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Creating Opportunities, Rethinking STEM Education

Considering the importance of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics education to the development of every nation, the Agbami Co-venturers recently held a symposium in Lagos to among other things, identify issues in Nigeria’s STEM education reforms and provide principal strategies to ensure that STEM education is elevated to a national priority. Far-reaching recommendations were also made by stakeholders. Uchechukwu Nnaike reports

Nigeria is said to be in the league of developing countries as a result of its little or no investment in the field of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, which is believed to be the bedrock of development. In this period of recession, when it has become necessary to seek alternative sources of revenue, STEM has been identified as the only way to achieve that.

Determined to provide an opportunity for Nigerian youths to pursue careers in STEM to succeed in the new information-based and technology-driven global society, the co-venturers in the Agbami field- Star Deep Water Petroleum Limited (A Chevron Company); Famfa Oil Limited; Statoil Nigeria Limited; Petroleo Brasileiro Nigeria Limited; and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) – began investing in education in 2008.

They have invested over N7.5 billion on the Agbami Medical and Engineering Scholarships (AMEPS) which targets building capacity in students of medical and engineering courses across the country; they have also built, furnished and equipped 32 science laboratories, and six hybrid libraries, which in addition to the students, have also empowered 38 local community contractors during their construction. A total of 20 chest clinics have also been built in some states in the country.

The AMEPS, which commenced in 2009 is merit-based and only open to college undergraduates with medical disciplines (incorporating related medical science fields), and engineering disciplines (incorporating related science and mathematics fields). Students from all states in Nigeria are eligible, and students enrolled in all NUC-accredited universities in Nigeria are eligible.

To date, 15,356 scholarships have been awarded through the AMEPS, while 122 beneficiaries graduated with first class. For the hybrid library projects, a total of 13,136 students are direct beneficiaries, 3,940 (30per cent) of whom are females. For the science laboratory projects, 21,773 students are direct beneficiaries in the 23 schools across the country, while 9,173 (42 per cent) are female beneficiaries.

The result of the visit by the co-venturers showed that 14 of the 23 schools visited registered students for 2014 May/June West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE); 1,526 students in the 14 supported schools registered for chemistry, biology and physics in 2014 WASSC examinations, while 990 students (65 per cent) scored “credit” or higher in chemistry, biology and physics in the examination.

Speaking at the symposium with the theme ‘Advancing Innovation and Corporate Citizenship in STEM Education’, the Director, Deepwater and Production Sharing Contracts, Star Deep Water Petroleum Limited (A Chevron Company), Mr. Jeffery Ewing, stressed that Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are some of the key subjects to study now because of the need for Nigeria to evolve the scientific and technological innovations needed to face the challenges of globalisation and to build an evolving knowledge-based economy.
“More importantly, STEM education is directly linked to global competitiveness and future economic prosperity.”

Ewing, who was represented by the General Manager, Deepwater and Production Sharing Contact, Star Deep Water Petroleum Limited, Mr. Lanre Kalejaiye, said the symposium hopes to among others, suggest improved or alternative learning approaches in STEM education, including ways to strengthen the adaptation of these approaches to the educational sector; encourage and recommend engagement opportunities for how Nigerian businesses can effectively support STEM education as part of their commitment to corporate social responsibility; and highlight the importance of STEM education to the nation’s development efforts.

“As Agbami Co-venturers, we believe that the most rewarding investment is the investment in people because the greatest assets of a nation are its people. This is the underlying philosophy behind our social investment in the areas of health, education and economic empowerment. We believe in the principle of adding value and enriching lives in any society we operate in.”

On the rationale behind the intervention by the co-venturers, the Manager, Communications, Chevron Nigeria, Mr. Sola Adebawo said they identified an opportunity gap in the country. “We discovered that in Nigeria we are not short of intelligent young people or bright minds, but we are short of opportunities.”

He said they considered that to have engineers and doctors and other scientists that will drive the country’s economy, they have to have studies STEM at the early stages. He added that it was also discovered that many schools lacked laboratories and sciences cannot be studies effectively without laboratories.

“What the co-venturers have done is to start from the basis to create opportunities for young people to be stimulated towards the study of sciences. We decided to approach it from a number of places; first is to help produce science education infrastructure which led to the construction of science laboratories, fully equipped with the latest equipment.”

He added that the co-venturers wanted to make sure that the next person to find a cure for cancer is not hindered because the parents cannot pay for medical education so that led to the support for engineering and medical sciences through the Agbami scholarship and the result has been phenomenal. Also, chest clinics were provided to enable doctors to contribute to the wellbeing of the nation.

In a keynote address titled ‘Revising Priorities in STEM Education in Nigeria’, a former Minister of Communication Technology, Dr. Omobola Johnson, regretted that STEM has been undermined in Africa, as she quoted a statistics which showed that 70 per cent of graduates in sub-Saharan Africa got a social science or humanities degree. She said the demand for skilled workers in STEM is closely tied with global competitiveness, adding, “you cannot be a competitive economy if you don’t prioritise STEM.

According to her, STEM has become unattractive among Nigerian students despite its many potential as a result of some challenges like the dearth and poor quality of teachers, poor infrastructure, and the belief that STEM is difficult.

She stressed the need to declare a national emergency in STEM and called for more special grants and scholarships to encourage more people to go into the field, saying that the number of scholarships awarded by the co-venturers is not enough.

The ex-minister said there is need to take some Nigerian students abroad to gain experience with the intent of returning to the country after their studies; provide internship and job opportunities for STEM graduates to avoid losing them to other fields; as well as to provide research grants in the field of STEM.

She also suggested making mathematics and one other STEM subject compulsory for admission into the university regardless of the course of study so as to ground graduates in the field of STEM before they go into other fields; improve the teaching of maths and science by equipping the teachers; attract some teachers in the diaspora; and organise more science fairs and competitions.

She also regretted that women are under-represented in the field of STEM and called for programmes to encourage more women to go into the field and remain in it. Also, she said successful women in the field should act as role models to younger ones.

Some of the recommendations made during the panel discussion on the theme ‘Encouraging Sustainable Corporate Citizenship in STEM Education- What Works?’ included: the formulation of an education policy that is focused on STEM; less emphasis on certificates with more emphasis on skills and competence; collaboration between education institutions and industries to determine the knowledge and skills students are expected to possess.

It was also suggested that the relationship between the government and the private sector should be more of a synergy in the area of policy formulation, and that government should involve all stakeholders in all of the processes for continuity and mutual understanding; students were also encourage to embrace entrepreneurship education so as to add value to the society.

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