One of the biggest tragedies that we have in Nigeria is the low level of the skill of critical thinking and problem solving. To compound matters, even highly-educated people often act and think quite irrationally and hold unto superstitious beliefs. Very few forward thinking ideas from the 21st century globalism has taken root in our belief system. Most of the economic and social development unfortunately is driven by international aid agencies and NGOs.
What makes this ironic is that human capital is our biggest resource. All over the world, Nigerians are celebrated for excellence in various fields of endeavors. In the United States, it has been found that 2 out of 5 medical professionals are of Nigerian extraction. Nigerians attain higher degrees and have lots of positive press in Western media about the achievements of our brilliant minds. In spite of that, there are so many challenges in ensuring that all learners have access to basic education. Then go beyond that to ensuring that we have more students move on to secondary school and tertiary levels, get them to be STEM literate. Make their STEM learning relevant and applicable to solving our problems.
For a long time, we mostly trained students to be administrators, civil servants and such, which was ok as we did need to raise leaders to move us towards self-government. The time for that has passed though; we need to update our learning paradigms, especially for the 21st century. We need to raise students who will be future ready. STEM education is critical for this.
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 something, people are more liable to understand it’s importance and then adopt it. To re-engineer the minds of the people, they need to be shown what is going on around them in the world.
In order to get this done, we need to improve the quality of STEM teaching. When the United Nations launched the “Global Education First Initiative.” In September 2012, to raise awareness of the importance of education, 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.
I am in the process of working on a public awareness campaign to elevate the relevance of STEM subjects, STEM fields and re-engineer minds about these subjects. I am a firm advocate of catch them young and intend to elicit their interest and curiosity with activities and interactive programmes. Above that, the ultimate aim we have (organisations like mine) is to get teach them how to use STEM skills to solve problems, rather than just regurgitate theories that they were taught.
It is true not all of our students will undertake STEM jobs, in the 21st century they need a strong foundation in these subjects. They will be future ready for the rapidly changing world that exists now.
We 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 do desire more women in STEM fields, but 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 children’s education and health because science learning nurtures a critical mind. These women ignore to old superstitions and solve problems using logic and reason.
In order for Nigerians and Africans as a whole to deal with their own issues, fix their own social and economic development, rather than continually relying upon international aid agencies – STEM skills acquisition needs to be emphasised at all levels.
Teach our students these two key things— one how to solve our social problems and second how to make our nations more economically viable. Let them know what is happening around the world. Get their minds to remain open so that we would have worldwide collaboration.