Africa’s low investment in harnessing its natural and capital resources could be attributed to disconnect between knowledge generation and use, says Dr. Peggy Oti-Boateng, science and technology specialist at United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
This, she notes, can be improved by developing adequate policies to link African needs to development.
“Our education system right from the basics has not taken advantage from the fact that the new trend in generating knowledge is to use it for sustainable development and for economic growth,” says Dr. Oti-Boateng.
She observes that Africa lags behind other continents in funding and utilization of Science, Technology and Innovation (ST&I) because in Africa, science has not been linked to daily life and it not demystified to the extent that students are not interested in science right from primary level.
“The basic of teaching science courses and mathematics is not properly taught to link it to the environment, water, food security and our needs such that science is looked at as a mysterious thing, says Dr. Oti-Boateng, adding that, science should be taught in terms of what we eat, drink, the environment for people to understand and appreciate it.
She is upbeat that it is only through this that innovation can thrive in Africa.
“Unlike other continents like Asia and India, they realized that ST&I and engineering is key to their development. As a result, they have invested in ST&I right from the basics targeting policies and long term development plans while in Africa we have not had that,” Dr. Oti-Boateng told AfricaSTI.com in an exclusive interview in her office in Nairobi, Kenya.
She also points out the divide between development plan and ST&I as key factor contributing to Africa’s woes.
Dr. Oti-Boateng says there is need for African countries to take stock of their experts in all sectors for capacity development.
“This is what Africa has not done and that is why we don’t fund ST&I as we should,” she emphatically illustrates, emphasizing that this will only take place if there is good ST&I policy linked to the national development policy.
“We also need the government to have that political will to invest in ST&I. Most government wants to see short term benefits but research development and innovation should also have long term plan,” she explains.
Dr. Oti-Boateng also calls for more scientists to be involved in policy development. “If we can get few scientists in policy formulation and articulate our needs and not allow other people to write what we need, it is a good way to go,” she points out.
Dr. Oti-Boateng spoke to AfricaSTI.com ahead of the upcoming African forum on ST&I for youth employment, human capital development and inclusive growth conference to be held in Nairobi, Kenya on April 1 – 3, 2012.
The forum is organized by UNESCO, the African Development Bank (ADB), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in collaboration with the Association for the Development of Education in Africa and hosted by the Government of Kenya.
The mission of the forum is to facilitate the sharing of experiences and analysis of best practices in strengthening ST&I mechanisms, designing policy measures for the promotion of innovation, entrepreneurship, youth employment, harnessing the role of innovation in the informal sector and increasing the participation of women and youth in ST&I.
At the experts’ level, the forum is expected to identify concrete areas for joint programming and transfer of knowledge and exchange of experiences while at the ministerial level the aim is to engage in a dialogue with experts on the use of and investment in STI for development.
It will also encourage ministers to make a political commitment for integration of STI in national and regional development agendas.
Dr. Oti-Boateng explains that four themes will be discussed at the experts’ forum including Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and labor markets in Africa, strengthening scientific research, ST&I in action and from science and technology to innovation and entrepreneurship.
There will also be parallel sessions to discuss various issues; Water and Sanitation, ICT and E-science, Health, Agriculture and Food Security, and Renewable Energy/Climate change.
“The ministerial conference will address the challenges and opportunities for ST&I in Africa and the integration of ST&I policies in national and regional development and financing mechanisms and investments for the development of Africa,” said Dr. Oti-Boateng.
Meanwhile, she notes that youth involvement in science and innovations should be highly encouraged to expedite Africa’s economic growth.
“Those creative minds should be turned into a productive mind and not idle minds which will go into other form of vices. We should be able to harness these young, vibrant and creative minds by giving them the opportunity through competitions, job training and setting up incubation centre for them,” she explains.
Dr. Oti-Boateng is categorical that for ST&I to make impact in society, is to approach this through the quadruple helix including the involvement of the civil society, policy makers, academia and the government.