A school fire in Scotland is front page news even if casualty free. Imagine a nightmare scenario where well over 2,000 schools are either damaged or destroyed and goodness knows how many hundreds of children killed. This is the sad reality of the hostile Russian war on Ukraine. Yet, there's a piece of heartening news on the educational frontline.
A unique partnership is rapidly establishing an extra special educational building, employing the very latest in high-tech solutions in the Lviv region, situated on the far western side of this independent country. Their efforts are lifting, by a smidgen, what such a cruel and heartless attempted invasion is having on the thousands-upon-thousands of kids caught up in an unnecessary war. The city has completed the second stage of a central school building which is planned to open at the turn of the year for 100 students.
Lviv School No.23 represents a vital first step towards creating some sort of normality as the first educational institution build in Ukraine, and indeed Europe, to be constructed employing 3D printing technology. A charity, Team4UA founded by Jean-Christophe Bonis, initiated the project, supported by international fund Humanitarian Innovative Technologies, together with the local city council. One other key player is tech genius Dominique Piotet, a French American digital transformation expert who has resided in Ukraine since 2019, as CEO of the most significant innovation park built in Kyiv.
Ukraine's Ministry of Education and Science revealed the devastating news that over 2,000 schools have been damaged, 330 totally destroyed and 500 children killed, although this is a conservative estimate. A rapid response to the country's plight is the primary goal of the project's intent on reconstructing a Ukraine of the future. Building began in October 2022 and the team managed to lay the foundations for the school but had to stop the construction process due to massive missile onslaughts cutting off electricity and rail supplies. You would think Lviv, geographically, well out of the way of the central and especially south-east border bombed areas, would escape the war. Not so, with civilian and military targets shelled yet again a few days ago.
Undaunted, the project team resumed their work in earnest and a one-storey building housing classrooms, teachers' rooms, bathrooms and hall, along with inclusive space capable of accommodating all children has really taken shape. Around 90% of construction materials have been made in Ukraine.
Innovative 3D printing technology has significant advantages over conventional construction methods: it's 10 times faster and requires involvement of only two operators. It also allows more accurate and efficient use of resources, reducing material costs. The process majors on freedom of design, flexibility and an efficient use of space all round.
One of the partners, Henrik Lund-Nielson, founder and general manager of COBOD, explained to me that 3D construction printers are playing a game-changing role in Ukraine, where massive rebuilding efforts will be needed following the war. Schools, residential housing, offices, factories, infrastructure, bridges and numerous other structures will be rebuilt much faster. It takes money through global donations. Lots of it.
By now I know you're asking: what exactly is 3D printing? I've asked that myself more than once, as it's complicated.
In essence, it represents the construction of a three-dimensional object from a computer-aided design (CAD) or digital 3D model. Such printing has been around for quite a while: '3D printing' was first coined in a 1945 short story Things Pass By
by Murray Leinster, pen name of William Fitzgerald Jenkins (1896-1975), an American novelist of distinction in the science fiction genre and pulp fiction. In the 1980s, such techniques were used for the production of functional or aesthetic prototypes. Wind forward to a few years ago and its range has increased to the point where such processes are now viewed as viable for industrial outcomes.
A key advantage of 3D printing is an ability to produce very complex shapes and geometries otherwise considered impracticable to construct by hand. The most common process currently in use is what's been labelled as fused deposition modelling (FDM) employing a continuous filament of thermoplastic to achieve the end product. In this particular case, a new school in Ukraine.
Sunflower Scotland buys food in Ukraine to distribute for free to vulnerable people including women with children, the disabled and older folks: food is 30-50% cheaper locally, even after factoring in shipping costs, and this supports local producers, sustaining the economy and jobs wherever possible.
The charity's efforts also aid hospitals and provide 4x4 trucks to the country's home guard. In 21 missions, it has provided 3,400 food rations and four trucks and vans. Donations are welcome to continue buying emergency food bags, provide ambulances and other vehicles to the Ukrainian defence forces. As a representative of the charity put it: 'We get in, deliver food, take pictures and get out' to prepare for the next time.
You may recall my writing about a previous visit to Ukraine. Little did I realise, sipping a Russian beer in Dnipro central city square, under the ever-watchful eye of a statue of Lenin, it would carry an extra significance in a few short years. Planning ahead, the United Nations is pressing the European Union to help fund Ukraine's post-war clean-up. Lviv, I've discovered, is a key centre of cultural and educational excellence in Ukraine. Over 100,000 students annually study in more than 50 higher education establishments and the city boasts an incredible 12 universities plus the National Academy of Science of Ukraine and 40 research institutes.
The completion of a single 100-pupil educational facility, against the backdrop of a remorseless Russian onslaught, carries with it an extra heart-rending poignancy. A ray of hope in what is an egregious act of sheer folly in a civilised world.
Former Reuters, Sunday Times, The Scotsman and Glasgow Herald business and finance correspondent, Bill Magee is a columnist writing tech-based articles for Daily Business, Institute of Directors, Edinburgh Chamber and occasionally The Times' 'Thunderer'