Steps forward, you can see, problems, too. In the teaching of STEM subjects, Ghana still has a long way to go but it has taken it and it also has quite clear ideas on how to proceed. And this is good news. It is indeed an evolving and promising scenario that is described by Emmanuel Yamoah, National Projects Manager of Patriots Ghana. He does not hide the challenges at hand but tells of projects that are born with solid and shared foundations.
STEM taught to all but chosen by few
There is still no effective STEM programme, officially regulated by the Ghana Education Service, for all schools in the country. Looking at the initiatives undertaken in recent years, however, one can glimpse the form it will take. Science is already taught as a core subject for students aged 9 to 14, mathematics is taught at all levels, and many also take courses in communication and information technology (ICT). When there is a choice to be made for one’s future, however, few focus on STEM subjects.
The almost total absence of classroom experiments does not help. This is compounded by other difficulties such as inadequate infrastructure, gender stereotypes, lack of funding and poor quality of education.
Well aware of the ‘lame’ skills picture of the country’s future actors, the Ghana Education Service has taken action. So have several civil society organisations. Despite the progress recorded in sensitising schools and students to challenge the various STEM-related stereotypes, significant results are yet to be achieved. They are urgently needed, especially in the gender gap, now at alarming levels.
“The limited representation of women in STEM careers is not due to lack of talent, but to unfair conceptions of gender stratification and lack of role models – Emmanuel explains – Our Girls In STEM mentorship programme and other similar initiatives challenge these limitations. We also have a teacher training programme to ensure that they interact with students in a constructive and inspiring way”.
Other organisations such as PEN and DEXT technologies are working along the same lines to create meaningful opportunities for the future. “However, the link between school and students’ daily lives is missing. This not only leads to underperformance in these subjects but also pushes them away from choosing them for their careers,” Emmanuel says, citing however some initiatives that are trying to turn the tide.
Since 2019, Siemens Stiftung has been working in Ghana on teacher training and continuing education in STEM subjects in secondary schools. Meanwhile, organisations such as World Education, SpesForLife Foundation and LING Project, organised STEM mentoring programmes in rural schools in early June as part of the SpesForLife #STEMSheCan initiative. Its mission is to bring female STEM professionals into schools to encourage girls to take STEM-related courses.
Involvement and cost: what holds back STEM in Ghana
Ghana, and Emmanuel, are clear about the critical issues that need to be addressed. Some are perhaps imaginable, almost trivial, while others are difficult to understand for those who do not live in this context.
The rate of student engagement needs to be increased, giving teachers the preparation, time and tools to plan elaborate and engaging STEM lessons. The frequency with which STEM concepts are able to be dropped into the real world in the classroom is also low. As a result, it is more difficult to understand and memorise them, and it is normal for students to be discouraged from pursuing specific studies in scientific fields.
However, more operational and practical problems such as the cost of implementing STEM programmes and the language barrier, when even the teacher does not know English well, should not be overlooked.
To do list for a more “STEM friendly” Ghana
What makes one think positively about Ghana’s future in the STEM world, are the initiatives they have launched and the granularity with which they have identified the levers they need to focus on in the coming months and years, right away.
“The approach to STEM subjects must be holistic and progressively adopt strategies at both micro and macro levels. At both levels, however, there should be an intentional effort that leads Ghanaians to unlearn and relearn notions and perspectives related to STEM fields. I believe this is at the heart of any sustainable change in STEM education in Ghana”’ Emmanuel explains. And he adds another equally demanding challenge: “Without progress in systematic and mindset change, any further improvements in provision or infrastructure will not be sustainable and will probably be poorly managed.
More campaigns to combat negative stereotypes and gender roles related to STEM, especially in rural communities, and an increased provision of physical and technical resources to improve the teaching and learning process would also help. Last but not least, improving teaching effectiveness. This needs to be done by engaging teachers with needs-based training courses to help them acquire the necessary skills to teach in a way that overcomes the language barrier and transmits knowledge in a child-friendly manner.
If this last point sounds familiar, it is because it coincides with the mission of SeedScience, active in Ghana with three interconnected programmes, all funded by the Italian Waldensian Church to Patriots Ghana.
The teacher training programme has 50 teachers involved in 38 schools, reaching thousands of students. The Girls In STEM mentoring programme, through targeted mentoring with girls at post-secondary level, has so far involved 20. And then there is the SeedScience On Wheels programme, an innovative mobile science lab aimed at marginalised communities in Ghana that is unique, exciting and all to be discovered.
Article by Marta Abbà with the contribution of Emmanuel Yamoah, National Projects Manager at Patriots Ghana.