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What 1st Africa-American astronaut told Nigerians

BY DAYO ADESULU
Dr Bernard Harris, the first Africa-Americanastronaut to walk on outer planet who visited Nigeria and other African Countries recently to encourage our children and stakeholders in the sector on the need to revamp the continent’s passion for science and technology has served as an example to Africans at home and in diaspora to think on what they can offer their country.

Harris on getting to Nigeria presented a donation of $20,000 to the Science Teachers Association of Nigeria (STAN). He reiterated that the donation was to help in improving the capacity of science teachers to deliver quality education to science students.

The tour, which has been taken to 22 cities in America, recently berthed in Nigeria to further the gospel of science education. The founder of the Bernard Harris Foundation, Dr. Bernard Harris, was on hand in Lagos to speak to secondary school students, parents, teachers and policy makers on science and technology.

Dr Harris, starting out from humble beginnings in San Antonio, is a trained medical doctor, pilot, and astronaut, a living example of achieving high aspirations. His story provides a powerful backdrop to bring his message to students everywhere. Since 2008, he has encouraged over 35,000 students in America.

L-R: Dr. Bernard Harris, first African-American astronaut to travel to outer space, having a session with secondary school students in Lagos during the Dream Tour Nigeria sponsored by ExxonMobil Foundation.

Explaining the importance of science, he said that through science man has been able to considerably reduce distance and time, widen horizons, prolong lifespan and make the world a better place to live in, saying “science permeates every facet of human activity and has changed the entire world into one global village.

The ever-increasing role of science in development explains the attention which most countries place on the discipline. This also explains the huge amount of money expended on its development by organizations and governments.

According to the Astronaut, despite the huge amount expended on education by governments around the world, it still falls short of the United Nations recommendations. In appreciation of the strategic role that education plays in human development, the global body recommends that every country devotes nothing less than 26 percent of her annual budget to the education sector.

But due to the limited resources and diverse competing needs, many countries, particularly the developing ones, budget far less than this benchmark for the sector annually. This paucity of funds has posed a lot of challenges to the development of the sector.

Despite the strategic position that sciences play, needed attention is still not accorded them in schools across the country. One impact of this is the resulting lack of interest among many students.

This obvious challenge notwithstanding, hope is not yet lost, as various organizations are lending a helping hand in addressing this situation. One of these initiatives is the Dream Tour sponsored by ExxonMobil Foundation.

At the session with some secondary school students in Lagos, Harris highlighted the important roles that science, engineering and mathematics play in the life of any forward-looking nation, adding that studying sciences not only develop their minds, but also prepares them for technological exploits.

He said, “Dear students, my message to you today is that this is the time to take the study of sciences very seriously because doing so separates you from the crowd and sets you on the path to fame. Most of the inventors that we read about today, even many years after their demise, were students of science.

“It is critical that you are prepared with the problem-solving skills and tools to tackle challenges they may face in the future. Providing you with strong foundation in mathematics and science education is imperative. You need to be guided to be focused and courageous and pursue your dreams without wavering.” he said.

After his presentation, he took time to explain to the enthusiastic students in detail, the preparations and processes that are involved in becoming astronauts, while not leaving out the inherent benefits as well.

Dr. Harris revealed, to the consternation of the students, that the journey to the space takes only eight and half minutes, while the return takes up to 45 minutes. He was thereafter taken to task by the students, who asked various questions about his adventure to space.

Another highlight of the Harris visit was a stakeholders’ meeting with science teachers, parents and education opinion leaders. At the meeting, he reinforced the various roles the participants need to play in the development of the students’ interest in science education.

He later presented a donation of $20,000 to the Science Teachers Association of Nigeria (STAN). He said the donation was to help in improving the capacity of science teachers to deliver quality instructions.

While reacting to the gesture, STAN President, Dr. Prince Okorie, said the donation would help the body complete its Learning Resource Centre at its headquarters in Abuja, which would prove invaluable to science teachers. Okorie later informed of the decision of STAN to name the Centre after the astronaut.

Speaking earlier at the event, Mr. Bell Truman of ExxonMobil Foundation said the organization, which is the primary philanthropic arm of ExxonMobil Corporation, is sponsoring the Dream Tour Programme across Africa in order to get across the message to young adults about the importance of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The Dream (Daring to Reach Excellence for America’s Minds) Tour is collaboration between ExxonMobil Foundation and Bernard Harris Foundation as part of ExxonMobil’s initiative to generate interest in mathematics and science education and provide career options for students, while improving the quality of material available for the Oil and Gas industry.


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