Top physicist questions Ghana's commitment to science
[ACCRA] The president of the Society of African Physicists and Mathematicians says reforms implemented in Ghana since the 1980s — with the aim of revitalising the study of science and maths — have failed, raising questions about Ghana's commitment to promoting and using science.
Francis Allotey was speaking at a 9 June celebration of the International Year of Physics at Koforidua, Ghana.
He said that in the 1960s and 1970s Ghanaian physicists were among the best in Africa and were doing research in varied fields including energy and space science.
"The real wealth of a nation is no longer raw materials, the labour force or machinery, but in having scientific, educational and technological manpower," said Allotey.
But in Ghana, as in the rest of Africa, science is in decline, he added.
Allotey said the problem was due to a shortage of textbooks, poor research facilities and a lack of interaction between African scientists. Additional factors are poor pay and little recognition or support from governments.
In an interview with SciDev.Net, Allotey said that there are just ten people in Ghana with a doctorate in mathematics. At the University of Ghana, the youngest Ghanaian with a doctorate in mathematics is 59. The official retirement age is 60.
The brain drain of qualified Ghanaians to Western countries, together with the fact that fewer people are studying mathematics at PhD level, are to blame, he said.
"Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology currently has no professor of Mathematics," said Allotey.
In both science and mathematics, Ghana's 13-14-year old schoolchildren ranked 44th among 45 countries compared in the 2003 Trend in International Mathematics and Science Study, which compares the test results of schoolchildren in a range of developed and developing countries.
He said he and colleagues would discuss what could be done to get things back on track, including lobbying parliament, to encourage Ghana's government to fulfil its promise to support scientific research because of its practical application for wealth creation.
In 2000, the government of Ghana said one per cent of its GDP would be used to support scientific research, but this has not yet been implemented.
"It is not so much the lack of mathematicians or scientists that is the problem," said Alottey. "What is saddening is the lack of commitment to deploy resources, such as setting up venture capital funds, that could help scientists put their ideas to practical use."
As a personal contribution to promote science and also diminish the brain drain out of Ghana Allotey set up the Institute of Mathematical Sciences six years ago to train local scientists and offer them opportunities for further studies abroad.
The institute has so far trained three PhD students and has 18 more enrolled.
In 1970, Allotey became the first person to introduce information technology courses at a Ghanaian university. He is best known for his work on 'soft x-ray spectroscopy', for which he received the Prince Philip Gold Medal Award from the UK Royal Academy of Engineering in 1973.Allotey is also president of the Ghana Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
Read more about brain drain in SciDev.Net's brain drain dossier.