How Open Source Learning Helps Us All Achieve Industrial Revolution 4.0, SDG by SDG

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Connected Conference OpenLMS

An ongoing LMSPulse guide for aspiring Open EdTech doers, entrepreneurs and advocates.

Last updated: July 29th, 2019

Many of us in the Open Source EdTech world have at least some idea of its global importance. We can find most of these global issues in the 17 UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It’s a good —not perfect— way to communicate and collaborate over specific scopes. The EdTech world seems keen to contribute to SDG 4, Quality Education, almost to the disregard of the rest.

But that would be wrong for several reasons.

  • First, and hopefully the most obvious reason, education is transversal to all. If tackling each of the SDGs requires new mindsets, skills, tools and competencies linked to those new tools, we need education (and EdTech) as part of each G.
  • Focusing exclusively on education, or any one SDG for that matter, can limit the effective progress on the others, if not stymie them altogether.
  • Despite the vast resources, there is still a massive information shortage regarding SDGs, even in education. Most people are unaware of what the goals mean in practice, what initiatives are in place and how they have fared, and perhaps more importantly what an individual can do in their daily routine or workflow to contribute.
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Open Source EdTech Initiatives

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An Open Source prerogative

Many of us would agree with the arguments bulleted above. However, ideas about Open Source technologies as good for SDGs, if not flat-out crucial, have yet to catch on. Some initiatives are trying to curb that. (See “More resources” at the end of this article.) But a common finding is that they are afterthoughts or short-lived.

It’s important to point out that Open Source (and Open Data) is not limited to software. Computational technologies do have an increasing role on each area of global development. But other fields and disciplines also have an alternative, “open” paradigm. We have everything from Open Hardware to Open Businesses and Open Governments. If it gives us freedom to act, be more effective and make better choices, it’s worth mentioning.

Furthermore, I cannot think of other paradigms that would make it as easy for humanity to quickly act upon good ideas and findings. The collective use of Open resources will enable new practices, society-wide:

  • Open Curricula
  • Open LMS Data and Analytics Systems
  • Open Evidence Gathering Methods
  • Open Reproducibility
  • Open Sustainability Models (including Business Models)
  • Open Political Activism
  • Open Personal\Professional Development and Competency Roadmaps
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LMSPulse Open SDG Tracker, v1.0

In the first version of our initiative, we will attempt to compile interesting or otherwise noteworthy initiatives tied to each SDG that include an open source and a learning or education element to it, or at least have the potential to do so.

A question we asked recurrently, and will continue to do so, is “How can the Open LMS help?” The scope of this question could expand to include learning technologies as a whole.

Hopefully this will become a resource for your upcoming project planning and management; and a resource worth updating! Share interesting initiatives to include here with us.

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SDG1 — End of Poverty

Measured by: Population below national and international poverty lines; Population covered by social protection systems; Population with access to basic services

The Open EdTech Play: For people in conditions to work, Open EdTech can equip them with enough income-generating skills.

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SDG2 — End of Hunger

Measured by: Prevalence of undernourishment and malnutrition; Prevalence of food insecurity; Prevalence of Stunting; Agricultural productivity

The Open EdTech Play: Make skills related to food security and agriculture more accessible; increase competencies regarding nutrition and evidence on its relationship with social and economic development.

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SDG3 — Good Health & Well-Being

Measured by: Maternal and child mortality rates; Incidence of specific preventable diseases, infections and fatalities; Suicide rate; Substance abuse rate; Coverage of health services

The Open EdTech Play: Besides helping spread awareness of good habits and practices, learning apps have an increasing role to play in issues related to self esteem and social relationships. Furthermore, technologies that help reduce the time a mother spends away from her young children can have enduring effects on the familial well being.

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SDG4 — Quality Education

Measured by: Basic school or “organized learning” enrollment; Availability of qualified teachers; Parity and adherence to expected developmental and psychosocial tracks; Extent of mainstream awareness of “global citizen and sustainable development education”; Coverage of education services; Internet access

The Open EdTech Play: As expected, Education is crucial in itself, and as the most effective method to spread practical awareness about all the SDGs. It is interesting to point out that “global citizen and sustainable development education” is one of the metrics to evaluate SDG4. It reinforces the idea of interdependence between the goals.


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SDG5 — Gender Equality

Measured by: Existence of legal frameworks for equality; Incidence of sexual and domestic violence; Share of women on positions of corporate, social and government leadership.

The Open EdTech Play: Similar methods to ensure a content is compliant with accessibility of specific requirements could be fashioned to ensure materials promote gender equality early on.

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SDG6 — Clean Water & Sanitation

Measured by: Proportion of population using safely managed drinking water; Wastewater treatment coverage; Water-use efficiency; Levels of water stress; Coverage of water treatment and sanitation services

The Open EdTech Play: Environmental mapping, including the use of license-free satellite imagery, can help keep track of bodies of water and their safety for human consumption and use. (See “More Resources”)

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SDG7 — Affordable & Clean Energy

Measured by: Proportion of population with access to electricity; Primary reliance on fossil fuels; Share of renewable energies in total final consumption; Energy intensity; R&D in renewable energy production and efficiency

The Open EdTech Play: It is interesting to note that this is only of the few SDGs including a specific R&D expenditure goal. In any case, if the R&D findings are not widely open, the global ability to deliver on them is thwarted.

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SDG8 — Sustainable and Inclusive Economic Growth, Development & Employment

Measured by: Annual growth or real GDP per capita; Human environmental footprint; Average hourly earnings; Unemployment rate; Child labor rate

The Open EdTech Play: Under the perspective of workplace and compliance training, LMS form the basis of effective learning strategies that can verifiably measure the effect of training on the bottom line, accounting for basic worker welfare standards.

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SDG9 — ‘III’

Possibly the most controversial of the SDGs, the “Three ‘I’s” stand for Industrialization, Innovation and Infrastructure.

Measured by: Value added as a share of GDP; R&D budgets as a share of total expenditures; Proportion of researchers among the population; Share of medium and high-tech industry value added; Digital communications coverage; All-season roads coverage

The Open EdTech Play: Educators have an essential role to play in bringing the world’s population onto the Industry 4.0 paradigm. It is the only way to ensure wealth is shared more evenly for years to come, and that funds are broadly available for initiatives targeting the rest of the Gs.

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SDG10 — Reduced Inequalities

Measured by: Bottom 40% household income growth; Incidence of discrimination; Labor share of GDP; Cost of remittances

The Open EdTech Play: Here they could play on a similar way to the previous one, perhaps with a stronger emphasis on the openness as a way to ensure universal access to tools, data and resources.

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SDG11 — Sustainable Cities & Communities

Measured by: Proportion of urban population living in inadequate housing; Access to public transport; Relative land consumption rate; ; Coverage of waste collection systems

The Open EdTech Play: Or shall we say, Open Smart City play? Discussions about the role of private intellectual property in urban development deserve a lot more attention in an upcoming 5G world.

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SDG12 — More Responsible Consumption & Production

Measured by: Material footprints, absolute and per capita; Food loss and waste index; Treatment of hazardous waste; National recycling rates; Fossil fuel subsidies as a share of GDP or total fuel expenditures

The Open EdTech Play: More ambitious and ubiquitous or local technologies can tackle consumer habits towards more conscious consumption.

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SDG13 — Climate Action

Measured by: Number of plans formulated, adopted and communicated; Funds devoted to carry out said plans

The Open EdTech Play: Not enough look is given into the climate change aspects of formal education, and their reduction by means of online learning. Further research into reduction of emissions by reducing student commutes could be interesting.

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SDG14 — Better Life Below Water

Measured by: Coastal eutrophication index; Plastic debris density; Average marine acidity; R&D budgets allocated

The Open EdTech Play: For this and the next one, sustainable tourism plays a key role to bring awareness of issues that the increasingly urban population is not aware of. For this, applications that facilitate tourism and travel logistics and also emphasize its educational aspects could prove critical, not to mention its potential profitability.

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SDG15 — Better Life On Land

Measured by: Forest area as a share of total land; Land degradation index; Mountain Green Cover Index; Proportion of illicitly poached and traded wildlife

The Open EdTech Play: A number of gamified, geo-location methods of interaction could have interesting educational outcomes. Furthermore, they could also lead to citizen science initiatives.

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SDG16 — Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions

Measured by: Conflict-related deaths by 100,000 inhabitants; Neighborhood safety confidence index; Share of physical punishment experienced by children from their caregivers; Victims of human trafficking; Victim reporting rate; Total value of illicit financial flows, absolute and relative; Incidence of bribery; Satisfaction with public services and officers

The Open EdTech Play: If Open Source initiative across the Gs help bring transparency, awareness and education to the world, they should be reflected here.

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SDG17 — Partnerships for the SDGs

Measured by: Government revenues; Level of debt service; Worldwide weighted tariff average; Global trade imbalances; SDG fulfillment efficacy; Total SDG indicator completion

The Open EdTech Play: While we come from a place of individual autonomy and self-sufficiency, it is undeniable that Open Source EdTech advocacy organizations and communities play an essential role in transforming mindsets and advancing solutions towards more people. It is clear that Open Source deserves a lot more global recognition than it currently gets.

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The notoriously imperfect SGDs

Don’t let the following issues become an excuse for inaction. But don’t let an uninformed drive to move forward allow you to ignore the many issues affecting them.

You can easily find and endless stream of issues with the SDGs. Some of them are obvious, meaning they are expected objections for such kind of grandiose initiative, especially for those without a proper education about how the SDGs are supposed to work in practice. Other are more pedantic and focus on the terms of phrasing. They don’t deserve attention. (Nevertheless, it is curiously how certain terms, like “freedom,” “democracy” or “artificial intelligence” are conspicuously absent from the titles.)

Other types of criticisms allude to their “materialistic” nature and how little system reform they promote. While fodder for important discussions, it should be clear that as the creation of multilateral entities that reflects global and regional powers, and reigning models of economic and social organization, SDGs simply cannot be expected to deliver on more radical outcomes. The UN is not a dictatorship-fighting entity.

A fair question when looking into the SDGs is how much are they outcome-based, as opposed to involve on processes. Many criticize certain goals and measurements under the implicit assumption that they should be met at any costs, even to the disregard of other SDGs. This clearly conflicts with their spirit. In fact, it is obvious that certain means towards a given “G” are restrained by the presence of one or many of the others. At the end of the day, they should be understood as “Goals,” despite the UN’s conflicting statements, often calling the SDGs a “plan” or “blueprint.” They may not tell you how to achieve them, in fact It is probably better that they do not. But in conjunction they do make it clear how you should not.

Some, fairer criticisms follow:

  • Too broad-too narrow, or too general-too specific. At risk of failing into the “pedantic criticism” camp, there seems to be some epistemological inconsistency between goals. This is probably due to the hundreds of actors involved in their creation.
  • The data and tracking systems are poorly implemented. It is impossible to figure out essential SDGs questions, starting with how much progress has there been in a reasonable update time frame, which is currently yearly and delayed. Nobody knows how or where most of the progress (or setbacks) took place, nor by whom.
  • Questionable baselines. It is difficult to assess and attain progress the goals without a clear starting point. And then there’s the issue of global versus local averages, and whether each country is responsible for its own fulfillment of SDGs.
  • Complicated indicators. When a given G has too many indicators, it becomes the more unclear whether the goal is being accomplished by helping to one or all of them.
  • Issues of efficacy. The SDGs do not focus on ways that would reward or promote a more effective use of resources in accomplishing those goals.
  • Realism. These Goals are expected to be accomplish within the next decade. While laudable, the reality is that the very definition of the SDGs took some 20 years to agree on. This despite another common criticism, related to the first item, where many SDGs provide too low a standard.
  • Missing Gs. Put another way, how comprehensive are SDGs meant to be? They are said to reflect the “most pressing global challenges.” But it is not difficult to suspect that there could be more.
  • SDGs Education and Agency. Back to beginning, and partly a reason of our project at LMSPulse. Disinformation, especially on practical issues, is widespread. If the message is to invite us to take it upon ourselves to figure them out, then perhaps those should be the lessons to spread far and wide. This links to the question of who the SDGs are supposed to empower, or whose actions are they supposed to inform. The communications surround them.

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More resources

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‘Ripples’, Resources & References

7 Responses

  1. Thank you, quit some stuff to process and review. For one of my workshops I created an interactive mindmap of the 17 goals that you can expand/collapse to see the underlying 169 targets. You can search for text and see immediately where your search string can be found (official texts used). Feel free to use, download etc

  2. Thanks to you Pieter, what an amazing contribution! We will be sure to spread your valuable work with our community.

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