The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, etc.
But at the heart of achieving all the 17 goals is the role of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics based education, and Innovation (STEMI), which are increasingly recognized globally as fundamental to national development and productivity, economic competitiveness, societal wellbeing and to some extent, the very basis for human survival and activity.
Globally, policy interventions by governments and budget allocations have been the vehicles for spurring STEM education and innovation, among others. Notable examples include the United Kingdom’s Science & Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014 and 2017 paper, Industrial Strategy: Building a Britain fit for the Future. In Australia, STEM education, Research and Development and industry innovation-related policies, including the National STEM School Education Strategy released in 2015, and the 2018 plan, Australia 2030: Prosperity Through Innovation. New Zealand’s National Statement on Science Investment 2015-2025 whilst in the United States, leading reports such as Rising Above the Gathering Storm and Revisiting the STEM Workforce, have generated interest in STEM.
Ghana’s strategy started with the institution of the Science, Technology and Mathematics Education (STME) Clinic by the Ghana Education Service in 1987; establishment of the Science Education Unit; and establishment of the Girls’ Education Unit in 1997, towards non-discriminatory enrolment in education, and general reduction of gender disparities in the education sector.
Again, although not a government policy, the National Science and Maths Quiz, a.k.a. “brilla”, has become a driving force towards STEM education and innovation. Other initiatives, such as the Gas Challenge quiz competition, of which the University of Mines and Technology is the back-to-back champions, and the Robotics Inspired Science Education, are equally igniting passion for the discipline.
Design of a Skip Counter for an Underground Mine by student innovators. Photo credit: UMaT Audio-Visual Unit.
Concept of Innovation
Until recently, many perceived innovation only as something drastic, out of the blue, which no man has ever done, or attempted to do on the planet.
Not to say that radical innovation is undesirable, but ignoring, the incremental, step-by-step, daily improvements, known as “kaizen”, that can collectively bring about a significant change and progress, for some wild radical ideas, which may not even be realised, is what is worrying.
Whether adopted or created, technological (new technology to develop new products) or managerial (new policies, procedures), the fact is that, although innovation gives organisations and countries competitive edge over others, it is not automatic for growth and development. Thus, culture, structure, as well as the resource capabilities, are critical for innovation to result in the desired solutions to organisations and ultimately, society as a whole.
Design of a 3D printer from E-waste by a student innovator. Photo credit: UMaT Audio-Visual Unit
A Paradigm Shift
If Orville and Wilbur Wright, a.k.a. the Wright brothers, had a board of directors at their Dayton bicycle shop that was evaluating their new transportation concept, we could expect one or all of the following answers:
“It’s not part of our current core competencies.” “It’s not aligned with our corporate strategic plan to expand into the tricycle market”. “We don’t even have the funds available to explore this idea due to recent input cost increases in bicycle seats.”
STEM Education in Ghana, has traditionally been a preserve of students who studied “pure science”, as we used to call it back in the days, with subjects such as Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Additional Mathematics.
But the University of Mines and Technology (UMaT), Tarkwa, is breaking new grounds by recognising the strong linkage between STEM, and Arts education that fosters design, creativity and innovation, an idea first mooted by the Ministry of Education.
As a result, the University is championing the vision of the Minister for Education, and has created an opportunity for non-science Senior High School graduates, especially, Visual Arts graduates, who have the desire and possess the ability and creative minds, to be trained as innovative and creative engineers.
Furthermore, students who hitherto did not study Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Elective Mathematics, now have the opportunity to enroll in a one-year pre-engineering programme and upon successful completion, enroll into any of the unique undergraduate Bachelor of Science (BSc.) engineering programmes at the University.
The Ministry of Education launched the Education Strategic Plan 2018-2030, which among others, targets 60% enrolment in STEM programmes at the tertiary level. However, the Ministry identified that less than 10% of pre-tertiary enrolment are in science programmes.
Meanwhile, it is incontestable that STEM education and Innovation are the catalyst for industrialisation and development of countries.
Therefore, this unprecedented innovation (arts to engineering), is to gradually help tilt the balance towards Ghana’s policy target of a 60:40 Science-to-Humanities Ratio, for the needed industrialisaton and development.
Student Innovators in an Electrical Engineering Lab. Photo credit: UMaT Audio-Visual Unit
Innovations in UMaT and the SDGs
Deducing from the “concept of fit”, innovation in any form as a tool for organisational or national growth and development, must align with the strategic objectives as well as the overall vision and mission of the organisation or society. Thus, among the strategic objectives of the University, is to train students to become entrepreneurial, and also establish a link with industry, to develop and transfer problem-solving technologies that improve livelihoods of people, especially the poor and vulnerable.
Few of such innovations include the design of an improved (3 in 1) palm oil and fibre-nut separation machine to help scale-up production by rural women; Drone Flight and Mission Control with a Chatbot for Rescue Operations and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR); CocoaNet Mobile App for early cocoa disease and pest detection, leading to early treatment of affected cocoa trees; and lastly, Mine Granite as a cheaper alternative for road construction in Ghana
All of the above objectives and innovations are hinged on the quest to contribute to the sustainable development goals, and the university based on its vision and mission has selected some of the SDGs for University-wide research. These are:
Goal 1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere;
Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Goal 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact
Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystem, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss and
Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
In addition, UMaT observes global days such as the World Environment Day, Small Scale Mining Awareness Day, World Engineering Day, International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Africa Industrialisation Day, World Day for Safety and Health at Work, International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, World Water Day, World Intellectual Property Day and World AIDS Day.
With this focus, it is expected that the continuous investment in stem-based education, and support from donor/funding agencies, for innovations by institutions of higher learning in Ghana, would significantly result in solving some of the challenges we face.
UMaT’s model for achieving the SDGs
A tree planting exercise led by the Vice Chancellor in commemoration of the World Environment Day of the SDGs
Photo credit: UMaT Audio-Visual Unit
WRITER: MICHAEL BREMFI.
UNIVERSITY OF MINES AND TECHNOLOGY, TARKWA.