Critical to prioritise science, technology
Lloyd Gumbo Senior Reporter
“What is the use of teaching a Bantu child Mathematics (and Science) when it cannot use it in practice? . . . Education must train and teach people in accordance with their opportunities in life,” architect of apartheid and former South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd was quoted as having said in 1945.
It would appear independent Sadc countries are still unwittingly guided by Verwoerd’s colonial mentality given current challenges facing the region in promoting Mathematics, Science and Technology education.
As such, the 34th Sadc Summit of the Heads of State and Government to be held in Victoria Falls from August 17-18 must re-affirm its commitment to promoting science and technology through practical steps. It is evident that technological advancements have revolutionalised economies in some developing countries because they have invested in the sector.
As it stands, there are high chances that primary and secondary school pupils in the Sadc region are being taught Science subjects by untrained teachers, given the chronic shortage of qualified personnel across the region.
This is despite the fact that it is now five years since Sadc countries passed the Protocol on Science, Technology and Innovation to foster co-operation and promote development of science and technology in the region. It is inevitable that shortage of teachers and dwindling numbers of pupils taking up Science and Mathematics subjects will deal a major blow to the region’s efforts to promote innovation. Science and technology must be the regional strategic priorities if Sadc countries are to keep pace with world development trends.
Appropriate education is central to the development of any economy, hence there is need for the regional bloc to pursue relevant education, with Mathematics, Science and technology being at the core of the curriculum. For too long, Africa has relied on the traditional forms of economic development with over reliance on raw products from agriculture and mining at a time some developing countries are driving to maturity and others heading towards high mass consumption, as explained by Rostow’s modernity theory .
Science and technology have become the main source of economic development across the world if one is to take into account the speed of Asia’s technological advances that translated to economic boom. While Sadc countries brag about having the world’s best natural resources, Asian countries have used innovation to promote their growth.
What was supposed to be Asia’s disadvantage of lack of natural resources and land was turned to an opportunity as countries in that region emphasised innovation through science and technology.
Today, almost every new technology including electronic gadgets are from Asia and some analysts believe America is now trailing in innovation. Ironically, the Asian countries use raw materials from Africa that they would have bought for a song. Analysts believe technological advancement must be the focus, given the impact it has had on emerging economies like Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Henry Rowen in the book, “Behind East Asian Growth: The Political and Social Foundations of Prosperity” says the way Asian countries developed through innovation provided important lessons for developing countries throughout the world.
“This success can be attributed to many factors, of which progress in technology has been crucial. Supporting this remarkable progress was an early national commitment in developing science and technology,” said Rowen.
As such, it is time Sadc leaders stop sitting on their laurels thinking natural resources are the only answer to the region’s economic problems.
Until and unless Africa in general and Sadc in particular prioritises science and technology, indigenous Africans will continue to be exporters of cheap resources and importers of pricey gadgets.
The major challenge in Sadc at the moment is that not much emphasis has been put in promoting science and technology, despite signing of the Protocol on Science, Technology and Innovation.
If science and technology are to have an impact in the region, then Sadc leaders must commit to promote Science and Mathematics education than the status quo where there is a shortage of relevant skills. Surely, a Music teacher cannot teach Mathematics or any of the Science subjects because they are technical subjects that can only be taught in a special way.
A number of Sadc countries have a critical shortage of Mathematics and Science teachers, making it a regional problem that requires a collective regional solution.
It is, therefore, important that regional leaders reflect and act on what needs to be done if socio-economic development is to be achieved.
Analysts say there is general reluctance by pupils in Africa to take up Science and Mathematics subjects because they are taught by unqualified teachers with little understanding of the field.
As a result, pupils prefer other relatively easy fields like Arts or Social Sciences instead of hard sciences.
Analysts argue that with the right personnel, pupils would be willing to study Science and Mathematics subjects.
Zimbabwe’s Primary and Secondary Education Minister Lazarus Dokora recently said the country had a shortage of at least 1 500 Mathematics and Science teachers, which reflects the general trend in the region.
Minister Dokora attributed the deficit to a number of challenges, among them shortage of trained Mathematics and Science teachers, inadequate resources and inappropriate teaching methodologies.
He said statistics from the Zimbabwe Schools Examination Council showed that about 27 500 out of 280 000 pupils sat for Biology, Chemistry and Physics at Ordinary Level last year, despite Government’s investments through the Zim-Science project.
It would be a miracle if more than 3 000 pupils from the 27 500 proceeded to study Mathematics and Science subjects at Advanced level.
The other challenge is that Sadc countries have failed to provide adequate relevant laboratory equipment in most public rural schools, which could be the case in urban schools as well.
It is, therefore, important for Sadc countries to come up with practical mechanisms to promote Science and Mathematics right from primary school and for that to happen there is need to have qualified teachers in those disciplines.
Instead of churning out thousands of Arts and Social Science graduates every year, the region must endeavour to produce more Science graduates, after all jobs for Arts graduates are dwindling.
It is important for the regional bloc to collectively find ways of sharing resources in science and technology in line with the Sadc Protocol on Science, Technology and Innovation if the region is to move out of underdevelopment and perpetual poverty.