Bridging the STEM Divide For African Children, By Adetola Salau
Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow. – William Pollard
I represented Nigeria and Africa by extension at the 2019 IEEE Integrated STEM Education Conference at Princeton university. There was a lot of discussions about advancing STEM on Saturday March 16th at the McDonnell and Jarwin halls at Princeton university.
STEM practitioners – educators, students, parents, and enthusiasts gathered together to deliberate improving P-20 STEM education using integrative project and discovery based methods across the spectrum.
The IEEE Integrated STEM Education Conference (ISEC) is highly regarded for known for highlighting cutting-edge research and experiences with integrated approaches to the study of science, math, and technology through experiences and activities based in engineering and other design disciplines.
What blew me away was the amazing work done by young children all over the world and attended the conference to present their work. I met a teenager from Uganda whose parents had relocated to the United States who presented his paper and work-: “Advanced considerations for defensive cyber products with regards to network security and enterprise integration capabilities.” His name is Jeremy Kiggundu and he was doing the work at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. Having academic mentors and guidance from the University will be a big help in setting him up in the future into being a remarkable innovator.
Several teenage boys came from the Philippines to present their work also and I was impressed by the work they did. One paper was entitled; “Developing an Offline Mobile Application with Health Condition Care and First Aid Instruction for Appropriateness of Medical Treatment.” Another one was Starfall as a Basal Reading Program to teach Beginning Reading to Selected ALS Students.” Their justification for their work went as follows; In the last century, educators have shifted their mode of instruction from pen and paper to computer generated educational programs, in the Philippines, the government implemented the Alternative Learning System (ALS) as a free education program implemented by the Department of Education under the Bureau of Alternative System to Filipinos who are not able to go through formal schooling. It has been observed that some ALS students are non-readers so they have a difficult time in school tasks. Our research aims to enhance their reading skills by implementing Starfall, an English phonics basal reading program to improve the non-readers’ basal reading skill, Starfall is a 15-leveled basal reading program that aims to enhance one’s basal reading skills. This is innovation; tweaking what exists to serve users effectively.
Another teenage Filipino student presented; “Creating an easy to produce seed planter made of polyethylene terephthalate bottles and scrap metal for Filipino Farmers.” The validation for their work was as follows; Garbage Waste Disposal is a huge problem in our world today. Wastes which commonly occupy majority of space in dumpsites are Polyethylene Plastics and Metal Bottle Caps. Our research aims to find a way to reuse these garbage wastes for a better viable product.
I met an adorable thirteen year old girl whose project was
Measuring sugar content of a liquid with a laser pointer.
She sought to prove that one could figure how much sugar is in a liquid without ever tasting it. She utilised a laser pointer, a hollow prism, and some physics to measure the concentration of sugar dissolved in a liquid. Through this method she discovered that refraction, or the bending of light, is the key to measuring the sugar content of a liquid with a laser pointer.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of the great, young minds that I encountered at the conference. Young minds already working on radical approaches to challenges all around us. It stirred me up to realise that we need to groom more African boys and girls to deploy STEM to creating solutions to our challenges. Next year, it is our hope and challenge to have African children presenting their own solutions as clearly researched Scientific papers. This will be the beginning of a renaissance of our children leading the way forward to African prosperity for us all.