Monday, 24 October 2011

We need science education

The failure of African countries to invest in science and technology in order to add value to their raw materials has been blamed for their underdevelopment.

This puts the continent on the back-foot for effectively contributing to global trade and competing effectively in the global competitive landscape. 

Speaking in an interview with B&FT in the lead-up to the Vodafone African Business Leaders Forum (ABLF) scheduled for 10th -12th November, 2011, Professor Kwaku Atuahene-Gima, the Director, Centre for Marketing and Innovation and the Executive Director of China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) Africa, stressed the crucial need for African countries to move away from a distributive to an industrial economy in order to develop. 

“Running a distributive economy has not helped because African countries have not been able to create value for their raw materials. Cocoa, gold, timber and many other raw materials are still being exported in their raw state.”

The lack of innovation and creativity, attributed to deficiency in science and technology education, is what holds back the continent from attaining the much-needed fast-growth and a gradual shift from a distributive to a technology-based economy, according to experts. 

“Currently, there is an over-concentration on the arts. Our educational institutions lack the facilities to offer practical hands-on training. Africa needs a robust educational system that gives the practical skills to turn things around. Tertiary institutions churn out thousands of graduates in the social sciences who compete for non-existent jobs.” 

A recent study published by the Ghana Employers Association, which represents over 1,500 employers in both the formal and informal sectors of Ghana, shows that science and applied science professionals needed by businesses are in short supply compared to business-oriented professionals. 

In Ghana, the polytechnics are mandated by the Polytechnic Law, 2007 (Act 745), to provide middle-level technically-minded personnel to support growth and development of the economy. 

However, the focus is gradually shifting to arts education to the detriment of science and technology. The shift in focus seems to derail the production of technical manpower for accelerating technological and economic growth. 

In the 2009/2010 academic year, about 29,000 students were admitted to pursue arts programmes as against 14,000 students enrolled in the sciences in the country’s polytechnics.

It is estimated that 60 percent of polytechnic students graduate in business-oriented programmes compared to just 40 percent in the sciences. 

Indeed, there has been a systematic decline in students’ enrolment in the sciences over the last ten years. 

Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, which is a specialist science and technology university, has in recent years introduced various arts-related courses as part of its programmes.

Comparatively, South East Asia giant India currently has 113 universities and 2,088 colleges, many of which teach various engineering disciplines. Engineering colleges in the country have been growing at 20 percent a year. 

India produced 401,791 engineers in 2003-04, 35 percent being computer engineers. In 2004-2005, the number of engineering graduates increased to 464,743, of which 31 percent were computer engineers. 

There is a conscious effort by the Indian and Chinese governments to invest in science and technology education. 

The share of government expenditure on technical education in India is reportedly about 4 percent. In China, the amount spent on research and development - especially in engineering fields - is a good 10 percent of government expenditure.

According to Prof. Atuahene-Gima, it calls for good leadership to create the necessary conducive environment and policies to support science and technology education. 

“We need to build a strong vocational sector that will produce the needed technical expertise so we can add value to our natural resources. 

“Leadership is about taking people to a place they do not want to go. Leadership is not management. Africa needs leaders who can convince people, provide the vision and create the environment through the enactment of the right policies so its people will go where they do not want to go.

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