role of protective technologies for healthcare workers such as gas masks and other protective clothing.

    Health sectorThe groups were asked to explore the issue of technology justice for their selected hazard. They picked one or two technologies already identified and were asked to explore the drivers and barriers to the development and implementation of technologies in a developing country context. Each day, everyone regardless of where they live is exposed to risk of one form or another. The students quickly realised that the majority of technological solutions reflect the ability to pay and not the priorities on the ground. Thus the majority of disaster risk reduction technologies reflect consumers demand, rather than deliver vital risk reduction to poor people living in vulnerable situations. More work is needed to understand how decision processes can be changed to ensure that the right technology is available at the right place so that when the next hazard strikes it doesn’t become a disaster.

    Health strategyTechnology justice in DRR requires the involvement of the poorest and most vulnerable in the development of solutions so that technologies deliver the biggest impacts for the poorest and most vulnerable and are not driven by a profit motive alone. Changing this mindset will be a challenge but one of the first steps must be the realisation that existing technologies applied at the right place could save many thousands of lives each year.  Practical Action is uniquely positioned to increase global recognition of the role that technology and innovation play in alleviating and occasionally exacerbating disasters on people’s wellbeing. We must make efforts to demonstrate and advocate for the positive role that technology can play to promote disaster sensitive development; ensure the right technologies are available in the most demanding situations regardless of the cost and reverse technology based development approaches that exacerbate long term vulnerability. Thus technology justice is central to the work of Practical Action as we build a movement, where technology is used for the benefit of all, in a way that is not at the expense of future generations.

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  • Beat the Flood…our new STEM challenge and competition

    September 12th, 2013

    Practical Action Beat the Flood launch

    Beat the Flood….a new exciting challenge and competition for key stages 2-3 (ages 8-14yrs)

    We’re just back from the buzz of the British Science Festival at Newcastle where we launched our new STEM challenge Beat the Flood.

    At the launch, the challenge seemed to resonate with many teachers who felt their pupils would connect with the issue of flooding from their own experiences of extreme weather and flooding in the NE of the UK in the past few years.

    The starter activity linked to the challenge provides opportunities for pupils to make the link between increased flooding in Europe and other parts of the world, then enables pupils to explore some of the science and technologies used to help people prepare for flooding around the globe.

    The pupils are then challenged to design and make a model of a home that withstands the effects of flooding, before testing their models by standing them in water and squirting with a hose pipe!

    The real life context and hands-on nature of the challenge means that pupils have the excitement of working in teams to develop a solution to a genuine problem faced by thousands of people.

    ‘If you squidge the plastercine together more to make a base for the house, the water won’t get through as much as when we used bricks’ Yr 8 pupil Redmoor High School

    Beat the flood trialling flood

    Beat the flood competition
    For your chance to win £250 for your school and prizes for pupils – just enter your pupils’ designs and photo of their model.
    To download materials and find out more about the competition go to

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  • We’re delighted…

    July 10th, 2013

    Since the current government announced its review of the National Curriculum for schools in England, it’s been a nail-biting time for the Design and Technology community.

    At first, there was widespread uncertainty that the subject would exist in any shape or recognisable form…followed by drafts of the subject that presented concerns for many of us.

    During the formal consultation period, Practical Action along with many other organisations submitted a response to the Department for Education (DfE).

    This week the DfE has published the revised Design and Technology (D&T) programmes of study for KS1 to 3… and we’re delighted with it!

    We believe that the new D&T curriculum will offer young people opportunities to learn about the role of technology to shape and impact on people and the environment and access to real–life contexts in essential areas such as Energy, Agriculture, Construction and Engineering.

    Some highlights for us include:

    Purpose of the subject ‘Through the evaluation of past and present design and technology, pupils develop a critical understanding of its impact on daily life and the wider world’

    Key stage 3 ‘understand developments in design and technology, its impact on individuals, society and the environment, and the responsibilities of designers, engineers and technologists’

    Thank you to all of you that helped to achieve this great outcome for young people in schools in England.

    We are looking forward to supporting teachers to deliver on these new requirements.

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  • Global Dimension in Engineering Education

    June 18th, 2013

    6192European award for best practice on integration of Sustainable Human Development into technology / engineering education

    About the Global Dimension in Engineering Education project

    Global Dimension in Engineering Education, a cross-cutting initiative placing development education into technology studies is a EuropeAid project which aims to stimulate the introduction of education for development in European Universities. This project will impact positively on the attitudinal values and skills of students in relation to sustainable human development (SHD). This is being dealt with by integrating SHD as a cross-cutting issue in teaching activities through a two-fold strategy. Its first objective is to improve the competences of academics to enable them to introduce SHD into the curricula and facilitating the engagement of both staff and students in academic initiatives related to SHD.

    Objective of the award

    There is little doubt about the role that higher education may play in efforts to promote and achieve sustainable human development. One challenge is a shortage of academics actively engaged in promoting measures related to SHD in teaching activities. The objective of this award is to identify current best practice for the integration of sustainable human development in technology/engineering education. The award is part of a wider European project looking at improving the integration of human development issues into technology studies/engineering education.


    There will be 3 awards of €3.000 (before taxes). The tax will depend on each individual situation. The awarded person must be the main author of the work.

    Your submission

    Your submission will outline how sustainable human development has been integrated into the applicants teaching. The applicant’s works will be of a theoretical or applied character and can be, but not limited to, one of the following types:

    • Innovative methods for integrated SHD into the curriculum
    • Converting existing experiences in development education into technology /engineering studies.
    • Making materials for the integration of SHD available to the Academic Community.
    • Innovative methods for the support and supervision of a PhD Thesis, Master Thesis, Bachelor Thesis, or equivalent.


    • The main applicant must hold an academic post at a European University (for example if the work is the supervision of a thesis, Master Thesis it is the academic supervisor that should apply).
    •  A team can also participate: in this case the principle applicant must be an academic at a University.
    • All the participants accept the conditions of the award and the publication of the awarded works.
    •  The teachers or researchers included in the Organizing Committee, Academic Committee or in the Global Dimension in Engineering Eduction project may not participate in the award.
    • The deadline is July 18th 2013.


    • Modality one: Individual applicant or small teams with one principle applicant (for example within a department)
    • Modality two: Institutional application (university), (only one proposal per institution is accepted)

    Documents to be presented

    The candidates will fulfil an on line application form available on: 

    The on line application form will include:

    • Summary of the work (maximum 5 pages).
    • Any other relevant documents related to the work: paper, book, PhD thesis, Master Thesis
    • A short CV of the principle applicant (maximum 2 pages).
    • Covering letter.
    • Letter of reference from the university (in the case of Institutional award modality).

    Evaluation criteria
    The Academic Committee will select the best three works based on the previous evaluation of one NGO and one University institution, based on the following criteria:

    • Quality of the work, including coherence and sustainability.
    • Impact of the work on the academic activities of the European Universities. A high number of students and teachers in the institutions will be a merit for this criterion.
    • Innovation of the work, including novel educational aspects.

    Organizing and Academic Committees
    This award is organized by the Global Dimension EuropeAid project. The institutions involved in this project are:

    Universities: Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC), Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (UPV), Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM), Loughborough University, Università degil Studi di Trento (UNITN).

    NGOs: ONGAWA, Ingeniería para el Desarrollo Humano (Engineering for Human Development), Practical Action, Engineers Without Borders (EWB-UK), Training Centre for International Cooperation (TCIC).

    The Academic committee is made up of one member from each one of the institutions (Universities and NGOs) that participate in this project. These members have experience in education for development in Technological / Engineering Universities.

    Contact information

    Please, contact with any questions regarding this award.

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  • A lively debate to change D&T…

    May 16th, 2013

    A big thank you to all of you who followed up on my last email encouraging you to have your say on the proposed DfE’s draft D&T programmes of study for key stages 1-3.

    We’ve had lots of response from you thanking us for bringing the process to your attention. Many of you have shared your response with us, expressing your concerns over the proposed content.

    Since the end of the consultation period, it’s been a lively debate to follow  including, discussions in a House of Commons debate on Design and Technology with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss).

    A flavour of the discussions…

     ‘Following the national curriculum consultation period, which closed on 16 April, we are considering the responses received. We have been engaging with leading figures in industry, such as Dick Olver and Sir James Dyson, schools and academia to ensure that we have world-class design and technology education. We are also committed to providing a curriculum that ensures children receive high-quality cookery teaching and understand the importance of a healthy lifestyle.’ (Elizabeth Truss)

     ‘I congratulate my hon. Friend on the thoughtful and intelligent way she has engaged with the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Design and Technology Association, and with Dick Olver, Sir James Dyson and others, in considering the new design and technology curriculum. May I encourage her to bring forward a curriculum for the 21st century that inspires young people, particularly girls, to understand the role of science, technology and engineering in solving the real problems of the modern world, environmental, social and economic? (Peter Luff)

     Click here for the full debate – Design and Technology is under point 10.

    Our understanding from the Design and Technology Association (DATA) who have been active in campaigning for the future of the subject, is that there’s an increased air of optimism around the future content.

     ‘with the help of our members and supporters we have convinced the Government of the fundamental problems with their original draft Design and Technology programme of study and the need for a world-class alternative.’ DATA May ’13

     So watch this space..we’ll keep you updated with any progress that we hear of.

     Follow me on twitter for quicker updates @BrenHellier.


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  • Technophobe gets to grips with webinar

    My friends and work colleagues would tell you that I ‘m just not that good with technology.  I got a new phone recently and when I posted the photo to the right on my facebook account (which I have to say I am proud that I know how to do!) the comments would confirm that.

    Julie Brown and technology

    Me and technology

    So when I was asked by Think Global to present a webinar for them on ‘Integrating global learning into STEM’ I must admit my initial reaction was – what me? Really? As well as being flattered to be asked of course. The very lovely (and I have to say much younger, which i am convinced must have something to do with her less technophobic nature) Amy West convinced me it would all be fine so I took a deep breath and went for it!

    I have to admit it was not as difficult as I originally thought to set up, although that may have been because Amy did most of the work!  When the day finally came I just took a deep breath, followed instructions and off we went.  To my delight it all worked well.  In fact, more than that I got a real buzz from being part of something new. OK, so the sound quality wasn’t brilliant, but it worked and enabled me to talk to teachers I wouldn’t normally have been able to reach.  Something my friends and family will also tell you is I just love talking about Practical Action and our education work so anything that gives me a platform to do that is good by me.

    It didn’t end there however. After the event there was another technology challenge…how to share the webinar presentation with others.  There was a lot of info on the presentation I thought others might be interested in and I wanted to share it.  So with the help of colleagues here at Practical Action I learnt how to change a presentation into a YouTube video – how cool is that!

    So, I am feeling really pleased with myself for trying out new technological things and actually getting to grips with them.  Hope you enjoy the resulting video below.

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  • On my bike with Ricky…

    April 22nd, 2013

    Easter hols are over…and I’ve a nagging feeling that with less than 50 days until Ricky and I take to the streets of London for a 100km night ride…I need to step up my training.

    Nightrider Bren and Ricky

    I’ve started in the past two days biking to’s only a 8 mile journey…a comparable distance to the journey made by women and children on a daily basis to collect water in Northern Kenya.

    I’m feeling a little daunted by the prospect of cycling 100km through London at night with Ricky (the puppet above)…but keep reminding myself it’s a small price to pay to make a difference to the lives of people who Practical Action work with.

    • £250 could pay for early warning systems’ equipment, such as hand operated sirens and megaphones, needed for a community to give people sufficient warning to move their families and livestock to safety.
    • £1540 could pay for the construction of a shallow well.
    • £2000 could pay for a putting a solar pump into action.

    Please donate as much as you can – I promise it will go to a great cause.

    Any training tips are welcome…and better still if anyone would like to join us…we’re signed up to leave from Alexendra Palace at 23.00 on the 8th June.

    Thanks in advance for your support.

    Best wishes,

    Bren and Ricky x

    PS. Ricky has been kindly donated to us from Millgate House Education..find out more about what Ricky’s been up to with Practical Action on his blog.


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  • Just back from the Geography Association Conference…

    April 8th, 2013

    We’ve just spent three days at the GA conference at Derby University and are feeling inspired!

    It’s the first time since we’ve added a Geography section to our schools website that Practical Action has exhibited at the conference and we’ll definitely be going again.

    We’ve been impressed by the enthusiasm of teachers, lecturers and HMI who came to the conference during their Easter holiday to attend workshops and the exhibition to update themselves on the future of Geography.

    We were there to launch our new EuropAfrica education materials…offering a broad range of activities for 11-16 year old students on small scale family farming systems in Africa. Lots of teachers we met seemed enthused by the case studies and and in particular the Shamba Shape Up activities with an opportunity to develop a TV script based on a real life TV series.

    We’re looking forward to hearing from schools over the next year about how the materials have been used.

    Our new Floating Garden Challenge based on climate change and flooding was really well received too.

    We’re looking forward to a new chapter of keeping Geographers updated with developments at Practical Action.

    GA conf 2013 001


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  • Have your say in DfE plans for the D&T curriculum…



    At Practical Action, we’re concerned about the DfE’s proposed content for the key stage 1-3 programme of study for Design and Technology, and are urging you all to take part in the consultation over the future of the subject.

    We’ve seen at first hand pupils engaged with contextualised designing and developing products, debating the impacts of their choice of technologies on people and the environment – all in pursuit of meeting real human needs.

    At a time, when as we face huge global challenges of climate change and economic crisis…it seems ironic that the proposed Design and Technology curriculum seems more fitting to life in the 1950s, covering home maintenance and horticulture.

    I’ve recently commented on design proposals from a student developing her ideas for emergency shelters for post disaster contexts in earthquake prone regions. Her specifications were fantastic reflecting consideration about the cultural and environmental appropriateness of her choice of materials.

    I can’t help but feeling that we’ll deny future generations a chance to feel they can make a real difference to the world if we adopt Gove’s proposals.

    If you’re as passionate about the future of the subject – please read the proposed D&T programme of study in the National Curriculum Framework pages 156-160 and make your response by the 16th April 2013.

    You can download a consultation response form or respond on line here.

    Thank you.


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  • #ASEconf13…the place to be

    I love the ASE conference.  Every year before I have time to get stuck back into my ’real’  job after Christmas I am lucky enough to spend a few days chatting to enthusiastic teachers and others involved in science education about Practical Action’s  Education work.  I also get the chance to find out what else is going on in science education.

    This year we were promoting our new STEM challenge. The Floating Garden Challenge is based on our work in Bangladesh where we show communities how to build huge rafts to grow their crops on.  Students have to think about the problem themselves first…that farmers crops get ruined by floods… then design and build a model solution.  Teachers and other educators were quick to see the value of the science behind the challenge as well as all the other great cross curricular links, including how it could lead to some great outdoor activities that there seems to be a move towards this year.

    For me there is nothing more motivating than when colleagues tell you how teachers and students really enjoyed using your material and Liz Lister from Graphic Science ( aka @scarycurlgirl) got the prize for being the most enthusiastic!!  

    ‘I  really really love the squashed tomato challenge’

    Was the first thing she said to me as she rushed over.  I had to promise to send her a pile of our floating garden posters before she would leave the stand!!

    Julei Brown from Practical Action with Ricky from Millgate HouseRenewing and deepening relationships is also a real bonus of the conference.  I know some people have been coming for years and real friendships have developed as a result.  For me one of the highlights of the conference was getting back in touch with friends from Millgate House.  By the end of the conference we had hatched a plan to work together on some resources for a new project called ‘Make the Link’, which aims to embed issues around  Technology Justice in Science and  D & T teaching in Europe. The staff at Millgate House even trusted me enough to give me a member of their team to look after.  Ricky is a bit of an adventurer and we are hoping to arrange a trip to Kenya for him to visit some of Practical Action’s great projects there this year.  

    As it is the ASE’s 50th anniversary this year they will be holding an extra ASE conference in the summer on 27th and 28th June as a summer celebration .  I have already got our place booked and can only recommend you do the same…hope to see you there.

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