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[LAGOS] African science academies largely provide evidence-based scientific advice for policymaking, but need to influence educational systems to produce science and entrepreneurship-oriented graduates, a conference has heard.

The regional conference on balanced and inclusive education (BIE) aimed to offer suggestions for addressing Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which encourages inclusive and quality education.

The meeting, which was hosted in Lagos on 25-26 July by the Nigerian Academy of Science in collaboration with Switzerland-based nongovernmental organisation Education Relief Foundation, was attended by 30 senior decision-makers in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe. 

According to the conference, science academies are the highest scientific institutions of a given country, and using them to influence educators to promote indigenous knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurship in training students could aid sustainable development.

“African graduates may have excellent degrees in theory but they lack the practical, innovation [skills] and ability to think outside the box.”

Kalu Mosto Onuoha

According to Kalu Mosto Onuoha, the president of the NAS, it is unfortunate that African countries are not doing well in BIE. He noted that the continent needs to impart innovation and entrepreneurship to students.

“We don’t have enough hands-on training,” said Onuoha, a professor of geology at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. “[African graduates] may have excellent degrees in theory but they lack the practical, innovation [skills] and ability to think outside the box. That is not inclusivity.”

He added that even when graduates with top grades are employed, their quality is often found wanting.

“We need PhD products that can [create] things that get patented. The curriculum must be reworked to include creative thinking in our universities,” explained Onuoha, noting that African universities are not doing well in global rankings with the exception of those in South Africa. “For instance, in Nigeria there were universities that ranked very high in the past but that is no more, and reasons are so many. What we have today are universities with over three times the population [limit], and most of the equipment is broken down or just not there.”

Mahouton Nobert Hounkonnou, president of Benin National Academy of Science, said most countries in Africa are facing some obstacles in education, and there is need for reforms to address societal challenges.

Hounkonnou added that African countries are multicultural and multi-ethnic, with rich heritage, know-how, and indigenous knowledge in many fields such as medicine, noting: “If you combine … all these aspects to enrich formal education, we will impact our own societies and at the same time we will enrich the world.”

Africa’s educational systems, he noted, were inherited from the continent’s former colonies and do not adequately address the challenges facing Africa.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.