Cooperation with EAWAG in the short-course program

For more than a year we have been busy lecturing EAWAG‘s MOOC series “Sanitation, Water and Solid Waste for Development”, in parallel we also translated the course material into Portuguese. With three training sessions done and the translations now complete, we take the time to tell you about the whole process. 

The content

EAWAG‘s Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) series include very high-quality training materials, specifically developed for the context of developing countries. What I particularly enjoy in the series is that is goes (far) beyond two classic mistakes when we discuss Engineering for developing countries in Europe: developing countries do not need “cheap” technologies, they need technologies that work; it’s not all about technology: management, stakeholder involvement, clear planning and design process, legislation, gender aspects, regulation and economic aspects are equally, if not more, important. The series include the following topics:

From the list it’s easy to understand that the series goes another step forward: planning of public services, i.e. water supply, sanitation, and solid-waste management, at city-wide level should be made holistically. Therefore, students, technicians and decision makers who follow the four courses will be able to support sound decision making at city-wide level.

As I mentioned already, the quality of the materials is world-class and I feel very privileged to be involved in this process.

The translation

Translating and building the courses on Moodle was made by our colleagues at DDL – Delft Digital Learning, under the coordination of Elsa Oliveira. You can now follow the courses, in Portuguese, at Coursera. Enjoy!

Our approach

Within ZAMADZI, for our short-course program (first and second editions), we made the conscious decision of not creating new content but using available material, from our Mozambican and Dutch partners, adapted as much as possible to the Mozambican context. This includes courses by TU Delft, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Wageningen University and Research, IHE Delft, and Mozambican consultancy firm Salomon. By using already available training materials we are assuring maximum quality at a lower cost as we minimize preparation and development time. This was also the approach for the EAWAG’s MOOCs.

We have already given the course on “Planning and Design of Sanitation Systems and Technologies” three times: the first one in Maputo at Universidade Eduardo Mondlane; the second one in Vilankulo at ESUDER; and the third one in Beira at FCT, one month ago. We squeeze the five weeks into five days which means that the sessions are long and intense and require a lot of stamina from the participants.

Drainage infrastructure in Beira.

Something that our project partners struggle with is fast and steady internet access, especially in the areas where the project is based, far from the capital city Maputo. This means that using the platforms (Coursera and YouTube) where the materials are offered is not an option. We thus opted for acquiring and installing high-quality ICT platforms (servers, local-area networks, and computers whenever necessary) and deploy local versions of the open-source learning platform Moodle. Another attention point is the relative knowledge of English that most people have in the country, which meant that translating the materials was of the utmost importance.

In the classroom we let the movies do most of the work and our role is that of contextualizing the content and adapting it to the context of Maputo, by leading open discussions and defining assignments. For this we have been trying to exploit different teaching approaches such as:

  • Presentations given by the students (e.g. sanitary condition in the community; sanitation system in place at his or her place);
  • Group assignments (e.g. in-depth study of a relevant document, such as IWA’s Sanitation 21);
  • Role-play (e.g. pitch of a sanitation start-up to members of community, donours and government institutions, played by the students); and
  • Home individual home assignments (e.g. a shit-flow diagram).

We also try, as much as possible to test new assignments and new approaches in each edition to have an idea of which produce the best results in terms of student engagement and content uptake. In the last edition, in Beira, the role play session was extremely well received and the students had the opportunity of applying all the knowledge acquired, blend it with their (informal) knowledge of (public) institutions and lead a mock pitch sessions where one group presented a sanitation enterprise.

There is still some work left in Beira after Idai.

In the course “Planning and Design of Sanitation Systems and Technologies”, in addition to the films made by EAWAG, we also present and discuss innovative start-ups active in the sanitation sector across Africa such as Clean Team (Ghana), Sanivation (Kenya) and Sanergy (Kenya). These case studies are very relevant and bridge the gap between the materials taught during the sessions and the activities of entrepreneurs to tackle the complex issue of delivering sustainable, inclusive and adequate sanitation services.

Finally, we always allow one of the days to be allocated for a field visit and this is, in general, one of the most enjoyed activities of the week. For the course on “Planning and Design of Sanitation Systems and Technologies” this is usually the third day, after the general introduction and thorough discussions around Sanitation products, Functional groups and other key concepts. In Maputo (the first edition) we visited the wastewater treatment plant, which is also the designated location to discharge fecal sludge; the sewer pumping stations, which we covered extensively in another project, and sanitary blocks and latrines built by NGOs in coordination with the Municipality of Maputo. In Vilankulo (the second edition) we had an eye-opening visit to the dumpsite. Finally, in Beira (the third edition), our visit took us to the recent and noteworthy urban drainage infrastructure and to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Our experience

The feedback from these three sessions, with almost 60 participants in total has been very positive. I am including a graph obtained with the survey made to the students (15 respondents) of the last training sessions. Given the overall feedback, we believe that we made the right decision in offering these materials.

Satisfaction on the latest edition of the course on Planning and design of sanitation systems and technologies.

For the particular case of “Planning and Design of Sanitation Systems and Technologies” the materials are not entirely new to our students. All of them have a deep and practical understanding of what a latrine is, how it is built and maintained, what should (and should not) go into it, how the sludge is (almost always) mismanaged, and what are the health and environmental impact of these actions. However, the added value of the course lies in offering a systematic knowledge and vocabulary, together with valuable assessment tools – the morning where we produce the Shit-flow diagram is always one of the most participated – that gives the students the tools to better assess and engage in discussions about sanitation planning.

The challenges

On of the biggest challenges to delivering these courses in Mozambique, using clips hosted in remote servers, is access to the internet. Despite good quality data bundles being available in Mozambique, this is still expensive for the average user and a student can easily need in excess of 4 GB of data to watch a single MOOC. This greatly limits accessing the training materials from home. For example, in the last two editions (Vilankulo and Beira) Moodle was not available at the institution and the internet signal was not strong enough. Thus, we had the need to project the movies on the wall from a Moodle cloud account using 4G mobile data. This is not optimal as most students don’t get access to the materials after the contact sessions but, for now, is all we could guarantee. We expect that this situation improves once the ICT infrastructure is up and running at all institutions.

Another point of attention is the fact that the students miss part of the content because it is subtitled. Subtitles are a good compromise in adapting training materials as the process becomes cheaper and faster when compared to dubbing. However, it is more difficult to convey more complex information (e.g. diagrams) when a slide is subtitled: it is difficult to focus on the subtitles all the while making sense of a diagram that is written in English; for someone with little command of the language, this is a very difficult assignment. This requires an active role on the side of the lecturer in the room and, as with internet access, it is a hurdle for at home self-study.

The wastewater treatment plant in Beira: UASB (not depicted) are followed by trickling filters (left) and then by clarifiers.The place is also a prime location for bird watching.

The way forward

At the end of the year we will be offering the course on Fecal sludge management in Chimoio and, for another project, the two courses on “Municipal Solid Waste Management in Developing Countries” and “Introduction to Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage” at Young Africa, in Beira.

As I mentioned above we are also in the process of deploying the necessary infrastructure to run the courses offline at each institution, something that we expect to finalize this year. This means that for 2020 we can plan re-run of the courses offline and, this time, using staff of each institution as lecturers.

Until now we have targeted staff of the project institutions, following a train-the-trainers approach. However, for the coming year, the main objective will be that of targeting staff of the (local) government and of the Municipalities to participate.


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