I stumbled across the article titled: Africa needs a culture of science yesterday. While the title is so true, the content is more. And after reading the article, I thought of writing this post, at least just to bring things a little closer to home.
The first step towards a Nigerian culture of science is to make science relevant to the average Nigerian, resident in Nigeria.
Ask the average Nigerian child what he wants to be in future. He wants to become a doctor, she wants to become a nurse. He wants to become a banker, she wants to become a buisness woman. He wants to become an engineer, she wants to become a pilot. He wants to become a footballer, she wants to become a singer. The average Nigerian child surely has a lot of dreams.
Years later, the Nigerian child, mentally preparing himself for the University", makes the first port of call to the WAEC where the decision between science and art is made. Down in his/her subconcious is the gut-feel, "I am going to become a scientist". After enough academic, financial, mental and physical hurdles, he/she(the Nigerian child) graduates with a degree in psychology, mechanical engineering, computer science, pharmacy, electonics engineering, etc,. Months/years later, still lying cold in the job-market, he / she begins considering other options "just to find a job", and get a life.
Ours is the unfortunate environment where, for example, a mechanical engineering graduate goes to work in a bank as a cash collection officer. Since his first degree has nothing to do with banking, he becomes the all around staff that can be pushed into any banking department so that "he/she could learn something". As he/she has no better choice(hes not an original banker, he is earning so much money he knows he can't earn should he go start his mechanical engineering practice from scratch), and there is no other alternative, "Yes sir" is always the conclusion of the matter. The best thing our mechanical engineering graduate can do is to go enroll in an MBA course, at least he could be a manager - but not a banker.
Question: Is our mechanical engineering graduate still a mechanical engineer after 10-years of working in a bank and reconciling accounts? Are the 5-years of engineering study not a total waste? Worse, how about those who read religious studies, education, languages, etc., and aren't "practicing".
We are talking about science, so lets go back to the issue: I find it quite unfortunate to see that the Nigerian environment promotes neither science, technology, research or any form of development. Its worse that none of our political leaders, in any level of government responsibility advocates anything synonymous with "science and technology / research and development". I would like to see officers of the Ministry of Science and Technology grilled about how/why Nigeria didn't achieve a National Scientific goal set some years ago. Oh, I forgot, did they set any goals? Unfortunately, these leaders would rather advocate finances for their own pockets, rather than for the unborn generation and a better tomorrow.
There are no visible initiatives anywhere for the development of technology /ies local to Nigeria, for Nigerians - at least as a starting point. Technologies which could solve very common problems(ex: light, water) to provide a form of livelihood for the researchers, product manufacturers, whole-salers, retailers and end-users both directly and indirectly.
With no initiatives, there are no National policies geared towards research and development; there are no National goals, National roadmaps towards achieving a technological feat locally and within a specified number of years. These, and more are the driving forces in "developed nations", propelling them further into 5, 10, 15 years ahead of the rest of us in Africa. And No, they are not waiting for us to catch up. Thats why I've always wondered what the specific role of our Ministry of Science and Technology is, and what they would say their achievements have been in the past 10-years in the area of research, development of local talent, technology/ies. For example: I for one would like to see an FM radio designed, manufactured and produced in Nigeria. A harder pill to swallow is that the least electronic devices, for example: resistors, capacitors, diodes, etc., are not manufactured anywhere in Nigeria, so how can we talk of an FM Radio?
While my above example revolves around electronics/engineering, its because I went to engineering school, but I believe the same is true for other sciences / fields of study. Nigeria sure needs a culture of science and I believe the starting point should be at the top:
1) We need more science-informed leaders who have visions and who can pass this vision down to their subordinates, on and on. These visions should be visions that would make Nigeria a major player in the production of qualitative science-related University graduates; visions towards making Nigeria's professional circle a practice-oriented society, for example: where a computer engineer won't be doing his "computer engineering" as an accounts officer in a legal firm.
2) We need a Ministry of education whose goal is to develop education in its entirety: education from Primary level up to University level. This "education" must take reference from what is obtaininable abroad, the reason why over 50% of visa applications to Europe and America from Nigeria are study-related. While its good to obtain a foreign education, "brain drain" is what results when Nigerians who leave Nigeria to study abroad end up leaving the country all together.
3) We need a Ministry of Science and Technology with departmental-leaders who won't conclude that the provision of mathematical sets to secondary school students is a goal whose achievement must be celebrated. The question is, after the provision of these tools, what next? do the students know its potentials? what they can do with it? And of what use is a mathematical set to a student who doesn't understand mathematics, but is in a science class because mommy and daddy said so? - that would be a discussion for another day.
4) The management of the Ministry of Science and Technology must be able to set short/long term goals, roadmaps in every field of science; attainable goals which would positively affect the country and make us less dependent on the Western world as far as innovation is concerned. While we talk of science, we should remember money. How much is set aside yearly, on a national level for science, technology, research and development? and how are the results / achievements evaluated on a yearly basis to check if we are making progress or just going round in circles? This would then need a National policy, a policy to which our National scientific leaders have to be accountable to. Read this: how to develop Africa's infotech policy by Ndubuisi Ekekwe.
5) We need science oriented radio and television programs that would inform and motivate children; science related advertisements, workshops, seminars especially geared towards the youth; all with a goal to inform and create a science-aware environment of old and young Nigerians.
I can continue, but I believe you get the whole gist. Nigeria needs a culture of science and it has to start at the top.
You are welcome to leave a comment / opinion.