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Buhari’s STEM advocacy sparks fresh interest

President Muhammadu Buhari, while in Niamey, Niger Republic recently, underscored the importance of tailoring the educational system and academic curricula towards Science, Technology, Engineering and…

President Muhammadu Buhari, while in Niamey, Niger Republic recently, underscored the importance of tailoring the educational system and academic curricula towards Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

The president said STEM remained the shortest way toward producing the next generation of managers of an industrialised Africa who won’t depend on expatriates.

President Buhari’s statement at the Africa Union Summit on Industrialisation and Economic Diversification in Africa has been generating reactions among educationists and other stakeholders in Nigeria’s education sector.

Though the federal government launched the National Policy on Science and Technology Education in 2020, some educationists said it has not really helped in the penetration of STEM in schools.

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“You won’t be surprised that some primary schools are still teaching children how to make soap and air fresheners at this age and time when some schools have gone far in coding.

“What do you expect a five-year-old to do with the knowledge of soap making,” Kelvin ThankGod queried.

ThankGod said there was a gap that needed to be filled, adding that while some parents and school owners blamed the government, they also needed to be conscious about the needs of their children.

“How many parents know about STEM or care enough to see the school’s curriculum before enrolling their children? Even some parents that are well-travelled do not care enough. As long as they see the usual subjects, they’re fine,” he said.

Mamu Alhaji Muhammed, the chairman of STEM Child Care Abuja, said the president’s speech was long overdue, adding that Nigeria has been behind and needs to move faster to meet up with global innovations. 

Mamu, who has been at the forefront of STEM advocacy in Nigeria, also said critical thinking ability of learners is improved with STEM, unlike conventional teaching approaches.

“It is about time Nigeria embraces STEM because that is the future. Without STEM, I see no hope for us to be able to really grow our economy and ensure that we are up to global standards.”

While saying several Nigerian schools have shown the potential inherent in STEM, he noted that students would be more comfortable with technology even from five-year-olds.

“We also use that technology to make them believe they can be on their own. For example, instead of them watching cartoons, we make them believe they can create their own cartoons, which they are doing. Even games as well, they make and sell them.

“We are training them to not only be users but creators,” he said, adding that his seven years in STEM have enhanced several possibilities for students.

On educational curricula, he said tailoring the country’s curriculum towards STEM would yield massive transformation in the area of industrial automation from now to 2030, or the country risked being left out. 

“Soon, self-driving cars will take over our roads. E-commerce is shrinking the size of physical stores. Even the physical stores, most of their jobs will be taken by shelf-stacking robots. Some restaurants have achieved 100 per cent. Manufacturing industries are not left out.

“What this shows is that there will be skills gap. If education is not able to guarantee the children’s future, then that education is deficient. We must change to a curriculum that’ll ensure our children are trained in the relevant skills of the future,” Mamu said.

He said parents and school owners need to move with the times or risk being swept away by the tide, adding that STEM is not capital intensive and it can be streamlined to meet certain needs.

 The Director General of the National Mathematical Centre (NMC), Prof. Promise Mebine, said the government and school owners are not doing enough to advance STEM education in Nigeria.

“There should be adequate funding for education generally before there would be funds for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

“Until education is sufficiently funded we cannot talk about educational managers and governments funding Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics,” he noted.

Mebine said agencies of government responsible for promoting STEM are the most impoverished and financially starved.

He said school owners are doing their best to complement the efforts of government, adding that most of them ensure their learners participate in Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics competitions.

He said without adequate funding, there would be no provision of STEM equipment to improve teaching, learning and research in these areas.

He said despite the challenges, the centre has kept to its mandate of improving the teaching and learning of mathematics and the mathematical sciences which are the basis for STEM.

“The centre has been promoting the teaching, learning and research in mathematics and the mathematical sciences through the organization of foundation post-graduate courses, research-oriented courses, training and retraining of mathematics and sciences teachers and lecturers in the school system – primary, secondary and post-secondary institutions,” he said.