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- From Scientists To Superstars, Advancing Science Literacy In Africa
Every now and then, you will stumble on tweets, memes and posts about how much regret people feel when they recall that they solved binomials, simultaneous, quadratic, and other mathematical equations which they ignorantly assume have no practical application. A couple of years ago, I was one of them. I quibbled about how many of my Chemistry classes were a total waste of time.
In fact, it was one decade after I carried out my first titration under the supervision of my Chemistry teacher, that I discovered why there is so much buzz about that particular science experiment. I bet you wonder why it took me so long. Well, in high school, I was more concerned about making A+ grades than seeking out the significance and applications of the many interest-rousing topics in my science modules.
Now that my worries about making an A+ grade are past tense and my obsessive fascination for wearing sparkling lab coats has waned, I have become more investigative. Of course, I have Google and other search engines to thank for the benevolent provision of fodder for my curiosity. And with big data looming ahead, I am so excited about the prospects of making more meaningful deductions from probing and researching.
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However, engaging one’s curiosity can easily become the pastime for scientists who revel in the euphoria of eureka moments and their propensity to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Nowadays, I am more questioning and quick to enter queries into my browser search bar. In probing, I discovered that titration was not just another Chemistry class activity. It found application in water industries, in the manufacture of biodiesel from vegetable oils as well as in quality control tests for food and pharmaceuticals.
I do not want to bother you with the fine details about how titration is used to set the right quantity of food addictive which goes on to determine its color and other things, but there are hundreds of students in Africa who do not know why they need to bother with science and mathematics. Would that be the case if they knew that their phones, computers, and other machines were built by applying mathematical and scientific principles?
Science teachers as well as the media have a role to play in creating awareness about the heroic things scientists do just by wielding burettes, beakers, test tubes, tripods, and other apparatuses. In fact, I could say that lab coats do not get deserving credit for what they really are – superhero capes! Fortunately, it is not too late to correct that, especially as it promises to advance the course of science literacy in Africa.
Every day, scientists make exciting discoveries capable of changing the world, if these discoveries spread as fast as celebrity gossip. One question begs for an answer – when do we begin to live in the consciousness that science literacy will be instrumental to development in Africa? Many developed countries like Canada, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom and others have a highly science literate populace.
This implies that countries on the African continent can tap into the developmental potentials of science literacy and make informed decisions for their collective good. I strongly believe that Africa will be better positioned to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2030 if we recognise the importance of science and pay attention to the new methods scientists propose.
In addition, young scientists need to have their models in front of them just as art lovers often have celebrities to inspire them and reinforce the potency of their artistic talents. To advance science literacy in Africa, we need to rebrand scientists to superstars. But more importantly, we need to creatively place our ‘science stars’ in the spotlight in ways that make science interesting and welcoming.
Ehi-kowoicho Ogwiji is the Head of Communication & Public Engagement at Café Scientifique Woman. She is a storyteller and natural scientist who is given to advocacy for a science literate Africa. Ehi-kowoicho aspires to be a renowned science communicator and STEM thought leader in Africa and beyond. She writes from Abuja, Nigeria.
Follow her on social media @ogwijiehi or email her at [email protected]