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Laboratory for Smart Cities: Indian experiment can go global
Posted:Jul 9, 2017
 
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By Rajendra Shende 
 
"For the past decade, Facebook has focused on connecting friends and families," 33-year-old, self-made, fifth richest man of the world Marc Zuckerberg, wrote in his 6000-word letter published on his Facebook page early this year.  "With that foundation, our next focus will be developing the social infrastructure for community - for supporting us, for keeping us safe, for informing us, for civic engagement, and for inclusion of all," he wrote.
 
Faces of youth in today’s world may not be as good as they look on Facebook posts; however, the images in the story-book of this young community are full of promises, adventures and even anxieties. 
 
Half a century ago in 1968, the protests and revolutionary upsurge by students in the western world still echo threats to the edifice of insensitive establishments and social instability. Today's youth community, faced with unjust authoritarianism, extreme inequality, rampant capitalism and environmental degradation are already showing signs of destabilization of the social fabric of the global community. 
 
In India, nearly half of the population, a huge 650 million, is part of the youth community below the age of 30. Every year, more than 12 million job-hungry adult-age youth pour themselves into the market place. Unfortunately, 75% of them are not job-ready, with a huge baggage of little education or irrelevant education packed in their youthful dreams and hopes. That takes their journey nowhere. 
 
Steeply rising joblessness among students graduating from universities is not only an Indian phenomenon. China too is creating an army of educated unemployed that some fear could destabilise China’s huge economy. Thus, two of the world’s fastest growing economies are pouring the largest pool of unemployed youth into the market place. The rest of the world, still recovering from economic recession, presents global gloom for the youth. 
 
Recognising that university, college and school campuses are the breeding grounds for youth’s creativity and realising that if that creativity is not incubated well, we may as well face the 1968 syndrome, Prakash Javadekar, India’s Human Resource Development Minister, has launched an unusual project that can address the challenges facing youth by use of cutting edge digital technologies, Internet of Things, Big Data Analytics and more.  
 
The project not only creates awareness on United Nations, Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), but, in fact, it contributes to the goals within the ‘Campus Community’. 
The project is the flagship activity of TERRE Policy Centre, a think tank and action platform for sustainable development. It is called Smart Campus Cloud Network-SCCN in short. 
 
“SCCN is a huge laboratory that is essential to test and deploy innovative and creative potential of each and every student in the campus and build their skills at the same time,” said Javadekar, while launching the project at Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT) in Pune, one of the 100 candidate cities in India slated for transformation into a Smart City. 
 
“The lessons and results from this laboratory would prove to be game-changing, because youth will self-propel their careers, based on the educational experience that they would gain by ‘doing’ and not just by ‘studying’”, said Javadekar. Youth coming out from the campus would be candidates for various government flagship projects; Make in India, Digital India and 100 Smart Cities, as well as start-up leaders and entrepreneurs.
 
There are more than 750 universities, 40,000 colleges and institutes and 1.5 million schools in India where around 200 to 300 million students are engaged in learning. Apart from being significant consumers of energy, water and other utility and material resources, educational campuses provide captive young thinkers and actors enabling action-based education on sustainable development and implementation of the UN’s Agenda 2030. 
They are the spaces bubbling with potential opportunities to create skilled and ‘job-ready’ professional force. 
 
SCCN is a tool to exploit that very opportunity. SCCN is the virtual network of campuses which are engaged in reducing their campus-related ecological footprints and sharing that data through real-time cloud networks. By reducing the ecological ‘footprint’ of campuses and enhancing the sustainable ‘handprints’, SCCN is a win-win strategy. It promotes ‘learning by doing’ and economizing the campus operation by boosting resource- and energy efficiency. Simultaneously, it builds skills of India’s young future workforce and moulds managerial talents to build Smart India and, more importantly, their own future professional career. 
 
Results from campus activities that target energy efficiency, enhance the share of renewable energy, waste management, water conservation, air pollution would be part of the dashboard in digital cloud. The well-defined energy and other indices resulting from the campus activity would be shared with other campuses to generate positive competition setting research and innovation in spiral-rise to better the sustainability targets. SCCN is a massive exercise in disruptive innovation to transform the way education is imparted to the students throughout India.
 
Smart Campus Cloud Network will not be limited to campuses in India. It has outreached to South Asia and beyond. It already has 15 campuses in the network including one each from Brazil and Peru. 
 
SCCN would use the cutting-edge technologies to measure, monitor and share the results of the students’ activities aimed at making their own campuses clean, green, sustainable and smart. 
 
Apart from use of the emerging technologies like Internet of Things (IOT), big data and artificial intelligence, the special apps for interaction between the core group members would be deployed as communication tools among the campus community. Campus-indices used to compare and compete are based on the UN SDGs. It would encourage the young minds to be creative in competing and it would spark multitudes of start-ups.
A web of diverse universities interconnected with common goals of contributing to UNSDGs is a path-breaking skill-building project with hands-on education through the age-old practice of learning by doing. 
 
University Grants Commission said about SCCN: “Smart Campus Cloud Network is a global networking initiative seeking to link educational institutions in the mission of bringing about sustainable, eco-friendly and energy-sufficient development. It is poised to facilitate dialogue and sharing of ideas amongst students and faculty as a way of making the maximum out of Sustainable Development Goals. The Network will be a significant contribution to the realization of Smart Cities and Smart India mission unveiled by the Prime Minister.”  Vishwanath  Karad, Founder and Director General of the MIT group of institutes, said, ‘SCCN is amazing confluence of 3 Ss: Science, Spiritualism and Sustainability.” 
 
The overarching objective of SCCN is to mainstream sustainable development in education, encourage annual reporting by the campuses on their sustainability initiatives and ranking the campuses based on smart sustainable actions by students and faculty. 
 
Never before have colleges and universities mainstreamed sustainable development in their curriculum in such intensive way. 
 
(The author is a former Director UNEP, is Chairman TERRE Policy Centre, Pune. He can be contacted at shende.rajendra@gmail.com)
 
 
 
 
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