This blog post is part of a collaboration between the African Union and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) to enhance the visibility of innovators recognized at this year’s African Union Expo.
My name is Charles Ofori Antipem. I’m from Ghana and I’m 26.
The lack of practical science education in Africa is no news. While efforts have been made to find a solution to this, most students in Africa still do not experience science beyond the classroom.
Having had a father who was a science teacher, I felt it was time to solve this problem once and for all.
With the advent of innovative production methods such as 3D printing, there has never been a better time to tackle this old problem from a new perspective.
A pocket-size lab
My innovation is the Science Set, a textbook size laboratory that contains 45+ individual components and materials for over 26 experiments and activities. It is inexpensive and small enough to fit on a student’s desk.
The Science Set is my solution to the lack of practical science education in Africa. For 9 months we redesigned some of the most essential tools and materials needed for hands-on activities following science syllabi across Africa. The set is designed to provide practical experiences, improving students’ learning of science.
It contains materials that can be used to perform activities at the primary school, junior high school and senior high school levels.
The set has been designed to seamlessly integrate into the classroom environment. It is easy to use, easy to maintain and quick to set up. Imagine a teacher walks into class and says “Today we will learn about light. Take your science sets, pick your LEDs, batteries and mirrors, we will produce light and study its properties”.
Africa must train more scientists and engineers
To achieve stable socioeconomic development, Africa desperately needs more scientist and engineers. However, for many primary school students across Africa, there is a growing divide between what they see on the blackboard and what they experience in their environment.
The lack of practical experiments has made science subjects seem difficult and uninteresting. Because of this, there is a general disinterest in science.
On average only 12% of students currently choose to pursue science courses in Africa. 90% of schools do not have well-equipped science laboratories. It is also very expensive to set up a fully-equipped lab – the average cost is US$10,000 – putting it out of reach for most communities.
According to the United Nation’s Africa Renewal Magazine (October 2017), Africa needs at least 45% of its workforce to be scientists and engineers in order to really grow and develop. Our solution does not require putting up new structures in schools. The science set is a solution that while affordable, enables practical, personalized and experiential teaching and learning of science.
Thousands of students now can learn and engage with science in a practical way
Currently, the science set can be found in over 200 schools in Ghana and abroad, reaching 25,000 students. We have trained 250 teachers who are now actively using the set. Overall students have performed over 50,000 activities using the set. The science sets have been distributed directly through sales to parents, teachers and schools, and indirectly through CSOs, NGOs and other organizations as part of their core operations and corporate social responsibility activities.
In Berekuso school, a student named Princess Makafui, using the tools in the science set, has designed her own light box to help her and her friends do their homework at night. Her community had no lights, but she and her friends now can sit around the light box and do their homework in the evening.
Our goal is to build the capacity of the future generation of Africans to be creative and find innovative solutions to our continent’s challenges. According to UNESCO data (2014-2016), female student’s enrollment in natural science, mathematics and statistics is 5% and in engineering, manufacturing, and construction only 8% globally.
Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, Minister of Education of Ghana, has personally been incredibly supportive and is committed to helping us get our innovation to every student in the country. We are currently working with the ministry to figure out how best to get this done.
The AU prize helps to expand
Beyond the validation that winning AU Innovation Expo prize has brought, it has also broadened the acceptance of my innovation within Africa and has opened doors to other African countries.
The prize has helped us expand our operations, increasing our production capacity from 250 sets a month to 1,000 sets a month by hiring more people (from 9 to 16 part time and permanent staff), increasing our machinery and production space. For instance, the award has given us the capacity to change the product packaging, making it handier for students. We have also built stronger relationship and capacity with some of our local suppliers. For instance our bag supplier currently operates within our space, helping us monitor his production.
Leveraging the exposure brought through the AU Innovation Expo prize, I hope that in the next 12 months 1 million science sets will be in the hands of students in Ghana and in other African countries.
I want to build a strong business that will employ a lot more young people in Africa. I also want to explore and establish strong connections with the educational systems in other African countries.
Eventually, I hope to provide every student with hands-on science, to help build their creative capacity, increase their interest in science and equip them with the skills they need to create tomorrow’s technology, for their benefit and the benefit of their community and the African continent.
The AU Expo prize as a springboard to creating a new education for Africa
I believe that AU Expo offers a great opportunity for innovations to be seen by those who matter in education in Africa. It provides credible validation for our innovations. I advise other young innovators to “just do it” and participate. It is a good experience and can change their fortunes for their good.
A new system of education is on the horizon. It will be decentralized, personalized, focused on creativity, innovation and problem solving.
Africa can lead this coming education revolution if we invest in education innovation and involve young people, most of whom are already experiencing this new form of learning.