Clement Adeyi, Osogbo
Science Ignite Africa Initiative is a Non-Non-Governmental Organisation that focuses on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in Nigeria and Africa.
It trains and equips students, including children and youths especially in rural and sub-urban communities with solution skills through practical application and benefits of STEM education.
In this interview, the President, Adeoluwa Adediran, stresses the need for curriculums to focus on problem-solving skills that could guarantee relevance of education to national development.
Tertiary institutions churn out thousands of graduates in sciences, technology and engineering year in year out. Yet, Nigeria has not been able to make much remarkable impacts in the sector. What is Science Ignite Africa doing to ensure that the certificates are not for a mere formality?
We need to understand that it is a global issue and not peculiar to Africa. All over the world, the academia has not been able to meet up with the fast-evolving demands of technological advancements. The curriculum has to be frequently updated to meet up.
Science Ignite Africa is using a holistic approach to solve this problem of unemployment and unemployability of graduates.
Our first approach is a mindset restructuring. Students get too busy learning to get good grades in examinations or get a good GP in order to secure good jobs in the future. The primary goal of learning is to develop problem-solving skills. The curriculum must focus on training and teaching students on how to practically apply the knowledge of STEM taught in school to solve real-life problems. We teach them and then give them projects to execute within their immediate environments. This will shape their mindsets about schooling. They will begin to see the true essence of schooling: to learn and acquire skills that will be relevant in solving problems that present in their environment.
Our second approach is to get undergraduates to participate in our Science Ignite Africa Projects, where they are given the task of providing solutions to community problems using the knowledge of STEM acquired in school. We give graduates of STEM disciplines the opportunity to serve Africa by engaging them in part-time volunteer roles that will enable them to put to use what they have learnt in school.
We go to faculties in institutions engaged in STEM disciplines and meet with their final year students. We try to view their projects and see how we can have them simplified.
We also appeal to educators especially in tertiary institutions to focus more on solving problems than building an academic career. We need more of them to be value and business-minded, developing solutions for profit.
Science Ignite Africa seeks to train and equip children and youths in rural and sub-urban communities with problem-solving skills through practical real-life application of STEM education. What are the skills and how have they been applied in solving poverty and underdevelopment problems affecting the rural and suburban communities?
Our trainings are geared towards developing creative and analytical skills and teamwork. The core factors militating against rural development include rural-urban migration of skillful personnel, poor amenities and lack of infrastructure. Telecommunication is important for rural development but how do we expect profit-oriented companies to invest much in villages where they may not recover their investments in 25 years? Our approach is to identify with the students and youths based on the needs of the communities, brainstorm and then develop solutions. Instead of waiting for telecoms companies to erect masts in rural communities, we teach them how to use cables and radio waves to enhance intra and inter-community communication. Therefore, communities don’t have to wait for grids to be erected in their villages when they can utilize renewable energy sources. William Kamkwamba from Malawi dropped out of school but built his family an electricity-generating windmill from spare parts, working from rough plans he found in a library book. Over the years, our strict adherence to our curriculum has been a limitation; so much theoretical learning without the hands-on experience of real-life problems. We teach the Laws of Motion and the Principle of Flotation. Yet, there are students and teachers in the Niger Delta who cannot get to school because they need to pay to cross rivers. We teach Ohm’s Law and Electromagnetism, yet some communities do not even have a light bulb. Let’s leave the classrooms and get on the field to solve problems with knowledge.
Science Ignite Africa does not only teach students how to develop solutions but also how to monetize the solutions. During the Lockdown, we started SWATCoV (Students War Against the Coronavirus) project and taught students of The Abolarin College, Oke-Ila, Osun State, how to build automatic hand wash and hand sanitizer dispensers and how to produce the non-pharmaceutical interventions required for reopening of schools.
There are limitations to some products due to NAFDAC regulations but the school can reduce the cost of getting these items by over 55% and this can be put to good use. We focus on using readily available materials including scrap materials in developing solutions. Some mechanical and electrical parts are obtained from discarded appliances. We remove the useful components and put them to good use. Our final products do not look like what we started with. It is more like turning ashes to beauty. Using this model, we can develop much-needed solutions in rural and suburban communities and promote development with a view to eliminating poverty.
Among others, we built a UV-cabinet used for viewing chromatographic plates and fluorescent substances.
Currently, we have a team that is building some equipment used in science laboratories at the secondary and tertiary levels. With the project we engage a workforce who earn money. We provide technological solutions to various sectors which enhances development. This helps to eliminate poverty.
Parents’ and guardians’ tendency to influence children and wards to study courses of their choices against their will and passion has been an albatross in generating human resources that have requisite skills to inspire and contribute to national development. To what extent has Science Ignite been able to stem this tide? What is your advice to parents and guardians?
Currently, we are partnering with Mind Helpers Network, an organization set up to increase productivity and mental capacity across the board in the society through mentoring and career counselling. In collaboration with them, we facilitate career talks and engage students and parents including entrepreneurs who have the foresight of the skills that will be relevant and in high demand in the future. We bring in our expertise by analysing past, current and future trends in technology and ultimately channel our energy towards creating the future we envision for children. So far, we have had some good results.
Parents and educators should diligently study their children and wards, identify their unique abilities and never compare them with other children and force a particular course on them. They should rather expose them to various disciplines with diligent attention to skills that will be relevant in the 4th Industrial Revolution. Engaging experts may be necessary here.
Let children make their choice under the guidance of a career counsellor. Then parents and educators should help in the development of the right skills which must be chosen wisely.
Importation of products and youth unemployment challenges have continued to stifle the country’s economic growth. How does Science Ignite stimulate education to address the problems and what is the way forward?
Every change begins from the mind. We reorient the minds of participants during our trainings and make them know that we can develop products that can compete effectively in the global market. This has ignited passion for excellence and productivity in young minds. The more we can achieve local manufacturing, the more employment opportunities we provide. Our programmes and curriculum are geared towards creating value through indigenous product design and development. Our team members are constantly engaged in developing technological solutions to whatever problem we discover. Last year, we developed child protection extension boxes which can turn off electrical appliances when babies crawl too close to them.
They help to prevent electrocution. The extension boxes used to be imported but the other child protection kit was developed locally with available materials. This is a way of reducing importation.
To enhance the acceptability of our indigenous products, we give attention to aesthetics. Many locally made products usually do not appeal to the eyes. So, we pay careful attention to the design of the products we develop and we teach our participants to do the same. This will further enhance the acceptance of indigenous products, reducing imports and increasing employment.
How can the education sector survive the post COVID-19 challenges in the context of the fallen standard of education and other distresses occasioned by the pandemic lockdown?
The fallen educational standard will not be solved by having more classes but a reorientation aimed at value and profit. Students should be taught how to practically solve problems in their immediate environment using the knowledge taught in school. Students should be graded based on both academic and field performances, not just academic (theory and lab work). Due to overcrowded classes, outdoor lessons can be taken or students can attend classes in batches.
The other problem is sustenance of the COVID-19 measures and how public schools can afford or sustain the use of hand sanitizers and hand wash. Some of them do not even have access to water. Science Ignite Africa Initiative has started the SWATCoV Project to help suppress the distresses caused by the pandemic. Our solution is to train and equip students and science teachers with the knowledge and skills required to locally manufacture hand wash, hand sanitizers and disinfectants and also develop/build foot-operated hand wash dispensers and disinfection booths/tunnels. This will significantly reduce the cost of acquisition by about 50% and also help to sustain the requirements stipulated in the guidelines.
This project focuses on children with special needs and those in secondary schools; and will create leadership and scientific mindset that will further enhance STEM education in Nigeria during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have successfully designed hand washing booths and dispensers that put into consideration children with disabilities. The students’ early exposure to problem-solving skills will further help them to tackle other challenges that may come up in the future.
Online classes are now being encouraged and in no time from now, schools will begin to embrace online registration and fewer hours will be spent taking classes on-site. We started a free e-learning platform where we have young and vibrant first-class university students teaching Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, and Further Mathematics; aiding preparation for the West African Senior Secondary Certificate Examination and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination.
The interruption of the learning process has been an issue of concern. It is expected that students will forget things they had read before the lockdown. In response to this, we started Memory Training Programme (MTP), which when completed, will give participants uncommon abilities to remember things they have learned. Sixty percent of examination failure is a result of inability to remember things that were read. The memory training programme is a springboard to help students recover from learning distresses caused by the closure of schools due to the corona virus lockdown.