The vision of the first President of Ghana, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, for the Ghanaian educational system was, “to facilitate the emergence of a Ghanaian population that would be literate and employable in the new nation”. That focus led to the establishment of Teachers’ Training Colleges and other educational institutions alongside a curriculum that was largely focused on literacy and governance.
All over the world, in the 58 years since Ghana’s independence, there has been a gradual shift in educational focus to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). These fields have resulted in massive improvements in various areas including but not limited to communication, through the proliferation of smartphones and the Internet; transportation, through faster airplanes and vehicles; and health, through improved diagnostic tools for medical professionals to identify diseases early.
It, is therefore, no wonder that STEM education is now a priority in most parts of the world. Sadly, it seems the opposite is happening in Ghana. Students are increasingly opting for courses in the Humanities. A report by the National Council for Tertiary Education showed that only 39 per cent of the 127,502 students who were admitted to the eight public universities in the 2012/2013 academic year were admitted to Science-related programmes. This percentage falls incredibly short of the 60 per cent mandatory Science-related admissions policy of the Ministry of Education.
Clearly, Ghanaian students are fleeing from the study of STEM. If Ghana is to keep pace with the rapid rate of world development, this trend needs to be reversed and here are a few ways to do so.
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Equip schools with tools for studying STEM
Lack of equipment is one of the biggest problems facing the study of STEM in Ghana. A UNESCO report on education in four African countries, including Ghana, discovered that there was a serious dearth of “functional laboratories” in most schools in these countries because of the lack of equipment, while some schools were completely without laboratories for practical work, forcing teachers to adopt a largely theoretical curriculum. If the nation is to benefit from science and technology taught at these levels, then there need to be adequate and well-equipped facilities and laboratories for STEM education.
This will ensure that as often as possible, students are given practical explanations and applications of the various theories and formulae they learn in class. As a matter of urgency, every public school must also possess a well-equipped ICT centre to help in the teaching and learning of ICT. Knowledge and experience in ICT can only be gained through constant practice and application.
Early technology education
While Science and Mathematics are taught in various forms from a very early age, Information Technology (IT) is usually reserved until later stages in the junior high school (JHS) or senior high school (SHS) levels. This is a disadvantage not only to the students but to the nation at large. Learning from an early age allows children to develop an interest in technology when they are more impressionable as well as providing students with a higher degree of proficiency in technology before they get to young adulthood. It offers them the opportunity to be actively involved in their learning experience and to discover the world around them.
Technology also develops the creativity, social and cognitive skills of students. It helps teachers represent in simpler forms or methods, more abstract theories or explanations. Technology in schools helps students to engage better not only with their teachers but with the outside world. Technology is continually changing, and its effect on society is ever increasing. Waiting until children are in high school before they start taking IT lessons handicaps them and puts them at a disadvantage to kids of their age in more developed parts of the world. Technology is now an invaluable part of our daily lives. It needs to be a principal part of our education.
Providing information about STEM careers
As a child studying Science, I had only two options for a future career in Science: Medicine and Engineering. It was not until I was applying to the university that I realised there were numerous branches of Science, from Anatomy to Zoology. This phenomenon is commonplace among many pupils and students. They grow up with the idea of becoming doctors and engineers and are not made aware of the other numerous possibilities in STEM. The foundation of a career in STEM is laid from a very early age thus, limiting the study of STEM to having careers in only Science or Engineering defeats the main purpose of a STEM education: solving problems through innovative and creative methods. It also alienates students who may have other talents or interests but are ignorant about how those talents can be harnessed. There, therefore, needs to be proper education of young people on the numerous opportunities STEM offers them to develop and hone their various talents and individual skill sets. It also decreases the high numbers of university applicants who apply to study medicine while increasing exposure and interests of students to other areas of STEM.
Training STEM educators
There is a growing shortage of STEM teachers in primary and junior high schools, especially due to a general embargo placed by the government on public sector employment as well as the desire of STEM graduates to work in the industry rather than academia. Thus, there is an increasing reliance on older, retired teachers or lecturers, young senior high school (SHS) graduates and national service persons to take up the challenge of teaching STEM in schools. The latter two groups do not have the qualifications needed to take charge of the teaching of STEM but their absence would make an already dire situation worse. This issue can be addressed by encouraging these SHS graduates and NSS persons to consider a career in STEM education by giving them scholarships, grants or loans to study for the necessary qualifications that would make them suitable to teach STEM subjects. This would attract more graduates to consider a career in teaching STEM and decrease the burgeoning teacher-to-student ratios. Periodically, workshops or conferences must also be organised for STEM educators in order to keep them abreast of innovations or new developments in the teaching and learning of STEM.
We currently live in an era that is characterised by accelerated technological advancement, innovative solutions to problems we encounter and creative methods of making our world a better place. The world has come to depend on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics to drive this advancement. The Ghanaian educational system must therefore reflect these changes and facilitate the emergence of a population that uses STEM to find innovative and creative ways of making Ghana a better place.
The writer is the Winner of GhScientific STEM writing competition.