By Timothy C. Spangler1, Gustavo V. Necco2 and the WMO Secretariat3
Following the second World War, governments and corporations recognized that the sciences of meteorology, hydrology and climatology could contribute to safety and efficiency in aviation, and advances in many other sectors of commerce and industry, and to the protection of human lives and property from natural hazards. To achieve those goals, National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) would have to expand their range of responsibilities and place greater emphasis on education and training in order to have capable and effective staff. Accordingly, enshrined in the WMO Convention signed by many governments in 1950 is the mandate to encourage research and training in meteorology and to assist in coordinating the international aspects of such research and training.
In 2015, the WMO Regional Meteorological Training Centres (RMTCs) that became the cornerstone of efforts to promote education and training, celebrate 50 years. How did they come to be and how have they evolved over the last decades? Most importantly, in the current environment of privatized meteorological service providers, do they remain pertinent?
The early years
In the early years, NMHSs of WMO Members would determine the required educational qualifications for their staff and the training needed for different tasks. But the 1960s saw newly independent states becoming full Members of WMO, rapid increases in technological capability (radar, satellites, computers) and many scientific advances (numerical modeling, geophysical fluid dynamics). These changes made it necessary for WMO to increase its focus on education and training in order to help developing countries to strengthen, expand and, sometimes, generate human resources in meteorology, hydrology and climatology at technical and university levels. The Organization initiated a comprehensive long-term plan for training activities for observers to professional forecasters. WMO appointed Professor J. Van Mieghem, a well-known and distinguished Belgian meteorological scientist, to prepare a draft training plan to, in particular, provide advice on the training needs in Africa and to recommend options on the required structure of the Secretariat to support increasing training activities. He produced three reports, covering the professional training of all grades of meteorological staff in less-developed countries, a plan for meteorological training in Africa, and another plan for the establishment of a training section in the Secretariat. These reports provided the basis for the WMO Education and Training Programme (ETR) for the next decade.
In that context, WMO Regional Meteorological Training Centres were a natural development. The concept was based on a successful regional training course offered by the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1958, free of tuition to students from other Spanish-speaking South American countries. The first institutions officially recognized as RMTCs were the Department of Meteorology, University of Buenos Aires, and the Institute for Meteorological Training and Research in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1965.
Technical Note Nº 50, published in 1966, provided the basis for the initial WMO classification of meteorological personnel (Class I to IV) and strongly influenced the content of the courses offered by the RMTCs. After its publication in 1969 as “Guidelines for the education and training of meteorological personnel” (WMO no. 258), it was put into practice by about three-quarters of WMO Members – mainly from developing regions. Four editions were issued before its replacement by the “Manual on the Implementation of Education and Training Standards in Meteorology and Hydrology, Volume I” (WMO no. 1083) in December 2013.
The WMO Training Manuals, the first for Class III personnel was published in 1966 and followed by a compendium of lectures notes for Class IV personnel in 1970, were also important resources for training centres. They stimulated a demand for similar volumes for use in Class I and II levels. The first Class I volume, published in 1973, dealt with dynamic meteorology. These publications were highly appreciated as textbooks presenting the state-of-the-art in meteorological subjects were very expensive to buy, difficult to find or simply non-existent. Moreover, WMO produced translations in the official languages of the United Nations.
RMTCs in Latin America and the Caribbean satisfied the region’s urgent training needs in the 1960s. A fellowship scheme implemented with financial support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) was an important, perhaps indispensable, component of their success. This “special fund project” awarded more than 40 fellowships for both university-level and technical studies.
The disastrous drought affecting Sudan and the Sahel region in the mid 1970s precipitated the opening of a training centre in Niamey, Niger, by WMO with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as associated agency. Some 20 drought-stricken countries in the region sent students to this centre with support from a range of different fellowship schemes.
Panel of Experts on Education and Training
The WMO Executive Council Panel of Experts on Education and Training, established in 1966, provides guidance:
- in coordinating WMO activities in the field of meteorological education and training;
- to promote and further the training of personnel for the National Meteorological Services, particularly in the developing countries; and
- to recommend (and develop) training materials for use by training centres.
The Panel of Experts, which traditionally meets every two years, will hold its 27th session in 2016. In recent years the Panel has overseen the replacement of WMO no. 258 by WMO no. 1083, the incorporation of the Basic Instruction Packages for Meteorologists and Meteorological Technicians into the WMO Technical Regulations, assisted the WMO Technical Commissions in the development and introduction of competency based frameworks, recommended improvements into the reviewing of, and criteria for, the recognition and reconfirmation of WMO RMTCs. Most recently, the Panel proposed the development of the WMO Global Campus concept that aims to better connect Regional Training Centres (RTCs) and other education and training partners to meet the increased demand and scope of training required for NMHSs to provide new and better services to their countries.
During the 1980s, there was a rapid expansion of RMTCs, mirroring the growth of meteorological and hydrological services worldwide. A few examples illustrate their diverse nature:
Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH): This organization was created in 1967 by 12 island nations and became affiliated with the University of the West Indies in Barbados in 1973. CIMH was recognized as an RMTC in 1975. CIMH has offered in-residence training for nearly all the meteorological services of the Caribbean region for the last 37 years. CIMH was also one of the early adopters of online distance-learning. They started with monthly weather discussions under the guise of the WMO Virtual Laboratory for Satellite Meteorology and now continue with full training programmes offered online.
University of Costa Rica: This centre was created in 1968 to serve Spanish-speaking students in Central America, and graduated its first five meteorologists in 1969. Over the years, new programmes were added such as the Licenciatura in 1972, WMO Technician Class II in 1984, and additional postgraduate studies in the 1990s. Recently, the centre has engaged students with online courses.
The Israeli Centre of International Training in Applied Meteorology: This centre was established in 1963 at the Israel Meteorological Service (IMS). The first prime minister of Israel, Mr. David Ben Gurion, together with the then Secretary General of WMO, declared that the IMS would serve as an International Training and Education Centre, especially for developing countries. In 1994 the Training Centre, then offering courses at Kibbutz Shefayim, was formally recognized as an RMTC. Over the years, thousands of meteorologists, hydrologists and other scientific and professional personnel have taken part in a wide range of international courses (offered in English) in agrometeorology and applied meteorology at IMS.
Nanjing University of Science and Technology: In 1993 the government of China, with approval of the WMO Executive Council, established a new RMTC on the campus of the Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology. This RMTC has grown rapidly, serving meteorologists from over 130 countries in the last 20 years. The China Meteorological Administration Training Centre in Beijing became a second component of the RMTC in 2003.
Training in India: Education and training activities in Pune, India, began as early as 1943. The centre was elevated to the level of a Directorate in 1969 and approved as a WMO RMTC in 1986. Today the RMTC has three components: The Central Training Institute and the National Water Academy both in Pune, and a Training Centre in New Delhi. The World Meteorological Congress in May will consider a proposal to add a fourth component specializing in hydrology and water resources at the Indian Institute for Technology in Roorkee.
The Egypt Meteorological Authority training centre: Founded in 1965 in Cairo, the centre was designated a WMO RMTC in 1968. The RMTC has trained meteorologists and technicians from Africa and Europe as well as from the Middle East. The Egyptian Meteorological Authority began a significant modernization of the RMTC in 2003, including the construction of a new building and upgrading to the latest technology. Today the Egyptian facilities include instrument calibration and an Arabic numerical weather prediction centre.
The Russian Federation: A consortium of three institutions, in existence for many years, were recognized as a WMO RMTC in 1994: Moscow Hydro-meteorological College (MHC), the Roshydromet Advanced Training Institute (ATI) and the Russian State Hydro-meteorological University (RSHU). These three organizations together currently host some 450 foreign students from 46 countries. Since 1994, they have been offering a Bachelor of Science degree in hydrometeorology in English for Russian Federation nationals.
Growing pains in the network of RMTCs
Throughout the last 50 years, many training centres evolved out of university programmes. WMO Members have leveraged the advantages of locating training centres and programmes on university campuses to the great benefit of both Members and universities.
In the mid 1990s, as the period of rapid growth in RMTCs began to peak, the Panel of Experts on Education and Training observed that some regional training centres were not meeting needs; others were actually national training centres, rarely serving international students; and there were no standards for content or instructional methods, nor any meaningful cooperation with each other.
In 1996, the Panel commenced discussions on the health and activity of the RMTC network. One of the first outcomes was the launch, in 2000, of a vigorous programme of review every eight years to reconfirm each regional training centre. Since 2000, all but one RMTC has been reviewed at least once.
The Panel’s other recommendations include: reinforcing regional cooperation; raising greater awareness of the capabilities of RMTCs; more efficient planning of human resource development; encouraging lifelong learning and continued professional development; improving the content of training programmes; enhancing the learning process; providing better access to training materials; and strengthening the role of ETR.
The RTC network today
In 2006, the WMO Executive Council decided that the term Regional Meteorological Training Centre (RMTC) should be changed to Regional Training Centre (RTC) to allow for specialization in areas other than meteorology. There are now 26 WMO Regional Training Centers composed of 38 components. The evolution of RTCs has resulted in a diverse portfolio of centres providing education and training through the use of residence classes, distance-learning and blended learning.
The ETR Programme has promoted the application of information and communications technology in teaching and learning through the use of Computer-Aided-Learning initiatives and activities such as CALMet. The ever-expanding networking capabilities of the Internet provide a strong and valuable complement to classroom-based regional educational activities. The challenge for the ETR Programme, the RTCs and Members is to make the most of the advantages of distance and face-to-face learning within the financial and human limitations of training providers and demand for education and training. Diverse considerations – such as language, Internet availability, reliability and bandwidth, the availability of staff to take the courses on offer and the funding of the existing training opportunities – provide many challenges and innovative opportunities for the ETR Programme.
Some recent RTC activities include, the delivery by CIMH in 2011 of distance-learning based review course on Aeronautical Meteorological Forecasting to its now 15 member countries. Lectures and case studies were simultaneously delivered over the Internet using computer-aided learning modules from the COMET Program of the United States of America as supplementary study materials. This course has since been enhanced and repeated several times and is part of the strategy of the Caribbean Meteorological Organization to meet the competency and qualification requirements for Aeronautical Meteorological Forecasters. CIMH is also a recognized WMO Centre of Excellence for Satellite Meteorology. Along with the University of Costa Rica, it has been participating in, and promoting, monthly weather discussions provided by the U.S. National Centre for Environmental Protection (NCEP) as part of the WMO Virtual Laboratory activities.
The series of extended online sessions on basic hydrology provided by the National Water Authority component of the RTC in India in 2012 and 2013, with assistance from the COMET Programme and the WMO Hydrology and Water Resources Branch, are another example. The RTC in Kenya followed suit in 2013 for eastern and southern African countries. Using extra-budgetary funds from the Government of Norway, in 2013, the RTC in Kenya also ran the first of a series of four-week face-to-face courses in instrument maintenance and calibration. This course was repeated in 2014 by the RTCs in India and CIMH ran similar courses using funds from the Government of Canada.
Future RTCs will reflect changes in technology and in the needs of learners. For example, Brazil has proposed the Virtual Centre of Education and Training in Meteorology for Spanish-speaking countries in South America and Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa. This consortium of over ten Brazilian academic institutions will work together to meet the needs of learners, using both residence and distance-learning delivery methods, and will allow students to combine their academic achievements into a single certificate or degree.
A further review of RTCs in 2012 revealed that many of the underlying problems identified in 2002 still existed, there was a growing disconnect between the RTCs and the regions they served. Thus, major revisions were made to the Criteria for the Recognition and Reconfirmation of RTCs, putting emphasis on performance as the basis for reconfirmation and clarifying the roles of the various groups involved in the creation and ongoing support for RTCs.
An estimated 150 000 meteorological personnel will need education and training in the next ten years as weather, climate and water services expand and develop to include climate services and disaster risk reduction. Enhanced collaboration and cooperation amongst training and education institutions will be needed to meet this demand. The WMO Global Campus aims to assist in meeting this increasing demand by looking at a number of areas that can benefit from increasing collaborations. The WMO Global Campus will assist the community by:
- encouraging and nurturing regional and global partnerships amongst the RTCs as well as by promoting new regional and global partnerships to enhance the education and training available for WMO Members;
- investigating the key aspects of quality assurance needed for the global exchange and use of training materials; and
- recommending the information technology needs for sharing resources.
An increasing number of WMO Members offer university-level courses in meteorology or atmospheric sciences, however, the relatively low recruitment rate into national meteorological and hydrological services makes it difficult for many of the universities to offer a complete programme. Thus, a strong and adaptive network of RTCs and training programmes will be essential to build national capacity and help satisfy future needs of Members. The history of RTCs in WMO suggests that the community will rise to the challenge.
African Desk Celebrates its Twentieth Anniversary
The U.S. National Weather Service is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its Climate Prediction Center’s (CPC) African Desk. The African Desk first became operational in March 1995 when it hosted its first trainee from Kenya. Initially, the Desk focused on providing training for African nationals in climate monitoring and forecasting, but in 2006 it established a Weather Desk to provide support to the WMO Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project.
More than 130 meteorologists from 35 countries in Africa have benefited from the African Desk training. Four former trainees have become WMO Permanent Representatives of their respective countries, while dozens more have moved up to leadership positions.
The residency training programme is complemented by a NOAA-USAID climate training workshop series, initiated in 2009, that has trained professionals from different regions around the world. More than 200 meteorologists and scientists from countries in Africa, Asia, Caribbean, Central America, South America, and Southeast Europe have completed training in these workshops.
In 2010, the activities of the African Desk expanded yet again, with the establishment of the Monsoon Desk. In addition to training, the CPC International Desks offer access to real-time NCEP operational weather and climate forecasts for any given region of the world to domestic and international agencies. The CPC International Desks also provide support to many domestic and international programmes, including USAID’s Famine Early Warning System and Disaster Risk Reduction programme, Regional Climate Outlook Forums, and more recently, the World Health Organization climate and health initiative.