Over the years, there has been significant increase in the number of scientific research projects in Africa with the World Bank reporting that many sub-Saharan African countries have advanced in their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) productivity over the last decade (World Bank, 2014). But how many of us hear about these great works?
THE PROBLEM – WHO TELLS OUR SCIENCE STORIES?
Media houses are capable of telling stories that capture the public’s attention; so is the reluctance because Science news does not sell? Maybe the lack of STEM related stories in our newsfeed emanates from the stereotype engraved in our minds as a child which still echoes today; Science and Mathematics are difficult.
Why is the Premier Communications School in the country; Ghana Institute of Journalism teaching courses like Political Communication, Sports Journalism, Community Journalism and yet has no place for Science Communication?
We can all admit that science is in fact a tricky thing to explain, made harder by the technical language and jargon. For most students, what they are being taught will remain in the confines of the books and perhaps their exam hall, with no thought to how it will be applied in ‘real life’. So imagine communicating science to someone who thinks they have escaped science. It must be a consistent effort with appropriate language made relevant and relatable through multiple mediums.
So for how long will we allow outsiders tell our stories, stories of our advancement in STEM? Is it right to wait for the BBC or Aljazeera to run stories covering science in Ghana before we show interest in telling stories about the bamboo bike, launch of satellites or the water bicycle?
THE ANSWER – TRAIN SCIENCE COMMUNICATORS
Science Communicators exist all over the world but in Ghana it is yet to come up to the level we witness when communicating issues relating to politics, sports and other sources of entertainment.
There are associations and universities for science communicators in Canada, Australia, USA, New Zealand, France, Japan and many others. Closer to home, the South African government has set up two Research Chairs in Science Communication; one in Stellenbosch University and the other in Rhodes University, with course participants being mostly communicators, media officers, workers from science NGOs and universities.
So far Stellenbosch University is the only African institution providing an online course on Science Journalism in Africa. At home, the Ghanaian government, media and universities have shown no support for science communication.
Science comes from the Latin word ‘Scientia’ which means knowledge, expertness or experience. So communicating science means communicating knowledge. There was a time when this was very common.
Throw your mind back to the images of ancient Greeks in their long robes in public spaces during the dawn of enlightenment as they debated their philosophies and science. Ancient Philosophers and scientists like Archimedes, Socrates, Plato, Democritus and many others were science communicators! They effectively communicated science at its basic level to those who knew little about the subject thereby democratizing knowledge leading to the enlightenment and advancement of all.
Today, science communicators do not necessarily wear long robes and are not limited to communicating science in public spaces as ancient times.
There are modern means like print and online media as well as television and radio. But how often do you see them on the headlines of major Ghanaian newspapers? What of the people producing and applying knowledge to solve societal problems using science? Who is telling their story?
Science communication is not an innate skill but must be thought, however I have come across many scientists who can eloquently explain their work in simple terms. With an active collaboration between scientists and professional communicators or journalists, science stories will be news worthy leading to more conversations and interests among the public.
Science communicators can cut through the jargon and explain more complex terms in simple language to give science in Ghana the recognition it deserves and our scientists a place in history.
FUSING SCIENCE WITH THE ARTS
Science communication is not limited to printed articles, social media, or discussions on television and radio. The art industry is yet untapped. Do our movies always have to be centered on love, money and witchcraft? What of movies celebrating science and the lives of Ghanaian scientists like the late Prof. Francis Allotey who worked at NASA or Ghana’s first woman professor of science at University of Ghana and former National Math and Science Quiz mistress Prof. Ewurama Addy. How about “The heart repairer”, Dr. Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng who performed the first open-heart surgery in Ghana!
You have probably enjoyed watching movies like the women computers at NASA in ‘Hidden Figures’ and the story of the world famous neurosurgeon; Dr. Ben Carson in ‘Gifted hands’. Now imagine Adjetey Annan or Andrew Tandoh Adote on screen as the vibrant Prof Francis Allotey of NASA; Ghana’s first full professor in mathematics and the man whose work helps determine matter in outer space.
Imagine Jackie Appiah as the late Prof. Ewurama Addy, a woman who broke the barrier for women and girls across Ghana in the study and teaching of science at our universities.
Imagine what this will do for girls and boys in classrooms across the country as we portray these icons. Imagine the type of conversations this will start in our public discourse, all because we made a conscious decision to promote science communication in Ghana.