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How can digital technology support gender equality in the MENA Region?

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photo: UNIDO

In line with the European Development Days 2019’s overarching title ‘Addressing inequalities: building a world which leaves no one behind’, UNIDO organized a LAB Debate on 19th of June on “How can digital technology support gender equality in the MENA region?”, in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UN Women.  Tackling gender inequality is an intricate and lengthy process, but digital technology can help fast-track progress. Digital transformation gives women the possibility to access finance, integrate into national and even regional and global value chains, as well as access knowledge. Although bridging the digital gender divide cannot solve all the challenges that women in the MENA region face, it carries significant potential towards gender equality.

“Now is the time to upgrade the engagement model and move from enablement to the power of role models to unlock the full potential of the talented women of the MENA region”, said Ms. Liat Shentser, Director of Systems Engineering Sales at Cisco Systems International.

Moderated by Ms. Monica Carcò, Chief, Rural Entrepreneurship, Job Creation and Human Security Division, the session discussed and showcased i) how can policy and regulation best optimize incentives for market players to innovate, compete and invest along gender-sensitive technologies in the MENA, ii) the role of ICTs in facilitating women integration in value chains and iii) the type of partnerships that have proven effective in engaging women both as consumers and producers of digital technologies. Ms. Carcò said, “To support women-led businesses in taking full advantage of ICT, well-informed programs and policies addressing their specific challenges and needs are a prerequisite. To this end, UNIDO is soon to launch a survey on women entrepreneurs’ access to and use of ICT and digital technology in the MENA region.”

The insightful panel discussions resulted with numerous recommendations, including the necessity for well-informed policies, data collection and monitoring of created impact. Equally important,  making women part of the decision making process, having more investments in technologies that are targeting women, and promoting women role models, particularly those in middle to top management positions, will  play a significant role in limiting the gender-blind approach in innovation.  Finally, designing and building up impact-driven public private partnerships remain a key enabling modality to deliver concrete results.

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New global platform to keep information networks ‘safer, stronger’ throughout COVID-19 pandemic

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The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) launched a new platform on Monday to help global networks under increasing strain and facing rising demand during the COVID-19 crisis to remain “safer, stronger and more connected”, according to the specialized agency’s chief.

“The new platform will assist governments and the private sector in ensuring that networks are kept resilient and telecommunication services are available to all”, said ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao.

Telecommunication networks have never before been as vital to “our health and safety, and to keep our economy and society working” as they are during the current crisis, where millions are being encouraged to stay put at home, the ITU chief maintained.

He has asked instructed his team to “leverage without any delay” the new platform in aid of existing networks “to help countries and industry cope with the increasing stress being put on global networks”.

“At stake is our ability, as one human family, to give health workers everywhere, the tools they need to carry out their duties, to allow all those that can to work from home, to trade online, to ensure that hundreds of millions of children and young people keep up with their studies, and to keep in touch with loved ones, wherever they are”, he detailed. 

The Global Network Resiliency Platform will also share best practices and initiatives that have been put in place during the COVID-19 crisis to ensure that telecommunication services are available to the maximum extent possible. 
Moreover, the portal will collect relevant information and expertise on actions that telecommunication policymakers and others in the regulatory community can use to ensure that their networks serve their country’s needs.

‘Relevant and trustworthy’ information

“This new ITU platform will provide countries struggling to find appropriate solutions to ensure their networks’ resiliency with relevant and trustworthy information and expertise on how to cope with the stresses faced by their infrastructure”, assured the agency chief. 

“And because time is of the essence, it will give those countries that still have time to prepare an opportunity to learn from what is being done elsewhere – from emergency spectrum reassignments to guidelines for consumers on responsible use”. 

Serving initially as an informative tool, the portal will soon be expanded to provide an interactive and engaging platform for continuous sharing throughout the pandemic and beyond.

“The crisis we are in today calls for solidarity”, he spelled out. “In these uncertain times, we should not forget all those around the world who still lack access to the Internet”.

ITU has long promoted universal, reliable and affordable connectivity, and will continue to push on all these fronts and advocate until everyone is connected.

“I call on all ITU members, from the public and private sector alike, to come together to build the best platform we can so that information and communication technology can help defeat COVID-19 and make us safer, stronger and more connected”, concluded the Secretary-General.

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The Influence of Artificial Intelligence on Future Education

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The way people receive and consume news and entertainment has changed drastically nowadays with features such as personalized content coming into play. Other technologies have also changed the entire ball game regarding content creation and distribution. 

Although this subset of AI seemed to thrive, the growth was quite stagnant in the education industry, but not of late. There are many applications of AI in the education industry that have transformed the perspective of many students by enabling smart learning.

So, how has AI changed the education industry and what is the future in this? Here is the influence of Artificial Intelligence on future education:

Smart educational content

Smart educational content is a technique that is still emerging in most countries which entails digitalizing the curriculum. When that curriculum is available on digital platforms, it becomes more interactive and beneficial to the students. For example, AI systems are used to make textbook content much more comprehensible and easy to navigate. 

AI can also categorize the contents of the curriculum and group it efficiently together for easier reference in the classroom. The content entailed by the curriculum that can be categorized by AI-powered programs could range from videos, audio, and eBooks. 

These systems are currently being developed to cater for all ages and educational levels. In that way, education and AI cooperate to make things easier for students without threatening the jobs of teachers.

Aiding teachers

Teachers don’t only teach but they have a lot of other administrative work to do that could easily wear them down. That doesn’t only affect their productivity but it also impacts the performance of the classes they teach. To solve that problem for teachers, AI systems have been specifically designed to give teachers a lighter workload. 

Some systems help teachers grade their papers and prepare lesson plans for them. AI systems can now grade multiple choice questions and hopefully, in the near future, machine learning will enable it to take on more complex answers. 

The next development teachers are looking forward to concerning lightening their administrative workload is processing enrollment processes. 

Online writing agencies that provide assignment help for Aussies are already using AI systems to organize their processes better. Segregating the work orders, processing the writing orders and AI-enabled live chats are some of the examples of the techniques they have already incorporated.

Personalized learning       

Most probably, you have used the personalized recommendations on Netflix or YouTube to get the content you like and prefer. Students can have the same luxury now and get a personalized learning experience. AI systems can spot the areas where the students lag behind and tries to create an easier learning process for them.

Teachers can also know exactly where to focus and how to deliver the content they have prepared. There are also AI tutoring systems that help students suffering in some subjects get the help they need. The latter programs give instantaneous feedback and work with students directly so they can improve their grades.

Creating teaching content

Teachers should prepare engaging content to try and excite the class while he teaches. Otherwise, students will be bored and doze off. To combat that, teachers try to arrange interactive games and quizzes to try and get the class fully engaged. That helps students perform really well and excel over their peers that didn’t have exposure to this style of teaching. 

Although that may be great for students, the teachers may bear the full brunt of this development in their teaching method.

To cut down the expenses and the time spent trying to create quizzes, teachers can leave that to AI-powered programs to prepare the material they will use. These programs create the quizzes and games for the teachers them additional free time.

Connecting students globally

Technology has been well-known to connect different people who may even live on either side of the planet. That can be very useful for students all around the world for easier communication and sharing of ideas. Some platforms currently cater to certain universities and students globally and it allows them to study together. 

AI comes in handy to sort the data provided by the different students logging into the platform. For example, classes may need to be sorted by curriculum and directed to the relevant portal. 

AI serves that purpose and can control access to the platforms that are being used by those students globally. The use of AI in this capacity is still under construction and needs to be fine-tuned for optimum performance. 

Final thoughts

AI and education definitely go hand in hand and its collaboration has proved very effective for students and teachers. The latter can get administrative help through systems that grade papers and prepare lesson plans. While students can enjoy getting a personalized learning experience that enables students to perform better. 

Digital classrooms are also possible due to AI and students can enjoy accessing these platforms due to this technology. These are just a few examples of how AI has collaborated with the education industry and there are many more.

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UNIDO looks at how to assess value chain readiness to adopt blockchain technology

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The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)  is piloting methodology to assess the readiness of a value chain to adopt blockchain technology. The Global Quality and Standards Project (GQSP) in Ghana, funded by the Swiss State Secretariat of Economic Affairs (SECO) and implemented in partnership with SIM (Supply Chain Information Management B.V.), looks into  methodology that aims to advise developing countries willing to enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the challenges and benefits of adopting blockchain technology in a specific value chain.

A fact-finding mission has piloted the methodology in the Ghanaian cocoa value chain and has provided recommendations for the adoption of the technology.

“Blockchain technology is aimed at securely storing and sharing information on transactions across a network of users, and can serve to improve proof of integrity along the value chain, including quality attributes, and environmental and social compliance to standards. One of the biggest benefits is its shared nature, whereby key data transactions validated in a given point of the supply chain can be monitored at any point in time,” said Juan Pablo Davila, UNIDO Project Manager.

“Blockchain is able to provide real time, accurate and complete interconnected data on provenance, quality, safety, transportation, certification and product ingredients from farm to end consumer,” Davila added.

UNIDO officials, experts on blockchain and a European retailer took part in the mission. It included visits to the cocoa value chain stakeholders to map and understand their risks and key transactions, and to identify their readiness for the adoption of the technology. The visited stakeholders included key actors in the value chain that participate in a transaction and generate validated data. These include farmers, primary producers, cooperatives, transporters, warehouses, the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Licensed Buying Companies (LBC), Quality Control Company (QCC) and the Cocoa Marketing Company (CMC), Cocoa Research Institute (CRIG), Cocoa Health and Extension Department (CHED).

European retailers and chocolate producers in developed countries are interested to ensure the sustainable provenance of ingredients, and to make sure premiums given for sustainable certified and high-quality compliant cocoa reaches the right farmers, thus contributing to their living wage and income. 

SIM has worked with over 30 European retailers and producers in making supply chains transparent, and collect and validate data they can use to continuously improve their sustainability impact where it is most needed. They joined UNIDO on this fact-finding mission:

“The aim of our blockchain projects is to have a positive impact and focus on the first mile, the smallholder farmers, their communities and environment. During the fact-finding mission, all actors in the Ghanaian cocoa supply chain warmly welcomed us. With this mission and project we hope to be of added value and can build on existing initiatives and taking the next step to empower cocoa farmers, democratize data, increase digital traceability and meeting growing market demands on transparency and sustainability,” said Leontien Hasselman, CEO of SIM.

 “The results of the methodology is the first milestone for the application of blockchain in the cocoa value chain in Ghana. It will lay down the foundation for the next steps of its implementation.,” said Safoa Osei, GQSP Ghana Chief Technical Advisor.

UNIDO has been providing technical assistance in Ghana with the support of SECO for more than 12 years. The Trade Capacity Building Project (TCB/2007-2018) provided opportunities to enhance Ghana’s quality infrastructure systems and expand the exports of Ghanaian products, including cocoa. The GQSP Ghana builds up on the results of the TCB project and continues to support the strengthening of the quality of the cocoa, cashew and oil palm value chains.

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