Sustainable development at a local, national, regional scale, etc. is perhaps the most daunting challenge that humanity has ever faced. Knowledge and its application are two elements common and central to each of the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainable development and the many approaches aimed at achieving sustainability.
Solutions to the major sustainability problems of the 21st century, including poverty alleviation, food security, health, a looming water crisis, decoupling of economic growth and environmental impact, renewable energy sources, desertification, diminishing ecosystem services, biodiversity maintenance and use, climate change, and the rise of mega cities – all critically require knowledge from scientific research and appropriate technologies.
It is an open secret that Science and technology has contributed immensely to Africa’s development in at least four areas: agriculture, transport and communication, energy, human and animal health; education and the environment.
The theme of the just concluded AU summit of African Heads of States also called for the enhancement of Science and Technology in the continent with a view to fostering awareness and commitment to applying science and technology in tackling the nexus issues among member states; and to encourage them to adapt policies that ensure the proper development and application of science and technology for food security and sustainable development.
President Earnest Bai Koroma even before the AU summit have in several occasions including a convocation ceremony at FBC and in his new year message 2010 echoed the enhancement of Science and technology taking into consideration its significance as critical for economic growth even when its precise contribution has rarely been determined.
In as much that I’m supportive of President Koroma’s vision and enthusiasm in promoting Science and Technology, there are several issues that I want the President and fellow compatriots to take into consideration if at all we want to match up to the MDGs and sustainable development.
Science and technology (S&T) effort is usually measured by indicators of: science and technology human resource development; research and development (R & D); Science and Technology Institutional infrastructure; and private sector investment in Science and Technology activities. The specific indicators normally include: science enrolment in secondary, technical, vocational, and tertiary institutions; national spending on science and technology education; research and development spending by government and private sector and the tertiary institutions; number and research and development coverage of institutions among other indicators.
Considering the above indicators you will agree with me that this is no longer a problem but now an issue that has not been addressed in Sierra Leone by any of our successive governments.
I am not pre-empting President Koroma’s Independence Day address to the nation but I am of the conviction that, after highlighting all his achievements to date, as part of his long or short term plans will be the issue of Science and Technology. But how will this be achieved is my concern.
Let me therefore at this juncture highlight some concerns based on my findings before making my personal recommendations.
Firstly, is the Education Effort – Let’s take a quick look at the tertiary student enrolment in our various universities in the country, secondary and vocational enrolment and secondary technical enrolment… what’s your take on it reader? I am of the opinion that it is not really encouraging. My compelling verdict at this level is that Sierra Leone’s input in secondary and vocational enrolment is commensurate with our level of development.
Government expenditure on education is very low and inadequate and their expenditure on technical education is nothing absolutely one could smile about.
There are no policies formulated to strengthen science and mathematics education and mentorship for students in primary and secondary schools; if at all they exist at all, they are very weak and not well implemented as expected.
The new 6-3-3-4 system greatly favours technical and vocational education as it does not only serve school leavers but also older adults as well. The technical/vocational component of higher education I believe was designed to grapple with the shortage of skilled manpower. Some other objectives of technical/vocational education are to increase the number of indigenous, skilled, lower middle-level, blue collar workers; to produce a more literate, numerate, middle-level workforce to enhance national development; to encourage women and girls to participate in national development through the acquisition of technical and vocational skills; and to create the conducive environment for the development of appropriate indigenous technology.
The issue of indigenous knowledge and technology here is my greatest concern and hardly foreseeable as of now as all successive governments have failed to put these structures in place or equip these facilities. Check even the science laboratories in the various schools, it is a pity indeed. The human resource to teach these technical subjects to enhance indigenous technology and knowledge is scarce and where it is made available they lack the basic materials and equipment.
If I may ask, how far have we including the government gone in supporting the initiatives of the two young men that have taken their time to craft a helicopter at the technical institute in Freetown? Yet we sit in the corner sipping beer and enjoying ourselves thinking they are idle or mad…ALAS.
Secondly, let us take a look at the Research and Development Effort, I personally think there is a great gap in this area due to lack of support from government geared toward research and development expenditure and personnel.
How much contribution or resources have all successive governments allocated to research and development of technology? From records it is there in theory but not really visible. In the area of research and development personnel, the country can only boast of a few experts and Professors in these area, some cannot even conduct or publish their research due to lack of resources. Those selected from the various disciplines to advance their career in local research are sometimes not the appropriate appointees but as a result of corrupt practices. ‘Placing square pegs in round holes’.
Sierra Leone has been blessed with a variety of natural resources that through research and development effort will enhance sustainable economic and social empowerment of its citizens.
Thirdly, the Number and Coverage of Research and Development institutions in Sierra Leone is another issue that needs to be improved to enhance science and technology. According to my research findings, as at 1995, there were a total of 602 Research and Development centres in Africa, of which 232 were engaged in research pertaining to Agriculture, forestry and fisheries. Another 50 were in health and nutrition fields, while only 50 were involved with manufacturing research. Africa had 90 institutions doing social and human sciences research while another 57 were multidisciplinary in their focus. The predominance of agricultural research institutions is reflected in the significant contribution of S&T in the agricultural sector of many of the countries.
Sierra Leone is one among the African countries engaged in agricultural research and our highest Agricultural yield of major food crops according to the World Bank -African Development Indicators 1994/1995 was Cassava at 59.9.
This result was achieved by our agricultural research institutions in Sierra Leone because the research results were been successfully disseminated to farmers. This dissemination transformed plant breeding, agronomy, physiology and horticulture. The impact of these results, manifested higher yields; the introduction of disease, and pest – resistant varieties; and the production of crops of higher nutritional value.
Considering on how to improve on rice, ginger, piassava production, etc. the issue of technology comes into play.
Lastly, let us now take a look at the Expenditure on Science and Technology in directly productive sectors in the country.
It is widely believed that the commodity composition of imports and exports also provide some indication of the Science & Technology inputs of a country. The ratio of imports to exports of high technology products, especially those used for the production of other goods and services, give this kind of indication. The high – technology products include: chemicals and allied goods; machinery, electrical and electronic equipment; primary metals; fabricated metal products; completely knocked down parts of motor vehicles; transportation equipment; etc. Time series data on how the ratio is changing over time is indicative of the country’s input into science and technology.
Sierra Leone is now a renowned country for the export of scrap metals, mineral and marine resources, timber, etc. our import level for technology products are low.
Another measure of input into science and technology is direct payment for know – how, in the form of patent royalties, consultancy fees, licence fees, and management fees. The higher these know – how fees are, the greater the flow of technology into a country is supposed to be, other things being equal.
This situation is expertly true of our case in Sierra Leone as we always rely on foreign experts for our socio-economic development. This area really calls for more explanation based on the Paradigms of Development which I don’t want to go into at this moment.
However, on some of the major issues raised above based on Science and Technology in Sierra Leone and what the country can do to increase the contribution of science and technology to its development process, I have few recommendations to make, as a way forward with a view to enhancing our dream in promoting Science and technology in the country.
Of all the problems that beset the country, perhaps the ones that threaten the continued existence of its people are those of: food insecurity, high rates of population growth, rapid rates of environmental degradation, the prevalence of endemic diseases such as malaria, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases; mass poverty and mass illiteracy.
In tackling these problems, it is important to be reminded that the world has a reservoir of scientific knowledge that can be adapted to the needs of Sierra Leone. The country can no longer proceed as if these resources do not exist. Also it is no longer tenable to proceed as if science is irrelevant for the solution of the problems.
Secondly, there seems to be certain prerequisites for accessing the available knowledge, to which the government, local councils, etc. must begin to pay serious attention.
Thirdly, science can only work in the country if we deliberately commit sufficient resources to critical activities that can yield the desired results over a sustained period of time. The implications of these three statements are:
The government should Mainstream science and technology promotion and investment into our national development plans
In order to make Sierra Leone ready to utilize the resources of science and especially the new and emerging sciences, the government must be ready to invest in electricity, telecommunications, and transportation infrastructure; these are required to improve the quality of education through distance learning and mass literacy campaigns and to empower the populace at large to access the information highway.
Formulate and implement policies and programs to:
Strengthen science and mathematics education and mentorship for students in primary and secondary schools;
Expand opportunities for science technology and engineering education and research for our population especially women and particularly in the emerging technologies such as biotechnology and nanotechnology as appropriate;
Develop mechanisms, including innovative solutions for expanding rural power supply, and the provision of broadband access to poor communities in rural areas not covered by market-driven investment to ensure access to science, technology and engineering for women, youth, the rural poor, and other marginalized groups in the country.
Provide, where possible, suitable working conditions for our scientific, technological and engineering talent, especially young graduates and women, in order to prevent brain drain;
Promote research and development in scientific, technological and engineering fields, which supports, grassroots food production and entrepreneurial activities of the rural population.
Increase the number of full time researchers in science, technology and engineering;
Create innovative funding strategies and compensation and reward structures in academic and research institutions to provide incentives for scientific and technological talent to remain within the country and promote research directed to addressing national and regional development challenges;
Develop a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, support the development of technological capabilities in small and medium-size enterprises and promote incubators for promising technologies.
Launch campaigns to raise awareness on the importance of innovation for wealth creation and national welfare through mass media and high-profile awards;
It is necessary to expand technical, vocational, craft, and utilitarian science education for the purpose of expanding the impact of science on the productive sectors of the society in the country. To address the issue of how to obtain resources for exploiting science in the present atmosphere of austerity, it is necessary for our political leaders to re-order their priorities to reflect the importance of science.
It is also necessary for the productive sectors to be reactivated through proper incentives that reward production rather than trading and rent – seeking activities. These two approaches will ensure that required resources are directed to areas where science is utilised.
By Emmanuel A.B. Turay