‘Science For The Young’: Inspiring Nigerian Secondary School Students To Pursue Science Careers
When Hannah Wambui and Teresiah Kanini, two students of remote Keriko Mixed Day Secondary School of Pwani village in Kenya’s Nakuru province, curiously observed a strange chemical interaction in some plants around their community, they quickly ran to their science and mathematics teacher, Peter Tabichi, to intimate him about their discovery. These teenagers` discovery sparked an idea and with the help of their teacher, they developed their idea into an innovative way of generating electricity from plant extracts.
The duo successfully implemented their plant-based power generating project called ‘Waka Cell’ [Waka coined from the first two letters of both Wambui and Kanini], eventually competing with their innovation in the chemistry category of the Kenya Science and Engineering Fair, last year. As a result, they defied all odds to successfully emerge overall winners of the contest and their 36-year-old teacher, Tabichi, later won the prestigious Global Teacher Prize 2019 – worth USD 1 million.
Like Wambui and Kanini, secondary school students usually between the age of 13 and 20 years are naturally curious: they love to experiment, explore their abilities and limitations within the society. Hence, these young impressionable minds are susceptible to new influences in their environment including role models and mentors who play a key role in shaping their minds into independent characters and even in choosing their life careers.
However, many brilliant and talented students in African countries such as Nigeria are faced with numerous challenges including lack of science role models and mentors when trying to take up career opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Hence, many students particularly girls become discouraged to go into STEM leading to severe reduction in the enrollment of students into the life sciences.
It was on this premise that Science Communication Hub Nigeria (SciComNigeria) initiated a nationwide National Life Sciences Competition (NLSC) for Nigerian Secondary Schools, in March, 2020. The NLSC is an intiative of the non-profit SciComNigeria together with Teaching and Research in Natural Sciences for Development (TReND) in Africa, and supported by the Physiological Society UK, that aims to inspire and motivate young students including girls to develop genuine interests in science careers, according to its founder Dr Mahmoud Bukar Maina, a neuroscientist at the University of Sussex, UK.
SciComNigeria received essay applications for the 1st NLSC from across secondary school students in Nigeria; however, only 7 emerged as finalists out of which 3 students with the highest scores were selected as winners of the competition. Recently, organizers of the science competition announced the winners during a virtual award ceremony hosted by SciComNigeria yesterday, Tuesday 7 July, 2020. The successful winners were Ahaiwe Godlyn (First Prize), International School University of Lagos, Akoka-Yaba, Lagos state; Adaukwu Emmanuella Alaribe (Second Prize), Redeemer`s High School, Mowe, Ogun state; and Adejumobi Peace Adetayo (Third Prize), George Green Baptist College, Ogbomosho, Oyo state. The winners received certificates awarded by SciComNigeria and cash prizes - 50,000 naira, 30,000 naira, and 20,000 naira for first, second, and third positions, respectively.
From L-R: Adejumobi Peace Adetayo (Third Prize), George Green Baptist College, Ogbomosho, Oyo; Ahaiwe Godlyn (First Prize), International School University of Lagos, Akoka-Yaba, Lagos; and Adaukwu Emmanuella Alaribe (Second Prize), Redeemer`s High School, Mowe, Ogun.
While speaking at the award ceremony Prof. Isa Hussaini Marte, commissioner of higher education Borno state, noted that science was a rapidly advancing field of knowledge that has long been utilized by scientists to improve the lives of human beings through medicine, agriculture, and engineering, adding that lots of job career opportunities exist in the field of life sciences. Prof. Marte encouraged the students to be ambitious and seek for role models and mentors in science.
“Be hardworking, but most importantly, you must have passion for science and research because they have ups and downs. Thus, if you don`t have passion for what you`re doing you could be discouraged, frustrated, and even depressed. Be ambitious and have huge goals: start thinking of how to win the Nobel Prize,” urged Marte.
One of the winners of the competition, Adejumobi Peace Adetayo, said that the competition has inspired and motivated her to take up a career in life sciences or medicine. Adetayo who was introduced to the competition by her teacher and mentor, John Ayoola, aspires to become a neuroscientist with interest in genetic research. “I have applied for admission to study Neuroscience in the University of Evansville, Indiana and Kent State University, Ohio, both in the US, and I have been offered admission. Also, I have sat for the Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) exam, to study Medicine at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomoso, Nigeria, and I am currently preparing for the Post-UTME,” said Adetayo who was awarded the third prize at the ceremony.
The prospect of Nigerian secondary school students to pursue life science careers depends, to a large extent, on proper guidance and mentorship, orientation as well as having a good understanding of the opportunities that life sciences present. However, poor mentorship has resulted to lack of interest and failure in most life science subjects among students in secondary schools. Hence, to build a new generation of potential innovators and research scientists in the field of life sciences in Nigeria, much efforts need to be geared towards motivating secondary school students through science events such as science competitions, outreach programmes, and science festivals.
“This is why we initiated our first-ever National Life Sciences Competition (NLSC): for self-discovery and to help in harnessing their [students] full potentials to achieve their career dreams in the field of life sciences,” says Dr Mustapha Shehu Muhammad, outreach coordinator at SciComNigeria.
Royhaan Folarin chairman of SciComNigeria`s maiden life science competition adds: “I hope that as a body we would be able to do more by putting our great ideas together and securing funding to be able to touch more young minds. As individuals from diverse professional backgrounds, I hope that we would never relent in lending a mentoring hand to those coming after us, no matter what stage of the ladder we all find ourselves. It was for me an esteemed pleasure to have chaired this maiden edition of the National Life Sciences Competition.”