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Pursuing science research amid resource constraints

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KEEN—Girls do experiments

Fyness Marko is in Form Four at Namadidi Community Day Secondary School. She wants to pursue a career in a science field.

“I love science because it gives me room to be innovative in coming up with unique solutions that the world can use and appreciate,” she says.

Her school is located on the outskirts of Zomba City and it does not have materials necessary for conducting scientific experiments and research.

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Fyness says the lack of the required science learning facilities and equipment makes it hard to develop skills in developing science based solutions guided by the required learning resources.

“There is a lot that one can do with science such as producing your own community electricity, potable water systems and developing health-related solutions,” Fyness says.

She adds that initially, she wanted to become a medical doctor but now wants to explore opportunities in medical research science.

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Manager for South-east Education Division, McAuden Msakatiza, acknowledges that lack of resources to support the science-oriented curriculum that is being used in secondary school education in Malawi is a big problem.

“We encourage teachers to be resourceful for the lessons to be exciting and for them to deliver the content as required by the curriculum with locally available resources,” he says.

Msakatiza says for Malawi to achieve its potential in science innovation, it is a matter of mindset change mainly among teachers for them to able to support students with interest in science-oriented careers.

“The future of science is very bright if we are positive about it. It is unfortunate that, sometimes, negative comments come from teachers who should otherwise be supporting students to excel in science,” he adds.

To deal with the negative attitude, Msakatiza says as a government department, they are working with teachers to enhance their knowledge of science content because sometimes the attitude comes from lack of content and creativity to support science learners.

In order to support students, particularly girls, to develop interest science subjects, women working in science came together to start an initiative called Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (Gisteam).

Gisteam co-founder, Halima Twabi, says with inadequate resources and negative attitude towards science-oriented careers, there is need for those that have succeeded in the sector need to mentor those that are aspiring to make it.

“Our approaches include involving secondary schools in Stem activities and we hope to train and engage science teachers as patrons to deal with the negativity towards science-oriented careers,” Twabi says.

She adds that the initiative is also engaging in activities that enhance awareness on the practicality of science in dealing with various challenges that communities face.

“We have had science activities with students from rural areas where clean water is a problem or areas where malaria is an issue but they cannot afford mosquito repellents or nets. In such areas, we have done experiments that deal with cleaning water using readily available materials like activated charcoal, small rocks, sand and cotton. We have also done mosquito repellents and mosquito traps by recycling plastic bottles and using yeast and black plastic paper,” she says.

Twabi alludes to the fact that with such interventions through intensified scientific research, Malawi has the capacity to develop solutions in various sectors.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) reveals an intriguing paradox about science in that despite the country being one of the poorest in the world, Malawi devotes 1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to research and development.

It is one of the highest ratios in Africa.

Malawi’s most recent surveys estimate gross expenditure on research and development at K7.2 billion in 2007 and K8.6 billion in 2010. This corresponds to a GDP ratio of 1.40 percent in 2007 and 1.06 percent in 2010.

However the STI series show that spending remains low in real terms, taking into account that Malawi’s GDP is one of the lowest around the world standing at 7.06 billion US dollars yet other countries with similar populations on average can have 37 times of this GDP.

MKWAMBISI—We have the potential

Nonetheless, Head of Centre for Innovation and Industrial Research at the Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must), David Mkwambisi, says the country has enough human resource trained at world-class institutions which gives a chance to Malawi to make a mark on the global level with research.

Mkwambisi says through the centre, with funding from USAid, Must is conducting trainings for researchers to develop a base that promotes scientific research and innovation within the academia and other sectors.

“The main challenge is lack of financial support to promote innovation among students and members of staff and students. This is coupled with lack of structured mentorship programmes to address emerging issues in the field of research that need to be addressed,” he says.

Mkwambisi adds that there is need to start nurturing the scientific research way of thinking from primary school to all levels of education with models for innovation that can be identified with structured mechanism.

“The young generation in Malawi needs to learn and focus in putting up programmes of nurturing innovations through research that can be showcased on a global scale, because we have the potential that other countries can come and learn from us,” Mkwambisi says.

With these interventions to promote science research and innovation through mentorship and use of readily available resources with adequate funding to groom skills of aspiring research scientists like Fyness, Malawi could be on the right path to influence innovations that foster development in various sectors.

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