Science, Technology and Innovation will have to play central role if Ghana is to see significant development.
Businesses/industries in Ghana would have to be the drivers, the government, the catalytic converter, and the academics the fuel for the whole process.
The Fundamental Challenge
The fundamental challenge, however, is that the number of students opting for sciences is very low in a country yearning for scientific and technological development.
In the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), out of a total of 279,161 candidates selected for senior secondary schools in the 2005/2006 academic year, General Science was 9.31 per cent and Agricultural Science was 10.13 per cent.
Visual Art and Technical were the least selected programmes, 6.28 per cent and 4.28 per cent respectively.
Out of the total enrolment of 24,983 for the 2004/2005 academic year in the polytechnics 15,308 of the students chose to offer Business ( 61 per cent) and 9,675 (39 per cent) chose to offer Applied Science/Technical.
In the public universities, out of a total enrolment of 73,408 for the 2004/2005 academic year, 47,812 students enrolled in Arts/Humanities (65 per cent) and 25,596 students enrolled in Science/Technology (35 per cent).
This problem has been exacerbated by the brain drain that has occurred in Ghana over the past 50 years with a loss of the few scientists and engineers trained in Ghana who are now in higher–paying and more prestigious jobs in developed countries.
Primary education has been the focus of donor community attention for the most part of the 50 years. Secondary, technical, higher education and research is now beginning to gain policy attention in development circles.
Adoption of Latecomer Strategies
Apart from tackling these and other fundamental challenges, there is a 21st century version of the “latecomer strategies” that Ghana can adopt to also become one of the pacesetters in science, technology and innovation.
Countries such as Germany, US, Britain and Japan have all used this strategy, followed by the East Asian Tiger economies of Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore.
This strategy is basically the identification of strategic opportunities and technologies that are relevant to the country and urgent efforts made to secure access to them so that businesses can be built around them.
The Republic of Korea, for instance, in the past 40 years moved from technology imitation to internalisation; finally to generation and the current remarkable transformation of a knowledge-based economy.
The key factor here is for Ghana to develop or upgrade and resource “special institutions” with resemblance to the Deutsche Bank in Germany in the 19th century, or the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) in Japan and the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) in Taiwan in the 20th century; or the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources in India in the 21st century to accelerate and facilitate the catch-up process on the economy.
Ghana could also develop capacity in science, technology and innovation around the specific problems in the country such as delivering clean water to a rural village or preventing malaria transmission.
On clean water, the universities could be tasked to develop a hydrology programme and the Technical/Vocational Schools made to train the craftsmen.
Approaches such as re-designing houses and remodelling landscapes are examples of what can be done by the institutions to help reduce mosquito breeding and malaria transmission to complement efforts to develop new anti-malarial drugs and vaccines.
In Singapore, for instance, the development of Technical/Vocational Education evolved around the phases of development of the country. The 1960s-1970s ensured that the workforce had basic skills to support the labour-intensive manufacturing industries (e.g. ship repairing and radio and TV maintenance).
The capital-intensive economy (1980s-1990s) developed manpower needed for the push to high technology and knowledge-intensive products and services and finally upgraded the Technical/Vocational Education and training for knowledge-intensive economy.
To this end, there is the need for policy makers in Ghana to design policies, retain engineers and scientists at home, lure highly educated and skilled members of the Diaspora to return home for their skills to be tapped, and design educational systems that will be responsive to the research and human capital needs of the private sector, rather than having course offerings, curriculum, and research programmes imposed on them.
Integrated Tertiary Education Strategy
The universities in Ghana have triggered a lot of developments in the country.
The proposed Integrated Tertiary Education Strategy, however,is to develop a critical mass of globally competitive workers who can become job creators and leaders within the Ghanaian economy.
Perhaps, the creation of a Technology Village with the best of students, who have intrinsic talents to really transform Ghana, should be admitted, irrespective of their ability to pay and should be taught by the best scholars.
There should be censorship to make it possible for best brains in the Technology Village to pursue courses such as finance, entrepreneurship, languages, arts and culture, and global development, apart from the sciences and technology, to develop balanced individuals with leadership potential.
A student who has pursued a degree in applied science with a diploma in entrepreneurship and finance would be more inclined towards scientifically-driven technological entrepreneurship.
This should be complemented with the development of a National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy and Strategy; the establishment of a science and technology trust fund and Centres of Excellence in areas which are of particular importance to Ghana, all to ensure that the taxpayer's money generate wealth, as well as new knowledge.
Nigeria, for instance, is using part of its recent oil revenue windfall to create a 5-billion dollar endowment for science and technology in that country.
Improving science and technology infrastructure in our tertiary institutions, perhaps, to the semblance of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US or the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) in India will have a transformational impact on the economy to better position Ghana to explore new frontiers and successful businesses.
In this respect, Ghana as a beacon of hope and a model country to champion African Excellence would be assured.
Article by Matthew Karikari-Ababio