In a scientific report for UNESCO’s International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA), three Malawian co-authors discuss the realities and contexts of African countries and science education.
In the document, compiled from empirical evidenced data, the authors show that the African continent’s existing science education systems should consider a more holistic approach to include spiritual and cultural values of the continent.
Sponsored by UNESCO, the report used the Malawian and Ethiopian science education systems, focusing on a specific aspect of science education – chemistry education. The various metaphors of chemistry education developed and advocated by educators came under the spotlight and provide the rationale, objectives and expected results of the African Virtual Campus in Science and Technology.
African science education and Western curricula
It is well known that science education in Africa did not take into account the intellectual and cultural milieu of its children. Science in the curriculum was perceived as a subject of facts and reliable information. Already in 1996, it was argued that transferring curricula and teaching materials from the West did not achieve the expected outcomes and stemmed from a cultural view of science that saw science learning grounded in logical thinking rather than understanding.
Since the Sixties, it became clear that instead of making non-Western science more scientific, it should be less culturally Western
As educators continue to focus on the lack of relevance of scientific teaching in Africa, little improvement had been forthcoming and the necessity of African professional input is now greater than ever.
Across various fields such as basic science, technology, science education, teaching and even educational policy development and analysis, educators, the government and African professionals should work together to alleviate the problem.
The status quo in 2022
The status quo still grappled with the same issues such as to what extent has basic research in science and technology investigated African resources and how these can be maximised. The new report also addresses efforts of African science educators to develop and validate teaching strategy models and implementations primarily based on the use of local materials. The authors rightly ask if, with limited resources, African science teaching should continue its traditional methods of imparting knowledge, (lower order cognitive skills), to students and still be active participants of the 21st century.
Educational capacity building in Africa
UNESCO-IICBA’s Approach in Contextualising Science Education in Africa has been engaged in building the capacities of teacher education institutions in Africa and as conducted a training workshop conducted on the contextualisation of science education in Malawi and the use of relevant software to develop science materials into full-fledged courses. Twenty-one (21) science teachers and training college educators participated in the training programme.
After analysing various questionnaires, 32% of the science teacher educators were neutral/undecided on the issue of whether context-based science education is inferior to content-based science education. 10% of the respondents had either disagreed or were undecided about the value of context-based science education in promoting scientific literacy.
Students understand the place of science among other disciplines, know the history and nature of science and grasp interactions between science and society. The multi-dimensional level of literacy cultivates and reinforces life-long learning in which individuals develop and retain knowledge and acquired skills to ask and answer appropriate questions. It is only the multi-dimensional level which enables students to appreciate the place of science in their daily lives. It is at this level that students begin to see meaning in any formal science education.
The goal is then to raise the level of STL above structural level and empower all students to lead productive lives by striving towards a multi-dimensional STL society, beneficial to overcoming socio-economic needs and address the challenges they face in everyday life. Until then, African talent may not be recognised for the huge role it can play in bringing innovation and science to the world and positively change the future.