Improving STEM Education in Ghana: Exploring the idea of Science in Tents

Improving STEM Education in Ghana: Exploring the idea of Science in Tents
By Admin | 13th Sep 2023 | | Hits 472

Africa stands on the precipice of a pivotal moment in its ongoing journey toward development. For more than half a century, Africa has been on a journey to rise above the enduring impacts of colonial underdevelopment, following a hard-won battle for political independence. Political, economic, and social disparities still loom large, obscuring the route to collective prosperity. The heavy yoke of poverty endures, exacerbated by daunting health crises, while the specter of conflict continues to fracture communities. Within this intricate web of challenges, a spark of optimism endures.

Enters Vacation Initiatives in Science, Africa (VISA), a registered NGO in Ghana with a resolute mission. VISA is on a mission to equip students with the transformative power of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to confront pressing issues – from sanitation and poverty to diseases, corruption, and violence. Focusing on instilling a hands-on scientific education in both junior and senior high schools, VISA seeks to be the vanguard of practical STEM education not only in Ghana but across the vast African continent.

Welcome to ‘Science in Tents: A STEM Fair for Junior High Schools,’ a visionary initiative by Vacation Initiatives in Science, Africa (VISA). Our ultimate vision is to create a world where every child in Ghana and Africa enjoys equal access to exceptional hands-on STEM education, perfectly aligned with Sustainable Development Goal 4. This vision empowers these young minds to master STEM disciplines and act as catalysts in addressing enduring societal challenges, illuminating a path towards progress.

This extraordinary four-day journey which took place from July 4th to 7th, 2023, the grounds of the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) re-ignited a fervent passion for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) among the youth. In collaboration with NMIMR, we embarked on this adventure, commencing each day at 8 am with guidance from expert scientists and enthusiastic mentors. ‘Science in Tents’ marked the inception of a promising future for African innovation.

Each day kicked off with an opening ceremony, followed by a quick breakfast, and the commencement of tent activities. After approximately two hours of tent activities (equivalent to two tent rotations), a lunch break ensued, followed by an additional three hours of engaging tent activities. A typical day concluded with a photoshoot capturing the spirit of our students and exhibitors, and a presentation of books from EPP Books Services to the attending schools and active students.

The participating students were granted the privilege of in-depth interactions with distinguished scientists, engineers and a STEM advocate who shared insights into their respective journeys. These luminaries passionately emphasized the significance of perseverance, determination, and unwavering passion for their chosen fields within STEM. They underscored the boundless opportunities that await those who dare to dream. This interaction served as a poignant reminder that no dream is too ambitious, and with steadfast dedication, even the seemingly impossible becomes attainable.

Our esteemed speakers included: Prof. Dorothy Yeboah-Manu – Director of NMIMR; Prof. Elsie Effah Kaufmann – Dean of the School of Engineering Sciences, University of Ghana, and Quiz Mistress of the National Science and Maths Quiz; Dr. Anita Ghansah – Senior Research Fellow and Principal Investigator of the Malaria Genomics group, NMIMR; Dr. Sabastine Eugene Arthur – Co-Founder and Director in Charge of Program, VISA; Dr. Dirk Eggink – Senior Scientist at the Dutch Institute for Public Health and Assistant Professor of Virology at the Amsterdam University Medical Centre, Netherlands; Dr. Sarah-Jane Judge – Public Engagement Manager, Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology, University of Edinburgh, UK; Dr. AJ te Velthuis – Principal Investigator, te Velthuis lab and Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, U.S.A; Ms. Sally Odei-Amoani – STEM Ambassador for Ghana, Ghana’s Most Beautiful 2022 4th Runner-up, and Founder of STEM Inclusion, Ghana.

These distinguished speakers shared their unique journeys to their current positions within STEM, dispelling the misconception that STEM careers are confined to Medicine and Pharmacy. A recurring theme in the speeches, especially on the concluding day, underscored the importance of proactive problem-solving skills.

VISA representatives then introduced the organization and its mission to all attendees.

Exhibitors for the respective days set up tents equipped with tables, chairs, and LED screens to accommodate our enthusiastic students. The students were assigned color-coded tags and guided to tents matching their colors. After approximately sixty to ninety minutes of stimulating activities in one tent, students experienced a rotation, offering them fresh and exciting experiences in a different tent.

Our remarkable exhibitors for “Science in Tents” 2023 guided our future scientists through captivating activities, including Robotics, Land Surveying, DNA Extraction, and basic Epidemiology. The exhibitors included: The Various Departments (Parasitology, Bacteriology and the Genomics Core) of the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research; Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology, University of Edinburgh; Laboratory of Applied Evolutionary Biology, University of Amsterdam Medical Centre; School of Engineering Sciences, University of Ghana; Velthuis lab, Princeton University; MakersPlace Ghana (Robotics); Female African Mathematicians, Ghana.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the enthralling activities hosted in these tents.

The teams from NMIMR introduced the students to the fascinating world of malaria genomics, learning about different mosquitoes and the diseases they transmit and their control. Furthermore, they explored the history of DNA and RNA nucleotides, their complementary pairing, and the scientific processes involved in their study.

The Laboratory of Applied Evolutionary Biology at the University of Amsterdam Medical Centre offered students a remarkable opportunity to step into the shoes of epidemiologists. Here, they honed their skills in predicting the spread of viral infections through prevalence and reproduction rate calculations. Additionally, they immersed themselves in the captivating game “Viruses versus Hosts”, gaining invaluable insights into the immune system’s response to infections. On days 3 and 4, the exhibitors from this tent collaborated with those from the Velthuis tent to explore basic microscopy principles using foldscopes, portable microscopes that the students had the privilege of taking home to continue their independent explorations.

In the Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology tent, students embarked on an adventure, extracting DNA from bananas using everyday items such as liquid soap and salt. Students were also given the experience of using handheld microscopes connected to computers to view onion cells.

The MakersPlace Ghana tent equipped young programmers with fundamental coding skills, which they applied to construct robots. The School of Engineering Sciences at the University of Ghana unveiled the captivating realm of virtual reality, demonstrating how students could create educational experiences using the Metaverse technology.

While students relished their engaging learning experiences, their teachers participated in a training session led by Dr. Sarah-Jane Judge from the University of Edinburgh. She generously shared practical tips and tricks to make abstract scientific concepts tangible, utilizing every day and cost-effective items. At the end of the session, the teachers were honored with certificates of participation.

The unwavering support from these institutions has transformed this extraordinary journey into a reality: The European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) [via Prof. Dorothy Yeboah-Manu of NMIMR]; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation [via Dr. Anita Ghansah of NMIMR]; the Pan-African Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA) – Women in Vector Control Excellence Awards [via Dr. Jewelna Akorli of NMIMR]; EPP Book Services, Ghana; PathoFinder and PathoNostics B.V., Netherlands; Thomas Miller B.V., Netherlands; SISAB (Foundation for International Cooperation in Breukelen), Netherlands; and The Wellcome Centre for Cell Biology, University of Edinburgh, UK.

The “Science in Tents” program attracted significant attention, drawing the inquisitive gazes of onlookers from various institutions. Prospective partners, sponsors, and volunteers have expressed a strong desire to partake in future endeavors. However, the true magic of this initiative lay in the eyes of our schoolchildren, who carried the spark of curiosity back to their homes, igniting an enduring flame of knowledge. Our dedicated volunteers also found enrichment and learning opportunities in this remarkable experience.

We, at VISA, warmly invite you to stay connected with our organization as we have an exciting array of future events and initiatives in store. Together, let’s continue to inspire and empower the next generation of STEM enthusiasts.