- Dr Yaw Adutwum at the United Nations
All the way up from the elementary to the university levels, many methods employed in today’s teachings stifle both understanding and skills building. The point is simply this, how can there be any appreciable commitment by the learner without the practical and useful connections to the subjects being taught? And how can education itself be beneficial in the absence of skills to apply what is learned to create useful outcomes?
At the crux of the matter – in terms of resolution – is the key question of applications of science and technology.
Dr Adutwum on STEM
Questions like these keep ticking away and defuse the purpose of education, especially for a developing nation like Ghana endowed with tremendous material and human potential. Such issues must have informed Ghana’s minister for education, Dr Yaw Adutwum, when he noted at a United Nations meeting: “We know that STEAM holds the key to our transformation but when you have limited resources you use technology to do what is impossible.”
He said, “we are full STEAM ahead in terms of ensuring that we can increase the numbers of our students participating in STEM, and that is how we put to rest the issue of rote memorisation. You can’t do memorisation in STEM. You have to participate in the learning process and make sure that we can get a critical mass with the critical minds that we need for our transformation.”
[STEM means Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The A in STEAM is the addition of creative Arts in the abbreviation].
Dr Adutwum noted, “I always say that from my experience in the U.S. going back to Ghana, we have good children in Ghana, so respectful; but I go to schools upon schools and I speak with the students and when I finish speaking with them I’ll ask: Do you have a question for me? No hand goes up, in all my encounters in Ghanaian classrooms.”
It is clear that in Ghana “We have tamed the children; we just want them to write down what we tell them at the day of exams. They should put down what we have told them, and we say you are the best student the country has ever known. That kind of education system will not transform Ghana or give us critical thinking individuals.”
The minister continued, “in the 21st century – and education 4.0 – the 4th Industrial Revolution, you can’t memorize your way out of poverty, but you can critically think and innovate out of poverty so Ghanaian schools and African schools will have to begin to take a serious look at what we call an assertive curriculum, a curriculum that empowers the African child to ask questions and challenge the status quo respectfully, within the African cultural context.”
The idea was to desist from the kind of education or a curriculum that tells African child to be quiet and not say anything when the adult is speaking, and to merely tell the adult back whatever he was told. He noted “I don’t care if we get to the point where every African child is in school, but if you put all of them in school and do not change the way you teach them by empowering them to be assertive individuals you still will not transform Africa through education.”
He noted that as we embark on access, we must also look at the quality and relevance of an education system “that will truly put us in a space where education can become the most socio-economic transformation agent. Our current education system is not what is going to transform our continent. And we need to take a serious route.”
Africa’s education leaders
In relating to the African representatives, Dr Adutwum said, “If your country in Africa is an exception then you are good. But I know that invariably we want to tame the children. The quietest child in the class is deemed the most respectful. And we have to begin to take a serious look at the curriculum, the pedagogy, the strategy we are using so that Africa will be transformed through education.” In a nutshell, we need to “have the critical mass, with critical mind to really challenge the status quo so that we can innovate ourselves out of poverty.”
He advised that we need to come together and begin to take bold steps to confront the huge challenges that our world is facing. And the fourth Industrial revolution that we found ourselves in is the most important aspect of our education systems that need to be revamped so that it can service the rightful purpose of transforming the socio-economic fortunes of our nations.
He concluded, “if education fails, we are in trouble! The kind of education system we have today has to be retooled and revamped and we can only do that when we begin to take a look at a cross-sectoral approach to education development; and that means we can no longer operate in silos thinking that the education system itself can just go ahead and change the fortunes of our countries.”
Additionally, “We have to begin to look at health, safety issues, counselling issues, and mental health challenges that our children are facing out of the pandemic. All these things have to be revamped and done in unison so that we can create an education system that can then put away poverty forever so that all of us can begin to realize that our world has to prosper together, so we have to all come together and rewire education for our people and for our planet.”