Science Teacher Scarcity Threatens Africa’s Growth

 

In the foreword of the book “Contemporary Issues in African Sciences and Science Education”, Jophus Anamuah-Mensah asserts that “if you want development, you should provide relevant education”.

The Professor and Director for the Centre for School and Community Science and Technology Studies at the University of Education, Winneba (Ghana), further says education has come to be seen as the key to unlocking the potential of countries in their struggle to pave a sound pathway for the socio-economic and political transformation of their citizens.

However, Anamuah-Mensah notes that the attempt to use education as the driving force to change the economic fortunes of countries within and across Africa has and continues to pose numerous challenges to many governments.

“One of the areas required for development but which at the same time poses a great challenge is science education,” says the professor, adding that different challenges are hindering science to solve community problems currently persisting in the continent.

Sharing the same views is Zimbabwe’s Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, Lazarus Dokora, who says the teaching and learning of science and the consequent performance of learners have continued to be affected by many challenges including inadequate resources for effective practical activities, shortage of trained science teachers and inappropriate teaching methodologies.

African countries are also slow in solving problems affecting science education, and this inadequate attention to the development of science is seriously affecting the production of critical manpower needed for the continent’s future development.

Inappropriate teaching methodologies coupled with severe shortages of trained science teachers in most African countries are also affecting the performance of students.

This poor performance of students particularly in science at primary, secondary as well as tertiary levels in Africa is therefore posing a serious threat to the continent’s economic development.

Engineer Umar Bindir of the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion concurs that the high student failure rates in science-related subjects in national examinations is a threat to the future development of Africa’s economy, and therefore expressed dissatisfaction with the rate at which students avoid science subjects, saying “science-related subjects are key engines of socio-economic growth in any nation”.

“Science subjects are critical engines of economic development. Go to Korea and see. Every little child has literarily taken science and mathematics as religion. 

That is why you can see the progress they are making,’’ he says, adding that “science-related subjects are critical in ensuring adequate power generation, its transmission, distribution and maintenance of facilities as well as ensuring food security, because they are the basic needs of the people”.

Bindir further asks, “If our young people are avoiding these important subjects, who will know about genetics, who will breed cows, know about fertiliser, manufacture of tractors or tilling the soil?”

Meanwhile, Bindir says if the continent of Africa wants to start consuming locally manufactured products, science education must be taken seriously.

This means governments and all key stakeholders in the science and development fraternity need to give adequate attention to the development of science education in their respective countries.

As critical stakeholders, governments must engage science graduates from colleges and universities to take science teaching posts at various schools as an effective way to curb the shortage of science teachers, and effectively change the face of science education in Africa.

To add on, ministries of science and technology in African countries must acquire and deploy latest science laboratory equipment to schools as a stop-gap measure, and these science laboratory kits should take in necessary items for subjects such as biology, chemistry and physics; chemicals and other consumables; shelving racks; and storage trays.

United Nations Children’s Fund representative for Zimbabwe, Reza Hossaini, is of the view that science kits not only bring back the enthusiasm to learn science among students but also strengthens practical appreciation of science among teachers.

“Science kits can also bring back the pride of teaching science as they equip teachers with the necessary tools to do their job better,” says Hossaini, adding that “any country that seeks to develop its economy should prioritise science and technology as there is no better way of doing this than to begin at the school level.”

Furthermore, training of science educators should be prioritised if the continent needs to improve science education. 

Was it not Aristotle, a Greek philosopher and scientist, who once said: “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation?”

Science teachers and education officers should be thoroughly trained in the use and maintenance of science laboratory equipment and other methodologies that can enable them to fully equip their students with appropriate knowledge necessary to solve different challenges ravaging the continent.

In one South African weekly paper, education researcher Nic Spaull said: “Although there are some signs of improvement in the African education system, we know that things remain dire.” 

Accordingly, governments and stakeholders must take all necessary action to arrest that dire situation and improve science education in the great continent also known as the cradle of humankind.

June 2014
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