It’s important to help light that fire in students, but its a daunting task if not done right.
For me the moment was when I stared at the blackish water of Bonny as a teen. I was angry and sad at the same time by the pervasive pollution being inflicted upon our environment. I took it hard because I loved my land, I loved my people, and from my parents’ dedication to environmental causes and gleaning from the materials strewn about our home, I knew that the damage was extensive. The spark that drew me into STEM fields was the moment I realised that if something wasn’t done about cleaning up the soil and rivers – a place wherein most of my childhood memories were made – the times listening to my grandmother, dancing to music on the streets, frolicking on the beach with my cousins and eating fresh fish.
“I watched the town become a shadow of itself, produce less fish and illness become more prevalent. It broke my heart to pieces and I haven’t gotten over this”, I shared with an audience where I spoke on STEM being the future. “When I applied to get into graduate school at Syracuse university, to get a Master’s in Chemical engineering, I wrote an essay about cleaning up the oil spills being my motivation for desiring to study Chemical engineering.”
“That was the switch for me. For me, that was the time the fire was lit.” I studied chemical engineering with the explicit intention of finding out how the oil spills could be cleaned up to have as little impact on the environment as possible.
Our goal today is to find ways to ignite that fire for our students. It is not an easy task, as lots of students lack access to advanced maths and science classes, they have mediocre teachers, and the perception of STEM subjects remains daunting. Maths and science are often thought as subjects that are too difficult, making it OK for students to not be good in them. And, there remains a negative stigma attached to women pursuing certain STEM careers.
The real work is to get everyone to fall in love with STEM, inspite of the hard work that this entails. Unfortunately, it is more attractive to go through easier career paths. We need to get our students enthused about putting in hard work. We need to catch them young.
My experiences and burning motivation have led me to work on identifying new ways to spur innovation, to revitalise learning for our students and drive economic growth.
We need sincere fixes for a long-term transformation.
At another event where teachers were being addressed about the burgeoning crisis that is our educational sector, I stated that the fix won’t come from the top but rather, it will only come if educators and leaders in the STEM field can partner to ignite a passion for STEM in our students.
People buy into missions and purposes, rather than what they’re made to do.
The real work is for a conscientious effort to support and sponsor various STEM efforts in schools, communities and educational nonprofits.
Corporations and small business owners should take on an offensive role, beyond funding. They should partner with causes and initiatives to drive STEM for our students.
We are discouraged by the lack of policy stakeholders addressing STEM as the driver for innovation for the future of our students. There should be more talk about corporations and small businesses setting up apprenticeship and vocational training programmes in this regard.
I am interested in more STEM professionals speaking to our students about what lit the spark for them.
We need to inspire them beyond what they might see in their homes and communities.
Adetola Salau; Educator / Speaker / Author/ Social Entrepreneur / Innovator
She is an Advocate of STEM Education and is Passionate about Education reform. She is an innovative thinker and strives for our society & continent as a whole to reclaim it’s greatness. She runs an educational foundation with the mission to transform education.