24 January 2013

Nigeria: Science Education As Catalyst for Development

Seasoned educationists bemoan the poor performance of Nigerian students in science, saying that their concern stems from the fact that no nation can experience meaningful development without having a strong science base.

The experts stress that any country that is desirous of development should have a tangible interest in science and technology, ascribing the phenomenal growth of some Asian countries to their resolve to embrace science and technology.

Sharing similar sentiments, Prof. Ita Ewa, the Minister of Science and Technology, noted that the "Asian Tigers" were able to achieve their current level of development because they embraced science and technology.

"While some of them embraced a broader scientific culture linked to education, others introduced modern technology with heavy emphasis on building skills," he added.

In spite of the general awareness of the fact that science and technology remains a dependent variable in all pragmatic national development plans, Nigerian students appear not to be doing well in the sciences.

Mr Aina Kola, an educationist, who cited the performance of students in science subjects in the May/June West African School Certificate Examinations as an illustration, decried the poor performance.

He said that in 2006, only 22 per cent of the candidates passed in science subjects, while the pass rate for 2007 dropped to 20 per cent.

Kola said that in 2009, 2010 and 2011, the pass rate was 26 per cent, 26 per cent and 23 per cent respectively.

He attributed the candidates' poor performance in science subjects to the poor infrastructure, the students' attitude to learning and the lack of appropriate teaching skills by science teachers, among others.

Similarly, the Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa'i, described the declining interest of students in the study of mathematics and science-related courses as unacceptable.

She stressed that the trend should be checked if the country must move forward.

Rufa'i stressed that Nigeria could not achieve any meaningful progress without promoting the study of mathematics and other sciences, adding that tangible efforts should be made to encourage excellence in science education and research.

However, the Federal Ministry of Education, through the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), has been addressing some of the critical challenges militating against science education, especially in secondary schools.

To expand the students' access to laboratory equipment, Dr Umar Bindir, NOTAP's Director-General, said that the agency was collaborating with research institutes and relevant agencies to provide locally made science laboratory equipment.

"We believe that the slowness in the study of science is probably because the facilities are not available and Nigerians can provide these materials even at cheaper prices," he said.

Bindir said that all the key institutions in the sector were brought together for the project.

He listed the institutions as National Institute for Chemical Technology, National Biotechnology Developments Agency, National Mathematical Centre and Raw Materials Research and Development Council, among others.

Bindir said that along the line, the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure was also brought into the group.

"We hope that before the end of this year, we should be able to launch a product that is domestic; one with 100 per cent local content.

"By the time we finish the project, we will lobby the government to enforce a policy that every secondary school in Nigeria must have a science laboratory. This is because we can do it; we don't need to import anything," he said.

As part of efforts to boost science education, Bindir said that NOTAP was engaging some agencies and companies to produce technology storyboards for all primary and secondary schools in the country.

These storyboards will consist of graphic details, showcasing the use of technology to process raw materials into end products.

"I am happy to report that we have got partnerships with industries that have submitted assorted technology storyboards," Bindir said.

The NOTAP chief said that about N200 million would be invested in the project, which would be executed with contributions from industries and other stakeholders.

"They have pledged to be part of the experimentation and the study processes, while providing some of their raw materials and products that can be showcased on the storyboards," he said.

He said that the storyboards will be co-launched by the science and technology minister as well as the education minister before their introduction as a teaching tool.

Besides, Bindir said that NOTAP, in collaboration with a private sector operator, was planning to introduce traditional technology in schools across the country.

He argued that traditional scientific knowledge, which ought to be kept alive, was gradually fading away.

"We want to bring traditional scientific knowledge back, in order to promote the understanding of science and technology in our schools," he added.

Bindir also announced plans to introduce an annual award, "The Young Innovation Award", to promote inventions and innovations among secondary school students.

Commenting on NOTAP's programmes, Mr Adebayo Ishola, a teacher, urged the leadership of the agency to ensure all the programmes were realised.

He said it was only after that achievement that NOTAP would be able to earn the citizens' commendation.

Stakeholders particularly urge NOTAP and other relevant agencies to sustain efforts to provide locally made laboratory equipment for secondary schools, saying that the venture will surely boost the quality of science education.

-NAN Features

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