October 22, 2017

Rethinking STEM education in Ghana

The vision of the first President of the Republic 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% of the 127,502 students who were admitted into the eight public universities in the 2012/2013 academic year were admitted into Science-related programs. This percentage falls incredibly short of the 60% mandatory Science-related admissions policy of the Ministry of Education.

Clearly, students are fleeing from STEM education in Ghana. 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.

 

Equip Schools with Tools for Studying STEM

Lack of equipment is one of the biggest problems facing STEM education  in Ghana. A UNESCO report on education in four African countries, including Ghana, discovered that there is a serious dearth of “functional laboratories” in most schools in these countries because of the lack of equipment, while some schools are completely without laboratories for practical work, forcing teachers to adopt a largely theoretical curriculum.

STEM reform1
The then Power Minister, Mr Kwabena Donkor, donating Lab equipment to Yeji SHS

If the nation is to benefit from science and technology taught at these levels, then there needs to be adequate and well equipped facilities and laboratories for STEM education in Ghana. 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 center 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.

An NGO providing hands on computer classes for pupils in Ghanaian Schools
An NGO providing hands on computer classes for pupils in Ghanaian Schools

Learning from an early age allows children to develop an interest in technology when they are more impressionable as well as providing students 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 realized 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 that a STEM education in Ghana could provide.

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 about 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 Personnel to take up the challenge of teaching STEM in schools.

Section of participants at an "Integration of ICT into Teaching of Mathematics, English and Integrated Science" (MEIS) workshop
Section of participants at an “Integration of ICT into Teaching of Mathematics, English and Integrated Science” (MEIS) workshop

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 personnel 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 organized for STEM educators in order to keep them abreast of innovations or new developments to boost the relevance of STEM education inGhana.

 

 

 

CONCLUSION

We currently live in an era that is characterized 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.

  • Nys

    Students in Ghana might really need to have a better type of education especially if they are about to take up STEM courses which will give them the skills they need. Thus, it should then be run or implemented well and if they see that it still need to have some improvement, then they should do it.