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The Director-General of the WAI gives a presentation on promoting STEM at the African Innovation Summit

Madame Traore AIS«Innovation must serve to improve the conditions of life and work of people», were the words with which Prof. Dr. Djénéba Traoré, Director-General of the West Africa Institute (WAI) began her lecture on “Educational Policies that promote Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)."

It is important to note that the seminar was privileged to have the presence of Ms. Fernanda Marques, Minister of Education and Sport of Cabo Verde, the ECOWAS Commissioner in charge of Education, Mr. Roland Kouakou, representative of the Department of Education, Culture, Science and Technology, of Cabo Verde and many other personalities.

From the outset, Prof. Traore emphasized that technological innovations in Africa must of necessity be underpinned by a clear demonstration of political will of political leaders, as it appears to be the case. Indeed, as early as January 2007, the African Union (AU) Summit recorded the decision of African leaders to allocate more resources to the development of science and technology in order to promote the economic development of the continent. Indeed the Heads of State and Government of Africa have committed to:

  • Devoting at least 1% of their gross domestic product to research and development by the year 2020,
  • Revitalizing African universities, and
  • Promoting the study of science and technology among the youth

As part of this plan, 2007 is proclaimed “Year of Science and Technology in Africa” and other initiatives have also been launched, including the creation of an African Regional Intellectual Property Organization to help protect local innovations and the planned 20 years Strategy for the promotion of mutual cooperation in biotechnology research.

Particularly in West Africa, the ECOWAS Policy on Science and Technology (EcoPost), adopted in March 2012 in Yamoussoukro, should eventually promote science and technology, which is needed in the emerging West-African scientific community, capable of competing and collaborating with the world’s best research groups in diverse fields. The crucial question is whether political will of African leaders alone will be enough to implement EcoPost?

On the specific questions posed by the organizers of the AIS 2014, Prof. Traore shared her reflections. To the question of what can be done to promote change, reforms and develop more interest in science and technology from primary school to Tertiary education, in Africa, her answer was:

  • Change the way Africa perceives itself and the way others perceive Africa, by highlighting the contribution of innovations on the continent. She advised Africans to read Paul E. Lovejoy’s monograph entitled “African Contributions to science, technology and development." The publication shows the impact of African slaves to science and technology on the development in the Americas. Moreover, she highlighted the fact that four centuries of slave trade and a century of colonization had prejudiced the construction of an African identity and confined Africans to the status of sub-humans
  • Change the mode of transmission of knowledge: knowledge evolves and benefits the greatest number, when shared, or, to quote the wise old Hampate Ba "In Africa, when an old man dies, a library burns."  There is the need to make popular and scientific knowledge an object for widespread dissemination. There is the need to promote the culture of science at all levels of education including preschool, because the child develops his intellectual abilities from an early age
  • Create professional training institutes where learners are directly connecting with public and private enterprises.

On the question of opportunities and constraints for promoting STEM on the continent, Prof. Traoré sees in the African population, most of whom are very young, a major asset to be exploited to take advantage of new technologies to innovate. Coupled with this is the renewed interest of African governments, regional institutions (AU, ECOWAS, WAEMU) and Technical and Financial Partners (TFP) for the support of Scientific Research, Innovation and Technological Development, support for education and training, and the promotion and development of Higher Education.

However, it must be mentioned that the challenges facing education in Africa are enormous. Indeed, the almost complete absence of any real budget dedicated to funding research and innovation, the lack of research infrastructure and the lack of regional and international cooperation are all constraining factors.

How then can partnership within the African continent and with other regions of the world be strengthened?

According to Prof. Traoré, the way to go at this level is to:

  • Give prominence to the involvement of regional organizations in the processes, and
  • Promote the use of new technologies and e-learning.

With regard to ways and means to achieve the improvement in the quality of teaching and learning, she recommends above all the need to "demystify” STEM, by teachers adopting (in these disciplines) innovative teaching methods and curricula that interest learners. It is equally important to prepare teachers for paradigms shifts between teachers and students - due to the use of information technology and communication (ICT) education. The use of ICT must be considered as factors that enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of teaching and learning for all stakeholders.

The creation of an environment of study and practical work conducive to individual and group work and the upgrading of the teaching profession will prove essential elements in this process. Finally, we must develop the self-confidence of pupils and students and the confidence in their abilities to positively change their socio -economic environment.

To the question of how to reduce the gender gap in STEM education, Prof. Traore opted for the promotion of inclusive education, the establishment of equal opportunities throughout the education system and the creation of specialized cells for gender in educational academies and higher education institutes.

In her contribution, the Minister of Education emphasized the integrated nature of Cabo Verdean educational system which enjoys special attention from all ministerial departments.

The representative of the African Union spoke on the major constraints of African education systems and expressed the urgency to find sustainable solutions to them.

On his part, the representative of ECOWAS drew attention to the fact that EcoPost began since 2012 and is still in its implementation phase.

To remedy a typical phenomenon in Africa, the WAI - ZEI Project Coordinator, Daniel Yeboah, suggested the need for policy to hire agile, well-motivated teachers, and reward them well, so as to retain them in the teaching profession. His colleague Benjamin Ablam Akoutou suggested the enhancement of the relations between education and the labor market so that graduates will be employable in the labor market. He said an innovative graduate does not wait for job, but creates jobs.

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