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To fight poverty and participate in a technological future, Ghana must start instilling scientific values throughout its culture, says George Essegbey.

Research and development are not yet high priorities in Ghana. But while the usual suspects — poor infrastructure and funding, and a lack of commitment from government — play their part, the very limited science culture in our society is the real cause.

Heart of the matter

Science disciplines our reactions to challenges. Without it our responses, whether economic, social or political, are far less effective. Science is so important for growth and poverty reduction that it should be at the heart of national culture. But in Ghana, the science culture is almost non-existent, constraining all levels of society.

At the national level, research and development do not get the priority they deserve. In the 2006–2009 national development framework science gets a one-paragraph statement that is almost an afterthought. I find little conviction in its promise to "promote research and development in all sectors of the economy [and] build relevant linkages between research and production".

Recent government actions confirm my fears. In March 2006, the Ministry of Environment and Science was actually dismantled during a cabinet reshuffle. A swift look at the national news reveals the issues preoccupying our political leadership. Tellingly, these have little to do with science and technology.

But the government's attitude is only reflecting our attitude as a nation. Take agriculture as an example. The predominant technology on the average farm is still the hoe or machete. Any innovations have been variants of these implements. In the home, pounding fufu (a starchy vegetable paste) with a mortar and pestle carries a risk of crushed thumbs. But the technology has remained with us for centuries. Ghana appears to lack the cultural willingness to move up the technological trajectory.

Making science a habit of mind


To appreciate the crucial need for innovation and the imperatives of science and technology, Ghana needs to develop a scientific habit of mind throughout its society and economy.

One way to achieve this is through an expansive and effective programme recognising that innovation happens within a framework of people's worldview, their belief systems and other cultural aspects.

Ghanaian society needs to wage a war against poverty, but it must first battle the forces that militate against a science culture. And just as countries can be mobilised for war, Ghana could be oriented towards science.

There are two broad mechanisms for developing such a science culture — through the formal institutions of information, education and governance, and also through informal institutions of chieftaincy, clans and communal gatherings. Through these, public information and education can help combat entrenched superstitions and unscientific explanations of some of our daily experiences. Even the churches and mosques that sometimes contribute to entrenching unscientific beliefs could become allies if appropriate programmes are developed with them.

Either way, an action plan detailing goals, objectives and the steps to achieving them is needed. Specific activities, inputs, verifiable indicators and fundamental assumptions will all need to be detailed. But preparing such a programme must not overwhelm the practical groundwork needed now.

Bridging the gap between learning and doing

Ghana makes science compulsory throughout secondary education, and an astonishing 46 per cent of students in Ghanaian universities and polytechnics are enrolled in science-related programmes. Yet all this activity has had little impact. There remains a huge gap between teaching and learning science and truly assimilating it so that it guides our thinking, decisions and actions.

Young people need to be fired up by possibilities. At the moment, their inspiration is missing. One way of fostering it is to revive or create science clubs, using them as incubators to produce new generations of scientific Africans.

What is clear is that science and technology is the future. If young Ghanaians are to hold this future in their hands, participating in big or newly emergent technologies like nanotechnology, space exploration or neuroscience, we must imbue our whole culture with science.