Into the Digital Age: How Nsesa is Advancing STEM education in Ghana

The National Science and Math Quiz (NSMQ) has morphed into one of the biggest annual events in the country, rivaling some of the most prominent entertainment shows in terms of audience participation. On Twitter and Facebook, alumni of the various participating schools took a keen interest in how well their schools were faring against others. In the halls where the rounds took place, teeming crowds tried to get access to the limited seats. People who could not make it to the venues had the option of streaming it live on Facebook.

One would have thought all the excitement and buzz around the event had to do with a genuine interest in the sciences but a simple survey of interested persons would have revealed that the average member of the audience is not necessarily savvy with the most basic information in the sciences. The excitement has a lot more to do with the allegiance alumni have towards their alma mater.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, what is collectively termed as STEM, arguably remains as the vessel to growth in any country. In advanced western countries, there is heavy investment in STEM with entire cities propping up solely for the purpose of providing a propitious space for the advancement of innovation and technology. As a developing country, it will make a lot of sense to channel significant amounts of capital and other resources in advancing STEM in our country. Unfortunately, the sector like many other in the country has seen more lip service than actual action.

Secondary and tertiary institutions of learning are currently the main vanguards of the promotion of STEM. It is at the high school level that we currently see some level of seriousness in making STEM education widespread. That is the level that promotes the NSMQ. However, this promotion stops short of making practical use of the theories learnt in the classroom. Studying at this level is largely done by rote and even when there is practical use of the knowledge it is within the confines of scenarios that have little relevance to the needs of this highly digital and fast revolving age.

 

Undoubtedly, STEM needs to be prioritized in this country and Nsesa Foundation appreciates this fact very well. The building blocks of the foundation were first laid in the summer of 2012 by an inter-generational group of friends in high school, Ghanaian universities and those taking gap years to apply to schools in the USA. Nsesa began as an audacious attempt to introduce a culture of innovation and kick start the training of Ghana’s Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs . In the words of one of its co-founders, John Kotey who graduated with a degree in engineering from Columbia University, “We thought about creating a dedicated group of tech evangelists who’d build scalable tech solutions to Ghana and Africa’s problems; creating an organization to catalyze an Innovation Revolution”.

That noble goal ushered in Project iSWEST in 2013, a week-long innovation workshop which was made possible by a grant money won by the current president of Nsesa, George Boateng. Like co-founder John Kotey, George also had his undergraduate degree at an Ivy League institution, Dartmouth and is currently pursuing his graduate studies at the same institution.

A cursory glance through the “About Us” section on the Nsesa website would affirm the genuineness of the undertaking of this group of enterprising youth. Isaac Sesi, the vice president of Nsesa is a “front end developer and embedded systems engineer with a BSc in Electrical/Electronic engineering from KNUST. He is also the founder and CEO of Invent Electronics and Co-founder of Wires & Bytes and Nova Agri-systems. The director of research, Victor Kumbol, is a qualified pharmacist who is now pursuing a masters degree at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

Project iSWEST has over the years delivered on its mandate of contributing to the growth of STEM in Ghana. The team spearheading this “innovation revolution” has run annual innovation workshops in Accra, introducing students to coding in several languages, microcontroller programming, app development, robotics, innovation and entrepreneurship. These are the very underpinnings of a successful tech revolution in a developing country: the equipping of high school students with soft as well as hard skills that are in high demand the world over.

More than simply exposing high school students in the capital city to cutting edge techniques that places them at an advantageous position to take up the booming opportunities in the STEM space, Nsesa is actively trying to expand its access across the country to as many high schools as possible. Nsesa also works at encouraging women to be active players in STEM.

Always the marginalized gender, the participation of women in STEM is at woefully low levels. Even in highly advanced societies like the USA, women make up only 24% of the workforce in STEM. Nsesa takes active steps to encourage girls to enter the STEM space. From January to March 2015, the group had a “STEM Woman of the Day” series to shine light on women expanding the frontiers of STEM in Ghana.

It is 2017 and the needs of the world are getting more intricate by the nanosecond. Project iSWEST is once again working arduously with high school students to make them better off in our ever-competitive world. Over the next three weeks, selected students will be privileged with intensive trainings on subjects spanning Programming in Proceessing (a Java-based visual language), Arduino programming, Innovation (the engineering design process based on Design Thinking and augmented by project management), and Entrepreneurship (Creating business models for their agritech solutions based on the Lean Startup Model). The students would also be introduced to coding on their smartphones. This was an innovative approach to get teenagers coding more than ever since a disproportionate number of them have better access to smartphone than laptops.

The works of Nsesa is already bearing fruits. With an alumni base of 60 students, two startups founded by beneficiaries of this program have already sprung out. Eric Vondee of the 2014 cohort has gone on to found a social enterprise that connects parents with teachers to get quality, private tuition for their wards at home at moderate fees. My Home teacher is already a multiple award winning enterprise with Eric being shortlisted alongside 59 other enterprising young Ghanaians. Princess Allotey of the 2014 cohort also co-founded a social enterprise with other alumni dedicated to the advancement of math education among students in Ghana. Not forgetting one of the key members of the 2017 MTN APPS CHALLENGE HIGH SCHOOL COMPETITION, Jude Aseidu who was a member of the 2017 cohort.

In a developing country like ours with a huge technological and innovation gap, groups like Nsesa are of immense importance in bridging the knowledge chasm that currently impedes our full catapulting into an advanced economy!

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