Science and Mathematics Education in Africa

In this second decade of the 21st century, the African continent continues to enjoy an impressive growth rate with economies growing faster than those of almost any other region in the world. There are at least a dozen countries in sub-Saharan Africa that have been expanding by more than 6% a year during the past six years or more. According to the World Bank, much of this growth has not been translated into prosperity for the African masses. Recently, the public conversation about Africa has focused mostly on issues bordering on governance, accountability and transparency in political and business leadership.

Of course, these are extremely crucial. However, these cannot be fully achieved if the questions of education and skills development and ethics on the continent are not adequately addressed. There is a strong correlation between quality education, skills development and good governance, accountability and transparency in politics and economic and social development. In particular, we need to think more about instituting science, mathematics and technology education that is African born and which can have the ability to compare and compete with the rest of the world.

As the rest of the world continues to enjoy shifts of changes in science and technology, and in organizational principles, as well as invention of new goods and services in different forms of social development, Africa has been rather slow in responding well to such transformations. They will typically entail the acquisition of capabilities to respond positively and timely to the challenges and opportunities the changes generated. They will also mean that one should be able to predict and prepare for future adjustments, with new challenges and opportunities. For several reasons, Africa failed to participate in the changes and exchanges in the global marketplaces of goods and services, and of ideas and new ways of doing things. The aggregate consequences of the inability or unwillingness to respond to changes have to some considerable extent tended to isolate Africa and Africans from major global events. Africa became increasingly isolated, and then stopped to be an active participant in the global market place and instead became the victim of changes and challenges taking place at the global level. As a matter of fact, the continent is fast becoming a recipient of other peoples’ ideas and ways of doing things, and of their goods and services. The capabilities of Africans to respond to the global changes, challenges, possibilities and opportunities as the 21st century unfold will determine their survival as distinct people with their own cultures and civilization conditions to enjoy, nourish, promote and defend. Here, we must emphasize the importance of widespread education at the continental level, and especially in the areas of mathematics, science and technology.

For decades now, Africans have recognized science, mathematics and technology to be the foundation of development and prosperity of the continent. Without the skillful utilization and management of science and technology, African countries will not be able to witness full economic prosperity. The continent, therefore, needs skilled human resources in the areas of science, mathematics and technology.

Africa’s negative image as a continent in deep troubles and of its peoples portrayed as people unable to solve their problems is distressing. These images can be challenged through education, especially again in mathematics, science and technology education that emphasize scientific and technological skills development. Failure to challenge them may not only continue to mislead the rest of the world, but may, more seriously, cause young Africans to doubt their own capabilities and self-esteem. This can undermine their role as levers of change for an alternative better future for the continent. Africans must begin to build the requisite capabilities in mathematics, science and technology to respond to the necessary changes. Otherwise the marginalization of Africa from major world activities, like business and politics, science and technology, would accelerate.

In general, science and mathematics education can play a significant role in the development of an individual and a nation. The values, ethos, practices and perspective of science for interpreting nature are a part of science education. If current developments occurring around the world are anything to go by, globalization with its attendant economic, political, social and other spin-offs, together with the phenomenal development in telecommunications, communications technology and computer technology are already affecting every person living on the globe in this twenty-first century. To understand, appreciate and efficiently use all these developments for meaningful learning, scientific culture must permeate the society and the everyday thoughts and actions of ordinary people. For the developing countries of Africa that have been dominated and governed by non-western sociocultural factors, western science can mean an imposition of one culture over another. It means the replacement of the anthropomorphic worldview with a mechanistic one. This situation, amongst many others, would further militate against the race to the development by African nations. When we examine the advent of science into Africa, the current state of school science in Africa and look again at the possibilities for and implications of, harnessing traditional African thought system and Western science to develop an effective culture for Africa of the twenty-first century, we realize that there is much more that remains to be done. Today, the general notion that Africa trails behind other continents in terms of provision of science and mathematics education for girls appear to be dwindling, despite the fact that the benefits of science and mathematics education are more numerous for women in some major parts of the world enjoying sustainable social and economic development. In the recent past, female education and training in Africa was generally characterized by lower performance and achievement levels than those of boys, especially in mathematics, science and other technical subjects, but this seems to be changing nowadays with girls topping in science classes in many secondary schools and other institutions of higher learning across the continent. This is good news.

For Africa to be able to compete on the global scene, science and technology are vitally important. The teaching of science and mathematics must, therefore, be encouraged at all levels of our education systems in Africa. There should be adequate collaboration to support all sub-sectors of the education systems in Africa, and especially to enhance the teaching of maths, science and technical subjects at the secondary level.

Africa should continue to put emphasis on building local capacity while not dismissing development of viable partnerships in science and mathematics education. 

Issues regarding sustainability and the creation of a critical mass of local expertise are a pivotal step in the right direction. The rationale for this development is that a strong and vibrant community of researchers and curriculum specialists at this level is key to the continued development and improvement of basic science and mathematics education.