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STEM education as a catalyst for national development

Students during their computer lesson


Considering the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education to the development of the nation, Star Deep Petroleum Limited, a Chevron company and the Agbami parties in conjunction with the Lagos Business School (LBS) recently held a symposium in Lagos to deliberate on issues bordering on STEM education, the challenges and how to ensure that it is elevated to a national priority. Iyabo Lawal reports

Science in the world over stimulates development, but Nigeria said to be in the league of developing countries has little or no investment in STEM education. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education is a global concept that encompasses the processes of critical thinking, analysis, and collaboration. In this period of recession, when it has become necessary to seek alternative sources of boosting the economy,, STEM has been identified as a viable option.

In a world that is becoming increasingly complex, where success is driven not only by what you know, but also by what you can do with the knowledge, it is imperative for youths to be equipped with skills to solve tough problems, gather and evaluate evidence, and make sense of information. These are the types of skills that students learn through STEM education.

But sadly today, few students pursue expertise in STEM fields while there are also inadequate teachers skilled in those subjects. That is why government and experts in the sector are stepping up measures to increase the number of students and teachers who are proficient in these vital fields.

The need to promote the study of STEM education among our youths formed the fulcrum of the symposium held recently by Star Deep Petroleum limited and Agbami parties, comprising Famfa Oil; Statoil Nigeria Limited and Petroleo Brasileiro Nigeria Limited.

The symposium held in conjunction with LBS and titled, “Promoting excellence in STEM teaching and learning,” concluded that the only pathway for our youths to succeed in the new information based and technology-driven global society is to embrace science education.

Stakeholders also held that Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are some of the key subjects to study now for the country to evolve the scientific and technological innovations needed to face the challenges of globalisation and to build an evolving knowledge-based economy.

Director, Star Deep Water Petroleum, Mr. Richard Kennedy sets the tone for the symposium when he reminded that investment in human capital is key to the development of any nation. According to him, the Agbami parties believe that the most rewarding investment is that which centres on the people, because the greatest assets of a nation are its people.

“This is the underlying philosophy behind our social investment in the thematic focus areas of health, education and economic development. We believe in the principle of adding value and enriching lives in any society we operate in. We discovered that in Nigeria, we are not short of intelligent young people or bright minds, but we are short of opportunities.”

He said they considered that to have engineers, doctors and other scientists that will drive the country’s economy, they must have started studying STEM at the early stages. It was also discovered that many schools lacked laboratories and sciences cannot be studies effectively without laboratories.

“What Agbami parties have done is to start from the basis to create opportunities for young people to be stimulated towards the study of sciences. We decided to approach it from a number of places; first is to help produce science education infrastructure which led to the construction of science laboratories, fully equipped with the latest equipment.”

He added that the parties wanted to make sure that the next person to find a cure for cancer is not hindered because the parents cannot pay for medical education, “that led to the support for engineering and medical sciences through the Agbami scholarship and the result has been phenomenal”.

Kennedy said the symposium would come up with improved or alternative learning approaches in STEM education, ways of strengthening the adaptation of these approaches to the educational sector; encourage and recommend engagement opportunities for how Nigerian businesses can effectively support STEM education as part of their commitment to corporate social responsibility; and highlight the importance of STEM education to the nation’s development efforts.

The company boss who disclosed that the Agbami parties started investing in education in 2008 said about N8.4billion has been spent on the Agbami Medical and Engineering Scholarships (AMEPS), which target capacity building for students in the medical and engineering courses across the nation. So far, Kennedy stated that about 16,000 students have benefitted from the scholarship scheme, which has produced 456 first class graduates. They have also built, furnished and equipped 32 science laboratories, and six hybrid libraries, which in addition to the students, have also empowered 38 local community contractors during their construction.

“AMEPS is merit-based and only open to college undergraduates with medical (incorporating related medical science fields), and engineering disciplines (incorporating related science and mathematics fields). Students from all states in the country and duly enrolled in all National Universities Commission (NUC)-accredited universities are eligible.”

On the rationale behind the intervention by the Agbami partners, the General Manager, Policy, Government and Public Affairs, Mr Esimaje Brikinn said they identified an opportunity gap in the country and have keyed into it.

“The Agbami parties social investments in the education sector cover science laboratory complexes, conventional and hybrid libraries and scholarships. The parties build and equip science laboratories in existing schools to improve the study and learning of science education with a view to stimulating improvement in the practical study of the sciences.”

Brikinn added, “Our social investment journey started with our belief that libraries are critical nerve centres of any learning environment, access to books is a key factor in improving the learning experience.”

In his keynote address titled “Integrating STEM and 21st century skills: Innovative approaches to STEM education, Executive Director, Science Teachers Association of Nigeria (STAN), Prof Ben Akpan identified infrastructure as the major problem confronting science education in the country.

He lamented that successive governments have failed to promote the study of sciences among the youths due to their inability to provide the basic tools needed for the teaching and learning of the subjects.

While listing the economic, social and cultural benefits of STEM, Prof Akpan said, “The science community believes that STEM is the greatest value to man and its environment. It has a dual mandate, which is to ensure that everybody has a basic literacy in science and to prepare future engineers, medical doctors and others in the society. We are in this present situation in our country because STEM education is not at the forefront.”

“How many of us know and have an idea of the universe? Many countries globally are manufacturing things, but sadly in Nigeria, we cannot even fix a door. We are getting to an era of artificial intelligence, where computers are almost taking over from human beings, if care is not taken, we may be left behind globally in the scheme of things.

He added, “The world is moving, but from our side here, we are static as nothing is happening. People talk about the curriculum, but I can tell you that that is not the problem. I have travelled all over the world for science exhibitions and I do see their curriculum; it is really not about the curriculum in itself, but actually what they can do. Infrastructure is a major deficit in Nigeria. It is critical in science. We have people who schooled here and when they go out, they excel. Teachers need to be motivated so that they will be able to engage and guide students in STEM.”

During the panel discussion on the theme “STEM education –empowering the next generation of game changers”, discussants emphasised the need for government at all levels to give priority attention to the teaching of STEM to make our students globally competitive and the nation technologically relevant.

They also canvassed greater attention on teachers to enhance the development of the sector.According to the founder, Teaching Network Foundation (TNF), Dr Dolapo Ogunbanwo, teachers must be empowered with the needed tools to be able to effectively train students on STEM education. Ogunbanwo posited that investment in students without a measure of same in teachers would only amount to a waste of resources.
 
She said, “No matter our huge investments in students, without a corresponding gesture to teachers, the nation cannot go far.  Teachers are the bedrock of the society; they must be well trained to embrace technological education because you cannot give what you don’t have.

  
In the same vein, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Global International College, Mrs Abolaji Osime who also harped on effective teachers’ training said the educational system must be overhauled to meet technological needs. She noted that the economy has changed from oil-based to technology hence the need to review the curriculum along this line, while also training teachers to meet current trends.
 
Some of the recommendations by stakeholders include the formulation of an education policy that is focused on STEM; less emphasis on certificates with more emphasis on skills and competence; collaboration between educational institutions and industries to determine the knowledge and skills students are expected to possess.

It was also suggested that the relationship between the government and the private sector should be more of a synergy in the area of policy formulation, while government should involve stakeholders in all the processes for continuity and mutual understanding.
 
 

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