BY DAYO ADESULU
AN American astronaut, Dr.Bernard Harris, has said that one of the key areas that must be taken seriously by African countries, if they must break the cycle of underdevelopment, is that of encouraging students to develop interest in science subjects.
Harris, the first African-American to walk in space, made this assertion while speaking with selected secondary school students in Lagos as part of the Dream Tour Nigeria programme sponsored by ExxonMobil Foundation.
He said that science subjects are the veritable foundation for various technological advancements that the developed world has achieved; adding that if Africa could also toe this path, breaking the barrier of technological breakthrough is a matter of time.
“It is critical that Nigerian Students are prepared with the problem-solving skills and tools to tackle challenges they may face in the future. Providing them with strong foundation in Mathematics and science education is imperative. They need to be guided to be focused and courageous and pursue their dreams without wavering” he said.
He 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.
To spur the interest of the students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Harris presented four geologists of ExxonMobil to share their life experience as students. Ijeoma Okoye, who made first class honours in geology, University of Ghana and the best female 200 level student in Earth Science, University of Ghana said that secret for success is to get out of your shell, dare to be different and never stop asking question. Go for your dreams,” she said.
Cordelia Orjih, best graduating female student of Geology Department, FUTO reiterated that secret to success is humility as every student needs humility to learn what you do not know. “You need diligence to continue and patience to avoid instant gratification,” she said.
Harris, who is also the founder of The Harris Foundation, 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. While Dunstan Ananyi who was the second best student, Department of Physics, University of Lagos maintained that being inquisitive to learn something new everyday is the key to success.
He later appreciated the support of ExxonMobil Foundation for the Dream Tour project, which will also take him to Angola and South Africa.
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 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.
ExxonMobil Foundation, 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.