Nigeria: Raising a Generation of Innovators, Inventors

12 December 2018

The adoption of STEAM has been identified as being strategic to raising innovators and inventors, who will ultimately ameliorate the rate of importation into the country, thus ending capital flight, Ogechukwu Obi reports

The reality of life today is that technology has come to stay with man and will continue to change the world and the way we perceive things. While people and nations are on constant race to catch up, the rate of technological advancement has remained astronomically high.

However, countries that appreciate the responsibility and the power of technology in boosting economic activities have embraced it and are using it to create multiples of job, improving lives and processes.

Statistics has it that more than five million new jobs are estimated to have been created by the internet alone in the past 15 years. Therefore, for countries to remain relevant in the 21st century, build viable economy, tackle poverty, create jobs and free herself from being a dumping ground for technologically savvy nations, it must have a strong educational system that encourages students to study Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Crafts and Mathematics (STEAM) subjects.

New Approach

STEAM is a new and unique approach in STEM education, which accommodates Arts and Crafts in the study of STEM, giving room for children to be trained on how to make things, thereby stimulating in them the zeal and desire to be entrepreneurs, innovators and inventors.

PriceWaterHouseCoopers, recently observed that in the nearest future, there would be a high workplace demand for skills majorly provided by STEM education which includes: critical thinking, problem solving, analytic capabilities, logical reasoning and imagination. These skills which have been identified as critical 'survival skills' in the future workplace are all embedded in STEAM.

Interestingly, most of the advanced countries ranking high in inventions and innovations are leading in STEM and STEAM education. Therefore, the country needs a workforce that is technologically savvy and able to innovate - which is achievable if STEAM education is promoted.

Meeting Local Needs

Speaking during a media chat with some journalists in Lagos, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), STEAM Empowerment Foundation (SEF), Mrs. Olabisi Ozo-Onyali, said STEM education was not sufficient for discovering and stimulating relevant talents and skills for Africa's economic survival.

According to the SEF CEO, Nigeria needs a workforce that is technologically savvy and able to innovate modern day skills, which are all imbedded in STEAM education. Stressing that STEAM education involves an educational approach that focuses on one or more disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Crafts, and Mathematics; the educator said it would be most useful in providing necessary skills that can advance an underdeveloped nation to being a developed nation, by improving her global competitiveness.

Accordingly, Ozo-Onyali said: "STEM is well known for its global demand, however Nigeria as a nation is also known for her interest in arts and crafts because it promotes cultural heritage. Therefore, STEAM Empowerment Foundation as an organisation isn't just interested in meeting global demand, but also local needs. STEM is a global trend, even in the United States and Asia, as developed as they are these countries, they still invest a lot in STEM education.

"We are introducing it to Nigerians in a way and manner our children can relate with, calling it STEAM by embedding the arts and crafts. More importantly, we are introducing the dimension of entrepreneurship; where our children are trained on how to make these things and be able to convert it into making money at the end of the day. So for someone leaving school, you can think of a thousand and one thing you can do beyond having to wait for employment from the government."

According to the CEO, every Nigerian child has the potential to become an inventor and an innovator, and should be no longer be denied the opportunity by lack of access to education and exposure. She noted that Nigerian children and youths need to be exposed to the apparatus, tools and modern technology to become globally competitive.

According to her "an interaction with these appliances and tools is what will make them become the next Michael Faraday or the next Thomas Edison. The foreign people we often celebrate don't have two heads, an early exposure from a very tender age got them to that height."

Enabling Environment

Ozo-Onyali noted that an enabling environment remains key to enabling Nigerian children to realise their potentials. Making a case for improved curriculum, conducive learning environment, good infrastructure, teachers' motivation, among others, the educator said that it would aid the country in discovering talents that are capable of turning Nigeria into another industrial hub in the world.

According to her, "The difference between the Nigerian child and one from the western world is simply the enabling environment. They keep empowering these kids to become who they ought to be; whereas in this part of the country maybe because we are an underdeveloped economy, our children are often not conversant with these tools from an early age. And I want to say that, that white child is not better than our black child! An average black child is much more intelligent than a white child but because of our environment, we are limited and thus our children do not have access to these things. So, we decided to come in because we do not want Nigeria to continue being an underdeveloped nation as it relates to STEM education. If they can do it in Asia, in the United States then nothing stops us from been able to do it in Nigeria."

The Birth of STEAM

Giving a brief history of STEAM Empowerment Foundation, the CEO said that the company took off in 2011, selling educational materials and science kits. According to her, as a major dealer in Thames and Cosmos products, after a review of the products and its impact on the users (children), she realised the need to domesticate the idea so that Nigerian children can benefit better from the concept.

She said: "Thames and Cosmos have been in Germany for over a 100 years producing science kits and toys. When the product came, we saw the technology behind that it is not the type Nigerian children are familiar with, and won't be very useful to them. The interest of the Nigerian child spurred her team into coming up with the STEAM Empowerment Foundation in 2014.

"So, we said, since we have these kits, can we sit down and look at the concept behind them and be able to communicate it to our children. And that was what gave birth to the STEAM club. Thames and Cosmos have products like hydro pack, solar park, electrochem - all these are modern technologies and were already in kits forms and we were convinced that if we give them to our Nigerian children, they won't relate with it.

"So, we said to ourselves instead of bringing in these products for our children to just play with them as toys and nothing at the end of the day is impacted to them, let's we sit down and understand the concept and impact these children. That is how the whole concept came about."

Challenges

Noting that the foundation has achieved some remarkable feats, the CEO noted that funding has been a major challenge to STEAM education in Nigeria. According to her going by the number of people that can afford STEAM education, it would need sponsorship or donors partnership with SEF to enable more students to participate.

She said, "STEAM education is expensive and we have decided to see how we can get donor grants to invest into this so that every child irrespective of his parents pedigree are able to access it. And that was why we came about the SEF. We are equally trying to reach out to cooperate organisations and individuals that can invest into the whole process."

Speaking further, the CEO said that the award-winning STEAM club was founded in 2014 and incorporated in 2017 with the aim of building and impacting children in the African market space, with concepts of STEAM using informal methods to ignite a passion for STEAM from a tender age. The experience she said is also capable of stimulating creativity in children of all ages and can enable them achieve good results in life.

"SEF is currently operational through The STEAM Club, an after-school club in about 50 schools in Lagos and Abuja, respectively, where we are training over a 1000 children who are taught from a robust curriculum developed by our specially trained team.

"The whole of essence of STEAM club is that some day, our children will become manufacturers. You know that in practical terms, every household in Asia are producing one thing or the other. And that is really what we want to achieve, because arts and craft is an aspect of what we we do. We can come into the science aspect, there are several other things we can do. We have something like powered lamp, reading lamp, things like vibrobrush, blender, egg mixer and many more."

Testimonials

Speaking also, the Programme Officer, Olusegun Olojede said the response from schools as well as the children has been encouraging. "The children are always eager to join and attend our classes because one of the things that excites them is that they get to take home whatever they made during the class. Like some of these crafts here, every child that attended had the chance of taking one home.

"The interesting thing is that these children are even the ones marketing STEAM club to their parents and even to school owners. We have been getting calls from school owners who became interested in having TEAM club established in their schools after seeing what these children have been able to learn and do through the club. One of the schools we work with came first in an inventor's competition they attended using our concept a taught them.

Head of Operations Unit, Mrs. Itunu Garuba, said "The testimonials and feedback we get from schools are exciting and that is one of the reasons why we said, we can't keep quiet with this wonderful concept that is transforming the lives of Nigerian children. We want more parents and children to be aware of our activities and get involved.

"We want to create awareness for what we do, we want the world to know that children in Nigeria can compete with their contemporaries globally. Part of the things we do is that we organise summer camps and Easter camps, we do weekend training, workshops and seminars for children."

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