The Guardian newspaper has featured an e-learning programme developed by Learning Light which is helping people in Nigeria to recycle electrical and electronic waste safely.
An article by Louise Tickle, published in the Education Guardian on 12th October (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/oct/12/electronic-waste-recycling), explained that people in developing countries who make a living scavenging the dumps of electronic equipment thrown away by the first world face daily hazards most of us never consider. Recycling our waste electrical items is a dirty job, and those who do it are among the poorest and least educated in the world.
Some of simple processes used to recycle this waste release carcinogenic chemicals. The crude break-up of electrical items can cause heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, to leak into the soil and the water table – where they are taken up by plants, ingested by animals and, eventually, accumulate in humans. Even when electronic equipment is certified as safe for re-use and exported legally, the thousands of manual workers who dismantle it are still unlikely to have had any training in how to handle it safely.
This challenge has been taken up by Professor Oladele Osibanjo, director of the Basel Convention Coordinating Centre For Training and Technology Transfer for the African Region. In looking for suitable flexible and accessible learning materials, Osibanjo, based in Lagos, Nigeria, is using e-learning materials created by Learning Light, in combination with face-to-face workshops led by Dr Margaret Bates from Northampton University’s Centre for Sustainable Wastes Management.
Learning Light, a company limited by guarantee which focuses on promoting the use of e- learning and learning technologies, initially developed these learning materials for use among prisoners in the UK – allowing them to learn a skill and gain a nationally recognised qualification and thus reduce the chance of their re-offending.
Covering various aspects of waste recycling operations, the Learning Light e-learning programmes deal with disassembling electrical equipment – from sewing machines to LCD televisions – in the most environmentally-friendly way and concentrate on the requirements of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive).
Those who complete these e-learning programmes have the knowledge and skills to disassemble electrical equipment – such as old personal computers – and break down this equipment into its constituent parts safely. These parts can then be recycled and, depending on the costs of copper, plastic and so on, can produce an income for the ‘disassembler’.
Delivered in discrete online units which require no reading or writing by the learners, Learning Light’s teaching units are loaded onto a computer or, where broadband services are available, accessed online. The programmes use strong visual and oral prompts that translate easily from a UK context to a Nigerian classroom.
“This programme is not only playing a part in giving learners valuable skills which can earn them an income, but it is helping to train more people to adopt a more environmentally friendly approach to disposing of electronic and electrical waste,” said Learning Light’s operations director, David Patterson.
He added: “Hundreds of people make their living from looking for precious metal components for recycling within the e-waste, burning the waste to get to them and this releases carcinogenic substances. They are literally killing themselves to get to the ’usable‘ bits from the e-waste. So, on a number of levels, we feel that it’s important to contribute to these workshops. Not only can we train these e-waste workers how to dismantle this equipment at minimum risk to themselves but we can also reduce the amount of this waste going to landfill and improve recovery and recycling rates – thus helping the environment.”
Comment: It is extremely rare for a national newspaper in the UK to feature e-learning programmes developed by the corporate sector. In this case, these programmes are both remarkable and rare in the sense that they are being successful in meeting a pressing need for developing knowledge and skills in different cultures (UK prisoners and Nigerian e-waste workers) which should help to reduce the impact on the environment of recycling electrical goods and equipment. Surely this is a ‘win win’ in e-learning terms if ever there was one.