STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It is an approach to learning that provokes the inquisitiveness, innovation, dialogue, and critical thinking in students. STEM is a way to enhance and complete the package of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.
It allows students to connect their learning in these critical areas together with principles, elements, and standards in the Arts (STEM) to provide the whole pallet of learning at their disposal. STEM removes limitations and replaces them with wonder, critique, inquiry, and innovation.
Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana, had the foresight of a Jewish prophet when it comes to STEM education. He played a significant role in the establishment of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and the Ghana Academy of Arts and Science. All tailored to promote the pursuit, advancement, attainment and dissemination of knowledge in all branches of the sciences and humanities (STEM) for national development through the promotion of learning and application.
Sadly, there has been a consistent decline in the 60% mandatory science-related admission policy of the Ministry of Education and National Council for Tertiary Education (NCTE). In the 2012/2013 academic year, a report by the NCTE showed that only 39% of students out of 127,502 who applied to the eight public universities gained admission to science-related courses. Out of 443,978 students enrolled in the tertiary institutions in Ghana for 2016/2017, 131,298 students are studying Science related courses (i.e. Applied Science, Technology, Agriculture, Engineering etc.) and 312,680 students are pursuing Arts related courses (i.e. Business, Social Science, Humanities etc.). Out of the mandated quota, only 30% gained admission to read Science-related courses in nine public universities. Many students are gradually skedaddling from the science-inclined courses.
Many reasons account for this trend. Most of our Senior High Schools lack well-equipped science laboratories and resource centers. While the few with laboratories are not resourced, some are not functional and others have been reduced to hubs for mice and cockroaches. A UNESCO report on education in Ghana discovered that there is a serious dearth of “functional laboratories” in most schools. This compels teachers to adopt a largely theoretical curriculum. Well-resourced and functional laboratories must be provided by the Education Ministry and its development partners. This will go a long way for students to understand and rehearse some of the theories and formulae they study in class. Practical explanations and applications of the various theories and formulae is a means for students to better understand and appreciate the course and subject areas taught. This will also make students think through, create and build innovations around the subject area.
Another area that require critical attention is ICT education. Augustine Kusi, an ICT teacher at the Assin Asamankese D/A Primary School, in the Central Region had to resort to the use of stones to practicalize ICT lessons for his pupils. Going forward, every public school in the country must be provided with a well-equipped ICT center to help in the teaching and learning of ICT. Knowledge and experience in ICT can only be gained through constant practice and application. Also, ICT should be taught in primary school as mathematics, science and the arts is. Early exposure to this knowledge will birth a light in the kids to develop an interest in technology. It will make them proficient in technology before they get to young adulthood, thereby offering them the platform to be actively involved in the discovery of the world around them and not just in Ghana.
Technology is an indispensable component of STEM or Project-Based Learning (PBL) activity. It builds the creativity, social thinking, and cognitive skills of students when exposed to it. This exposure will put kids in Ghanaian schools at pale with kids of their age in more developed parts of the world. Technology is now an invaluable part of our daily lives. It needs to take center stage of our education, dovetailing into the national agenda.
To achieve a society and education system with strong interest in STEM, teachers must be empowered with knowledge and training through refresher courses and exchange programmes. This should start from the basic schools through to the Senior High Schools. Professors of the Public universities and experts well vested in the realm of STEM should be recruited to contribute their expertise and knowledge during such periodic training.
Training of teachers for STEM should be captured in the teacher training curriculum of the Teacher Training colleges and other training institutions like the University of Education, Winneba, and the University of Cape Coast. Additionally, the government through the GET-Fund and the Scholarship Secretariat should make available grants and scholarships for teachers and national service persons willing to have a career in STEM education for the necessary qualifications that would make them suitable to effectively teach STEM subjects and supervise students to come up with innovations.
Nations developed and classified as first-class countries are those that have given STEM education a befitting place. They are nations continuously investing in the realm of STEM. The world today is rapidly changing through accelerated technological advancement. To adequately own, exploit, and maximize our abundant resources, we need STEM. To complete industrialization and become self-sufficient, we need STEM. To finally join our contemporaries like North Korea, Malaysia, Singapore etc., in the classification of efficient and advanced countries, we need STEM. In doing so, the Art (STEAM) should be given its place in the scheme of things.
STEM holds the promise to make Ghana a better place because the wave of future economic prosperity lies in a society and human resource that is well-versed in rising job markets like science, technology, engineering and mathematics.