STEM Is Critical In Propelling Nigeria and Africa To Greatness, By Adetola Salau
STEM skills will enable us to tackle our long term development issues, including revamping agriculture, eradicating malaria and stopping AIDS from decimating our population. It would also make us economically viable, like the Asian tiger nations… To re-engineer the minds of the people, they need to be shown what is going on around them in the larger world.
Science is the acceptance of what works and the rejection of what does not. That needs more courage than we might think. – Jacob Bronowski
One of the biggest tragedies in Nigeria is the fact that the skill of critical thinking and problem solving isn’t only largely unavailable, to compound matters even highly-educated people often act and think quite irrationally and hold unto superstitious beliefs. Very few forward thinking ideas of 21st century globalisation has taken root in the belief system of many. Unfortunately, much of the economic and social development in society are mainly driven by international aid agencies and NGOs.
What makes this ironic is that human capital is our biggest resource in the country. All over the world, Nigerians are being celebrated in various fields of endeavour for excellence. In the United States, its been found that two out of five medical professionals are of Nigerian extraction. Nigerians attain higher degrees and have lots of positive press in the Western media due to the achievements of our brilliant minds. Yet in spite of this, there are so many challenges in ensuring that all learners have access to basic education in our country. Or, beyond that, ensuring that we have more students move on to secondary schools and tertiary levels of education. Or getting our students to be STEM literate; and making their STEM learning relevant and applicable to solving our problems.
For a long time, we mostly trained students to be administrators, civil servants, etc., which was OK, as we did need to raise leaders to move us towards better self-governance. The time for that has passed though; we need to update our learning paradigms, especially for the 21st century, in order to raise students who will be future ready. STEM education is critical to this task.
STEM skills will enable us to tackle our long term development issues, including revamping agriculture, eradicating malaria and stopping AIDS from decimating our population. It would also make us economically viable, like the Asian tiger nations. When you sell the benefits of a programme, people are more open to understanding it’s importance and adopting it. To re-engineer the minds of the people, they need to be shown what is going on around them in the larger world.
In order to get this done, we need to improve the quality of STEM teaching in Nigeria. When the United Nations launched the “Global Education First Initiative” in September 2012 to raise awareness of the importance of education, to ensure access and improve the quality of learning, a signal was made to the world about education’s place in the midst of everything. There is a great need to make technology a vital part of learning, to ensure that STEM learning is relevant to our students and their needs.
We desire more women in STEM fields, and women with STEM backgrounds are vital to the well-being of their families and communities. It has been shown that women with STEM skills contribute more to their their children’s education and health, because science learning nurtures a critical mind.
I am in the process of working on a public awareness campaign to elevate the relevance of STEM subjects, STEM fields and to re-engineer minds about these subjects. I am a firm advocate of ‘catch them young’ and intend to pique their interest and curiosity through interactive programmes and activities. Above that, the ultimate aim we have is to get teach young ones how to use STEM skills to solve problems, rather than to just regurgitate the theories that they have been taught.
It is true that not all of our students will undertake STEM jobs, although they need a strong foundation in these subjects to be able to function properly in the 21st century. STEM education will make students future ready for the rapidly changing world we now live in.
As a society, we need to also strive to get girls to be interested and succeed in STEM. It has been clearly demonstrated that there are real social and economic benefits in countries where more girls have higher levels of education. We desire more women in STEM fields, and women with STEM backgrounds are vital to the well-being of their families and communities. It has been shown that women with STEM skills contribute more to their their children’s education and health, because science learning nurtures a critical mind. These women generally ignore old superstitions and solve problems through logic and reason.
In order for Nigerians and Africans, as a whole, to deal with their issues, fix their social and economic development, rather than continually relying on international aid, STEM skills acquisition needs to be emphasised at all levels. We need to teach our students these two key things – how to solve our local problems, and how to make our nations more economically viable. They should be able to know what is happening around the world, and have their minds permananetly open to the world and its various possibilities and potentials.
Image credit: Thomas Imo/Photothek via Getty Images.